How to Pick the Best Paralegal Degree Program Near Tuscumbia Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Tuscumbia AL and start your journey that will lead to a gratifying career in legal services. Nevertheless, it's essential that you find the right school so that you will receive the extensive training that you need to achieve success. As you probably understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more educational alternatives are becoming available, both on campus and online. However with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one start? A number of potential students begin by trying to find schools within driving range of their Tuscumbia homes. Of those alternatives, they try to find the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are prime considerations when picking a college, they are not the only qualifiers you ought to consider. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the program should be taken into account too. Later on in this article we will review a list of questions that you must ask potential paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare every one prior to making your selection. But before we do, let's take a look at what a paralegal does and the instructional alternatives that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals essentially both fill comparable job positions and responsibilities, just with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and are part of a separate job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Tuscumbia AL attorneys with a diverse array of job functions, such as maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job functions are based upon the type of legal firm where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice may assist with trial logistics or delivering documents to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is normally billed hourly as are the attorney's. And the same as attorneys, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and adhere to a strict code of professional ethics. As stated, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they are employed, but a few of their day-to-day tasks can involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching relevant cases and laws
- Composing correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting lawyers prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be complex and quite demanding. However, what they are not legally authorized to do is offer legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not limited to administrative or clerical functions more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the main support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers are able to take on a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could on their own.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the educational prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The fastest means to launch your career as a paralegal in Tuscumbia AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can take as little as six months to accomplish. Most entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which offer a more extensive education and can be acquired at many community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are available also. Once you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you may want to proceed and receive a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help improve your employment opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. A few of the highly respected certifying organizations in the field are:
- National Federation of Paralegal Associations
- American Alliance of Paralegals
- National Association of Legal Assistants
- National Association for Legal Professionals
By graduating with a paralegal certificate or degree from an accredited school (we will cover the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 important initial steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Classes
Paralegal and legal assistant online programs have become more prevalent and can be an excellent alternative for students searching for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be especially attractive to Tuscumbia AL students who keep working while obtaining a degree. As an added benefit, online classes can sometimes be less costly than more traditional options. Even supplementary expenses for such things as study materials or commuting may be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will address in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the training you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the school and program you are thinking about are accredited by a reputable agency, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less supervised and formal environment, then earning your certificate or degree online may be the right option for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Since you now you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what academic choices are available, you can start the process of assessing schools. But considering that there are so many programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Tuscumbia AL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you need to find out what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is especially true if you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like the majority of potential students, you will begin by searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other crucial aspects to think about as well, including the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's take a look at several of the questions you should be asking the programs you are investigating so that you can properly vet each one and make your final choice.
Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you pick need to be accredited by a recognized organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it may also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets distance or online training. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will get will be of the highest standard, but it will establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. Many Tuscumbia AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited school. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are often accessible only for accredited programs.
What's the School's Reputation? Investigate what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant programs you are looking at. This is of specific importance if you are entering the field with no prior experience, since employers will need to make a decision based on the quality of your training exclusively. Confirming that the program you select is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating reports, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also call some Tuscumbia AL law practices that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask which schools they recommend. Bear in mind that even when a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an excellent reputation.
Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs provide students an opportunity to experience working in a law office or other legal operation while remaining in school. They can also provide an avenue for students to start developing contacts within the Tuscumbia AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal schools you are considering offer internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance provided? You will most likely want to hit the ground running after graduating, but finding that initial job in a new field can be challenging without support. Ask if the paralegal schools you are interviewing have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good indication that the schools have sizable networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their students are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the School Located? Because laws vary from one state to another, it might be advantageous to enroll in a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you want to work after graduation. In addition, it will be necessary to create relationships in the neighboring legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is all the more justification to receive your education in the area where you desire to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many charge an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may need to initially consider those colleges that are within the Tuscumbia AL area.
What is the Entire Expense? Paralegal schools can differ in cost based on the credential earned and the length of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only expense for your training. Don't forget to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial assistance may be obtainable to help offset some of the cost, so make sure to consult with the school's financial aid office to see what is available in Tuscumbia AL. Of course if you opt to attend an online school, some of these supplementary costs, for instance for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Accommodate your Schedule? Numerous paralegal students continue working while getting their training and need flexibility in class scheduling. If you can only attend night or weekend classes near Tuscumbia AL, make certain classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make sure that the program you enroll in provides that option. Finally, find out what the protocol is for making up classes missed as a result of work, illness or family obligations.
Enroll in the Right Tuscumbia Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Choosing the ideal legal assistant certificate program is an essential first step toward your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have addressed in this post, you have the option of attending classes at school or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Tuscumbia home. Paralegal academic programs are provided in various lengths and formats. Different types of private and public institutions provide paralegal education, including community colleges, four year colleges and universities, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a pronounced impact on your opportunities for success in your new career. Considering that there is a wide range in the quality of schools, choose wisely. Afford yourself the best possible chance to be successful in this fascinating profession. But irrespective of how you decide to acquire your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have presented you will be able to examine each school and make your final decision. And with the ideal training you can achieve your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Tuscumbia Alabama.