How to Choose the Right Paralegal Training Program Near Valley Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Valley AL and begin your journey that will lead to a fulfilling profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's important that you find the best school so that you will get the extensive training that you require to succeed. As you most likely understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more academic choices are being offered, both on campus and online. However with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one start? Some prospective students begin by trying to find schools within commuting distance of their Valley homes. Of those choices, they try to find the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are very important considerations when picking a college, they are not the only factors you should take into consideration. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the program ought to be taken into consideration too. Later on in this article we will cover a list of concerns that you should ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare each one before making your selection. But first, let's have 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
Legal assistants and paralegals basically both fill the same job roles and functions, only with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and are part of a different job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals help Valley AL lawyers with a wide variety of job functions, including maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. 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 practices, the work of a paralegal is normally billed hourly as are the attorney's. And just like attorneys, they must carry out their duties with a high level of professionalism and adhere to a strict standard of professional ethics. As mentioned, their responsibilities can be diverse in support of the firms where they are employed, but some of their daily activities may involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching related laws and cases
- Preparing correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting attorneys get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be involved and very demanding. However, what they are not legally permitted to do is offer legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not limited to clerical or administrative duties more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the main support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys are able to handle a much larger number of clients or cases than they could on their own.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The fastest way to begin your career as a legal assistant in Valley AL is by earning a certificate, which can require as little as six months to complete. Most entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which provide a more expansive education and may be obtained at numerous community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are available as well. After you have acquired either a certificate or degree, you may choose to continue and earn a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help improve 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 school (we will discuss the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 crucial first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Classes
Online paralegal or legal assistant schools have become more common and can be a good option for students searching for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be especially attractive to Valley AL students who keep working while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an added benefit, online programs can sometimes be less costly than on campus options. Even ancillary expenditures for such things as study materials or commuting can be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will address in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the training you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the school and program you are reviewing are accredited by a reputable organization, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less supervised and conventional environment, then obtaining your certificate or degree online might be the right option for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Schools
Now that you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what training choices are available, you can start the undertaking of evaluating schools. But considering that there are so many programs available 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 in order to compare each one. This is particularly true when you add all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like most potential students, you will begin by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other important aspects to think about also, for instance the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's go over some of the questions you should be asking the schools you are researching so that you can effectively vet each one and make your final selection.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you choose should be accredited by a highly regarded organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it can also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance education. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will obtain will be of the highest quality, but it will establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. Many Valley AL law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited program. Finally, financial aid and student loans are typically accessible only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the School? Investigate what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant schools you are looking at. This is of specific importance if you are new to the field with no prior work history, since employers will have to make a decision based on the caliber of your education exclusively. Checking that the school you choose is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating services, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact some Valley AL law practices that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask what schools they recommend. Bear in mind that even if a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an excellent reputation.
Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs offer students an opportunity to experience working in a law firm or other legal enterprise while still in school. They can also present a means for students to start developing contacts within the Valley AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal schools you are assessing provide internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will most likely want to hit the ground running after graduating, but getting that initial job in a new profession can be difficult without help. Ask if the paralegal programs you are considering have job placement programs and what their placement 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 confirms that their students are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the School's Location? Since laws vary from one state to another, it might be a good idea to enroll in a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you want to practice after graduating. In addition, it will be important to cultivate relationships in the local legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is all the more justification to acquire your education in the area where you wish to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many charge a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might need to first consider those colleges that are within the Valley AL area.
What is the Complete Expense? Paralegal programs can differ in cost depending 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 books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance might be accessible to help minimize some of the cost, so don't forget to talk to the school's financial aid office to see what is offered in Valley AL. Naturally if you opt to attend an online school, a portion these supplementary expenses, such as for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? Numerous legal students keep working while obtaining their training and require flexibility to schedule classes. If you can solely attend night or weekend classes near Valley AL, verify classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make sure that the school you select offers that option. Last, ask what the protocol is for making up missed classes due to sickness, work or family obligations.
Enroll in the Best Valley Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Choosing the right paralegal degree school is an essential first step toward your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have discussed in this post, you have the option of attending classes on campus or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Valley home. Paralegal training programs are offered in numerous lengths and formats. Several types of public and private institutions provide paralegal training, including community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a pronounced impact on your prospects for success in your new career. Given that there is a broad range in the quality of programs, pick wisely. Give yourself the greatest possible opportunity to succeed in this fascinating profession. But regardless of how you choose to obtain your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will have the ability to review each school and make your ultimate decision. And with the right training you can realize your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Valley Alabama.