How to Select 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 result in a gratifying profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's essential that you find the best school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you require to be successful. As you most likely understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more educational alternatives are being offered, both on campus and online. However with numerous options to choose from, where does one begin? Many prospective students begin by looking for schools within traveling range of their Valley homes. Of those options, they try to find the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are important considerations when choosing a school, they are not the only factors you should consider. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the program should be considered too. Later on in this article we will review a list of concerns that you need to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare each one before making your selection. But before we do, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic choices that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants for the most part both fill 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 are part of a different job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Valley AL attorneys with a wide range of job duties, such as legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job functions are based upon the type of legal firm where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice may assist with the logistics of a trial or delivering files to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is typically billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And the same as lawyers, they must carry out their duties with a high level of professionalism and adhere to a strict standard of professional ethics. As stated, their responsibilities can be varied in support of the firms where they work, but some of their daily activities may include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on pertinent cases and laws
- Composing correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping attorneys get ready for trial and stay 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 involved and very challenging. However, what they are not legally allowed to do is provide legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not restricted to administrative or clerical tasks more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the right hand support systems for lawyers. 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 Certificates and Degrees and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the academic requirements and opportunities will be the same. The quickest means to launch your career as a paralegal in Valley AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can take as little as six months to complete. A large number of entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which provide a more comprehensive education and may be obtained at numerous community colleges in two years. For an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are offered as well. When you have earned either a degree or a certificate, you might want to proceed and get a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help improve your career opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. A few of the highly regarded certifying agencies 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 degree or certificate from an accredited program (we will address the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two important initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Classes
Online paralegal or legal assistant schools have become more prevalent and may be an excellent alternative for students searching for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online programs can be especially appealing to Valley AL students who keep working while earning a certificate or degree. As an added benefit, online classes can sometimes be less expensive than on campus options. Even supplementary expenses for such items as commuting or study materials may be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all online schools are accredited, which we will cover in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the education you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the school and program you are looking into are accredited by a reputable agency, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less supervised and conventional setting, then obtaining your certificate or degree online could be the ideal option for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Programs
Now that you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what educational options are offered, you can begin the process of evaluating schools. But since there are numerous programs accessible at junior and community colleges in the Valley AL area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you need to know what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is particularly true if you add all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like the majority of prospective students, you will start by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other important aspects to think about as well, including the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's go over some of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are considering 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 choose need to be accredited by a reputable organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it may also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets online or distance education. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will obtain will be of the highest quality, but it will show future employers that you are a qualified professional also. A number of Valley AL law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited program. Also, financial aid and student loans are often accessible only for accredited schools.
What's the Program's Reputation? Research what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal schools 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 quality of your education exclusively. Checking that the school you choose is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating reports, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call some Valley AL law practices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask what schools they recommend. Remember that even though a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs offer students an opportunity to experience working in a law practice or other legal operation while still in school. They can also provide an avenue for students to start establishing contacts within the Valley AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal programs you are evaluating offer internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance provided? You will undoubtedly want to hit the ground running after graduating, but finding that first job in a new field can be difficult without assistance. Find out if the paralegal programs you are reviewing have job placement programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have large networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their students are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the School Located? Because laws differ among states, it may be advantageous to enroll in a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you wish to work after graduation. Also, it will be important to build relationships in the local legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is even more reason to receive your education in the area where you wish to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most charge a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might need to first investigate those colleges that are within the Valley AL area.
What is the Complete Expense? Paralegal schools can vary in price depending on the credential received and the length of training provided. However, 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 as well. Financial aid may be accessible to help minimize part of the expense, so don't forget to consult with the school's financial aid office to see what is offered in Valley AL. Needless to say that if you decide to attend an online program, some of these added expenses, for instance for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? Many legal students keep working while getting their training and need flexibility to schedule classes. If you can solely attend weekend or evening classes near Valley AL, make sure classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make certain that the school you select offers that option. Finally, inquire what the process is for making-up classes missed due to sickness, work or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Best Valley Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Selecting the right paralegal studies training 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 offered in numerous lengths and formats. Different types of public and private institutions provide paralegal training, including junior and community colleges, four-year universities and colleges, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a pronounced influence on your opportunities for success in your new career. Considering that there is a wide range in the quality of schools, choose carefully. Afford yourself the best possible chance to succeed in this rewarding profession. But no matter how you choose to acquire your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will be able to review each school and make your final selection. And with the ideal education you can realize your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Valley Alabama.