How to Pick the Best Paralegal Degree Program Near Valley Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Valley AL and start your journey that will result in a gratifying career in legal services. Nevertheless, it's important that you locate the best school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you require to succeed. As you most likely know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more academic options are becoming available, both on campus and online. However with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? A number of prospective students start by searching for schools within commuting distance of their Valley homes. Of those alternatives, they search for the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are very important considerations when selecting a college, they are not the only qualifiers you ought to take into consideration. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the school should be taken into account also. Later on in this article we will review a list of concerns that you ought to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare every one before making your selection. But first, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the educational options that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants essentially both hold the same job positions and functions, only with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and belong to a different job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Valley AL lawyers with a wide variety of job duties, including legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job functions are relevant to the type of practice where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm could assist with trial logistics or delivering documents to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is normally billed by the hour as are the lawyer's. And the same as lawyers, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and follow a strict code of professional ethics. As stated, their duties can be diverse in support of the firms where they are employed, but a few of their day-to-day activities can include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on applicable laws and cases
- Composing correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting attorneys prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal files, documents and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be complicated and quite challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally permitted to do is give legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not restricted to administrative or clerical functions more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the main support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers are able to take on a much larger number of cases or clients than they could on their own.
Paralegal Certificates and Degrees and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the academic prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The quickest way to launch your career as a paralegal in Valley AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can take as little as 6 months to accomplish. Most entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which offer a more extensive education and may be acquired at numerous community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are an option also. Once you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you might want to proceed and obtain a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help maximize your job opportunities, but help establish you as a professional as well. A few of the highly respected certifying agencies 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 degree or certificate from an accredited program (we will address the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 important first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Courses
Paralegal and legal assistant online programs have become more popular and may be an excellent option for individuals searching for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online programs can be particularly appealing to Valley AL students who continue to work while obtaining a degree. As an additional advantage, online classes can sometimes be less costly than on campus options. Even supplementary expenses for such items as commuting or study materials can be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all online schools are accredited, which we will address in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the training you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the program and school you are considering are accredited by a reputable agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to attend classes in a less structured and conventional setting, then earning your degree or certificate online may be the right choice for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Degree or Certificate Programs
Once you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what training choices are offered, you can begin the undertaking of assessing schools. But considering that there are numerous programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Valley AL area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you need to learn what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is particularly true when you add all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. If you are like most potential students, you will start by searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other important factors to research also, including the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's take a look at several of the questions you should be asking the schools you are considering so that you can effectively vet each one and make your ultimate selection.
Is the Paralegal Training Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you select need to be accredited by a recognized accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it might also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets online or distance education. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will receive will be of the highest quality, but it will show future employers that you are a qualified professional also. Numerous Valley AL law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited school. Also, financial assistance and student loans are often accessible only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the School? Learn what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant programs you are contemplating. This is of particular importance if you are entering the field with no previous experience, since employers will need to rely on the caliber of your education exclusively. Confirming that the school you choose is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating services, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact several Valley AL law practices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask which schools they recommend. Remember that even if a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an excellent reputation.
Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law firm or other legal operation while remaining in school. They can also present a pathway for students to start creating contacts within the Valley AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal programs you are assessing provide internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help provided? You will most likely wish to secure employment quickly after graduation, but finding that first job in a new profession can be difficult without support. Find out if the paralegal schools you are assessing have job placement programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have sizable networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their students are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the School Located? Since laws differ among states, it may be beneficial to enroll in a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you wish to work after graduation. In addition, it will be important to establish relationships in the local legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is all the more justification to receive your education in the community where you choose to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most charge an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may want to first consider those colleges that are within the Valley AL area.
How Much is the Total Cost? Paralegal programs can differ in price based on the credential received and the amount of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only cost for your education. Remember to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance might be accessible to help offset some of the cost, so make sure to check with the school's financial aid office to find out what is available in Valley AL. Naturally if you decide to attend an online program, a portion these additional expenses, for instance for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Accommodate your Schedule? A number of paralegal students keep working while getting their training and must have flexibility in class scheduling. If you can solely attend night or weekend classes near Valley AL, verify classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make sure that the school you enroll in provides that option. Finally, ask what the protocol is for making up classes missed because of sickness, work or family emergencies.
Choose the Best Valley Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Choosing the right legal assistant certificate program is a vital first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have addressed in this article, you have the option of attending classes at school or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Valley home. Paralegal academic programs are provided in numerous formats and lengths. Several kinds of public and private institutions make available paralegal training, including community colleges, four-year universities and colleges, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a profound impact on your opportunities for success in your new career. Considering that there is a wide range in the quality of schools, choose carefully. Give yourself the best possible opportunity to succeed in this exciting profession. But no matter how you choose to receive your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have presented you will be able to review each program and make your ultimate selection. And with the right training you can accomplish your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Valley Alabama.