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How to Enroll in the Best Paralegal Studies Training 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 lead to a rewarding career in legal services. However, it's important that you find the ideal school so that you will receive the extensive training that you require to succeed. As you most likely understand, 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 at school and online. However with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one start? Many potential students begin by looking for schools within traveling distance of their Valley homes. Of those alternatives, they look for the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are very important considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only qualifiers you should consider. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the school should be considered too. Later in this article we will review a list of questions that you must ask potential paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare each one prior to making your selection. But first, let's take a look at what a paralegal does and the instructional choices that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.

Paralegals and Legal Assistants

Valley Alabama legal library

Legal assistants and paralegals essentially both fill comparable job positions and responsibilities, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and belong to a separate job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Valley AL lawyers with a diverse array of job functions, such as legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job duties are based upon the type of practice where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice may help with the logistics of a trial or transferring files to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is normally billed hourly as are the attorney's. And the same as attorneys, they must carry out their duties with a high level of professionalism and comply with a strict standard of professional ethics. As noted, their responsibilities can be diverse in support of the practices where they work, but some of their routine tasks might involve:

  • Investigating and fact checking cases
  • Conducting research on applicable cases and laws
  • Preparing correspondence and legal documents
  • Filing legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
  • Helping lawyers get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
  • Organizing and preserving legal documents, files and other records

With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be complicated and very challenging. However, what they are not legally allowed to do is give legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not confined to clerical or administrative functions more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the main support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers have the ability to manage a much larger number of cases or clients than they could alone.

Paralegal Certificates and Degrees and Certification

Valley Alabama male paralegal speaking on phone writing notes

As we previously covered, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the academic prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The quickest way to start your career as a paralegal in Valley AL is by earning a certificate, which can take as little as 6 months to complete. Many entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which provide a more expansive education and may be acquired at many community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are available also. After you have earned either a degree or a certificate, you may choose to continue and earn a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help improve your career opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. 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 earning a certification, you will have taken two important first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.

Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Classes

Valley Alabama female student attending online paralegal trainingLegal assistant and paralegal online schools have become more available and may be a good alternative for individuals looking for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online programs can be particularly attractive to Valley AL students who keep working while earning a certificate or degree. As an additional advantage, online classes can often be less costly than on campus options. Even supplementary expenses for such things as study materials or commuting may be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will cover in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the training you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the school and program you are considering are accredited by a highly regarded organization, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less supervised and formal environment, then earning your certificate or degree online could be the ideal option for you.

Questions to Ask Paralegal Studies Programs

Now that you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what training choices are offered, you can begin the process of evaluating schools. But since there are so many programs accessible at junior and community colleges in the Valley AL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you need to find out what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is especially true if you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like many prospective students, you will begin by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other significant aspects to think about also, including accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's go over some of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are researching so that you can properly vet each one and make your final selection.

Is the Paralegal Training Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you select need to be accredited by a respected 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 focuses on online or distance learning. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will get will be of the highest standard, but it will demonstrate to potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Many Valley AL law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited school. Also, financial aid and student loans are usually accessible only for accredited programs.

What's the Program's Reputation? Research what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal programs you are looking at. This is of particular importance if you are new to the profession with no prior work history, since employers will have to rely on the caliber of your education exclusively. Verifying that the school 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 rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact a few Valley AL law firms that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask which schools they suggest. Bear in mind that even if a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an exceptional reputation.

Does the Program Provide Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal operation while still in school. They can also provide an avenue for students to begin creating contacts within the Valley AL legal field. Ask if the paralegal schools you are reviewing provide internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing after graduation.

Is Job Placement Help offered? You will most likely wish to secure employment quickly after graduating, but getting that initial job in a new profession can be challenging without assistance. Ask if the paralegal programs you are reviewing have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have sizable networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their graduates are highly regarded and sought after.

Where is the School Located? Considering that laws vary from state to state, it may be advantageous to enroll in a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you plan to practice after graduation. In addition, it will be valuable to build relationships in the area legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is even more reason to obtain your education in the community where you want to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many charge an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might wish to first consider those colleges that are within the Valley AL region.

How Much is the Complete Cost? Paralegal schools can differ in cost depending on the credential received and the length of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your education. Remember to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid might be available to help offset some of the cost, so don't forget to contact the school's financial aid office to find out what is available in Valley AL. Needless to say that if you decide to attend an online school, some of these additional costs, such as for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.

Do the Class Times Fit your Schedule? A number of paralegal students continue working while receiving their training and must have flexibility to schedule classes. If you can just attend weekend or evening classes near Valley AL, make sure classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, confirm that the program you choose offers that option. Finally, inquire what the procedure is for making-up classes missed due to sickness, work or family emergencies.

Learn More About Valley Paralegal Degree Programs

Enroll in the Right Valley Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program

Enrolling in the ideal paralegal degree program is an important first step toward your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have addressed 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 residence. Paralegal education programs are offered in various formats and lengths. Various kinds of public and private institutions offer paralegal education, including junior and community colleges, four year colleges and universities, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a pronounced influence on your prospects for success in your new profession. Considering that there is a broad range in the quality of schools, choose wisely. Afford yourself the best possible chance to be successful in this rewarding profession. But no matter how you decide to acquire your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have presented you will have the ability to evaluate each school and make your ultimate decision. And with the right training you can realize your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Valley Alabama.


 

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