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How to Choose the Best Paralegal Studies Degree Program Near Valley Alabama

Valley Alabama woman paralegal consulting with client on cellphoneCongratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Valley AL and start your journey that will result in a gratifying career in legal services. However, it's important that you find the ideal school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you need to succeed. As you probably know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of academic alternatives are becoming available, both on campus and online. But with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Some potential students begin by searching for schools within driving range of their Valley residences. Of those choices, they look for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are prime considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only qualifiers you should consider. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the school ought to be considered too. Later in this article we will cover a list of concerns that you ought to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare each one prior to making your selection. But before we do, let's take a look at what a paralegal does and the academic options that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.

Paralegals and Legal Assistants

Valley Alabama legal library

Paralegals and legal assistants for the most part both hold comparable job roles and functions, just with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and are part of a separate job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Valley AL attorneys with a wide variety of job duties, including maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job duties are based upon the type of legal firm where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice could assist with trial logistics or delivering files to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is typically billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And the same as lawyers, they must perform with a high level of professionalism and follow a strict standard of professional ethics. As noted, their duties can be diverse in support of the practices where they work, but some of their day-to-day tasks can include:

  • Investigating and fact checking cases
  • Conducting research on related cases and laws
  • Drafting correspondence and legal documents
  • Submitting legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
  • Helping lawyers get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
  • Organizing and preserving legal documents, files and additional records

With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be complicated and rather demanding. On the other hand, what they are not legally allowed to do is give legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not confined to clerical or administrative tasks more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the right hand support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys have the ability to take on a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could on their own.

Paralegal Programs and Certification

Valley Alabama male legal assistant speaking on cellphone taking notes

As we discussed earlier, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational requirements and job prospects will be the same. The fastest way to launch your career as a paralegal in Valley AL is by earning a certificate, which can require just 6 months to accomplish. Many entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more expansive education and may be obtained at many community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are offered as well. After you have acquired either a degree or a certificate, you may choose to continue and get a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help increase your employment opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. Some of the highly regarded certifying organizations in the profession 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 two essential first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.

Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Certificates and Degrees

Valley Alabama female student attending paralegal online classesParalegal and legal assistant online schools have become more prevalent and can be a good option for those searching for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online programs can be particularly appealing to Valley AL students who continue to work while earning a certificate or degree. As an additional benefit, online classes can sometimes be less costly than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenditures for such items as commuting or study materials may be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will discuss in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the education you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the school and program you are reviewing are accredited by a reputable organization, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to attend classes in a less supervised and formal environment, then obtaining your certificate or degree online could be the right choice for you.

Points to Ask Paralegal Certificate or Degree Programs

Once you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what training options are available, you can start the process of assessing schools. But because there are numerous programs available at junior and community colleges in the Valley AL area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you need to learn what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is especially true if you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like many prospective students, you will start by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other important aspects to consider also, such as the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's go over several of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are investigating so that you can effectively vet each one and make your ultimate decision.

Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you choose need to be accredited by a recognized organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it can also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online training. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will obtain will be of the highest quality, but it will demonstrate to potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Many Valley AL law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited program. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are often accessible only for accredited programs.

What's the Program's Reputation? Investigate what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal programs you are contemplating. This is of special importance if you are new to the profession with no prior work history, since employers will need to make a decision based on the caliber of your education exclusively. Verifying that the program you choose is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating reports, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also call a few Valley AL law practices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask what 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 outstanding reputation.

Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs provide students a chance to experience working in a law practice or other legal enterprise while remaining in school. They can also present an avenue for students to start establishing contacts within the Valley AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal schools you are reviewing offer internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering upon graduation.

Is Job Placement Assistance provided? You will undoubtedly wish to hit the ground running after graduating, but getting that initial job in a new profession can be challenging without support. Ask if the paralegal programs you are assessing have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have substantial networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their graduates are well regarded and sought after.

Where is the School Located? Considering that laws vary among states, it might be advantageous to select a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you wish to work after graduating. In addition, it will be important to build relationships in the local legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is all the more justification to obtain your education in the area where you desire to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many charge a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may wish to initially investigate those schools that are within the Valley AL area.

What is the Complete Expense? Paralegal programs can vary in cost based on the credential earned and the length of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your education. Remember to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial assistance may be accessible to help offset part of the cost, so be sure to consult with the school's financial aid office to see what is offered in Valley AL. Of course if you choose to attend an online program, a portion these supplementary costs, for instance for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.

Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? A number of paralegal students keep working while obtaining their training and must have flexibility in class scheduling. If you can only attend weekend or evening classes near Valley AL, verify classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make sure that the program you select makes available that option. Finally, find out what the protocol is for making up classes missed because of work, illness or family obligations.

Learn More About Valley Paralegal Studies

Choose the Best Valley Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program

Enrolling in the ideal legal assistant degree school is an important first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have discussed in this article, you have the option of attending classes at school or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Valley home. Paralegal academic programs are provided in many formats and lengths. Several types of public and private institutions provide paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four year colleges and universities, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a profound influence on your prospects for success in your new profession. Since there is a broad range in the quality of schools, pick carefully. Give yourself the best possible chance to be successful in this rewarding profession. But no matter how you choose to receive your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will have the ability to review each program and make your ultimate selection. And with the ideal training you can accomplish your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Valley Alabama.


 

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