How to Select a Paralegal Studies Program near Dothan Alabama
Best Wishes regarding your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Dothan AL and begin your journey that will lead to a fulfilling career in legal services. However, it’s crucial that you locate the ideal school so that you will receive the extensive training that you need to achieve success. As you most likely understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more academic choices are becoming available, both on campus and online. But with numerous options to choose from, where does one start? Many potential students start by trying to find schools within driving distance of their Dothan homes. Of those choices, they try to find the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are very important considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only factors you should consider. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the school ought to be taken into consideration too. Later on in this post we will review a list of questions that you must ask potential paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare every one prior to making your decision. But before we do, let’s take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic alternatives that are available to earn a paralegal certificate or degree.
Alabama Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals for the most part both fill the same job positions and functions, only with different titles. However, 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 Dothan AL attorneys with a wide range of job functions, such as legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job functions are relevant to the type of legal firm where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm might assist with trial logistics or transporting documents to court. In private firms, 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 follow a strict code of professional ethics. As mentioned, their responsibilities can be diverse in support of the practices where they work, but a few of their regular activities can involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching pertinent laws and cases
- Drafting correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping lawyers get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be complex and quite challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally permitted to do is provide legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not confined to administrative or clerical functions more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the main support systems for Dothan AL attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers are able to handle a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the academic prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The quickest way to launch your career as a legal assistant is by earning a certificate, which can require as little as six months to complete. Many entry level positions do call for an Associate’s Degree, which provide a more comprehensive education and may be earned at many Dothan AL area community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor’s Degrees are offered as well. Once you have acquired either a degree or a certificate, you may choose to continue and get a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to practice 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 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 degree or certificate from an accredited Dothan AL area program (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.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Programs
Paralegal and legal assistant online programs have become more common in Dothan AL and may be an excellent alternative for individuals looking for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be particularly attractive to individuals who keep working while earning a degree. As an added benefit, online schools can in some cases be less costly than more traditional options. Even supplementary expenses for such items as study materials or commuting can be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will address in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the training you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the school and program you are thinking about are accredited by a reputable organization, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less supervised and formal setting, then earning your certificate or degree online may be the right option for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Schools
Now that you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what training choices are available, you can begin the undertaking of assessing schools. But because there are numerous programs offered at Dothan AL area junior and community colleges, as well as vocational and trade 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 certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like many prospective students, you will start by searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other critical issues to think about as well, including accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let’s take a look at some of the questions you should be asking the schools you are considering so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your final selection.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you select should be accredited by a reputable organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it can also get 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. Numerous Dothan AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited program. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are usually obtainable only for accredited programs.
What’s the Reputation of the School? Investigate what the rankings and reputations are for the Alabama paralegal programs you are contemplating. This is of special importance if you are new to the profession with no previous experience, since Dothan AL employers will have to make a decision based on the quality of your education exclusively. Confirming that the program you select is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating reports, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact several law practices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask which schools they suggest. Bear in mind that even if a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs provide students an opportunity to experience working in a law firm or other Dothan AL legal operation while remaining in school. They can also present a means for students to begin creating contacts within the legal field. Ask if the paralegal schools you are reviewing offer internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance offered? You will most likely wish to secure employment quickly after graduating, but finding that first job in a new field can be challenging without assistance. Find out if the paralegal programs you are assessing have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have large networks and great relationships with Dothan AL legal services employers. It also confirms that their graduates are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the School’s Location? Considering that laws vary from state to state, it may be beneficial to select a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you plan to practice after graduating. In addition, it will be necessary to develop relationships in the local Dothan AL legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is even more justification to acquire your education in the community where you choose to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many require a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might need to first investigate those colleges that are within your local area.
What is the Total Expense? Paralegal programs can vary in price based on the credential obtained and the amount of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your training. Remember to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance may be obtainable to help offset part of the cost, so be sure to talk to the school’s financial aid office to find out what is available in Dothan AL. Needless to say that if you opt to attend an online program, some of these supplementary costs, for instance for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? Many paralegal students keep working while obtaining their training and need flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend weekend or evening classes near Dothan AL, make sure classes are offered 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 because of work, illness or family emergencies.
Choose the Best Legal Assistant Training near Dothan AL
Selecting the ideal paralegal educational program is an important 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 on campus or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Dothan residence. Paralegal academic programs are made available in various lengths and formats. Various types of private and public institutions offer 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 pronounced influence on your prospects for success in your new career. Given that there is a broad range in the quality of schools, choose wisely. Give yourself the best possible opportunity to be successful in this fascinating profession. But irrespective of how you elect to obtain your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will be able to evaluate each school and make your ultimate decision. And with the appropriate training you can realize your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Dothan AL.
More About Dothan Alabama
Dothan /ˈdoʊθən/ is a city in Dale, Henry, and Houston counties in the U.S. state of Alabama. It is the largest city and county seat of Houston County, with a population of 65,496 at the 2010 census. It is located in the state's southeastern corner, approximately 20 miles (32 km) west of the Georgia state line and 16 miles (26 km) north of Florida. It is named after the biblical city, which is the place where Joseph's brothers threw him into a cistern and then sold him into slavery in Egypt.
Dothan is the principal city of the Dothan, Alabama metropolitan area, which encompasses all of Geneva, Henry, and Houston counties; the small portion that lies in Dale County is part of the Ozark Micropolitan Statistical Area. The combined population for the entire Dothan metropolitan area in 2010 was 145,639. The city serves as the main transportation and commercial hub for a significant part of southeastern Alabama, southwest Georgia, and nearby portions of the Florida Panhandle. Since approximately one-fourth of the U.S. peanut crop is produced nearby, with much of it being processed in the city, Dothan is sometimes referred to as "The Peanut Capital of the World". Dothan also hosts the annual National Peanut Festival at the dedicated "Peanut Festival Fairgrounds".
The area that is now Dothan was inhabited for thousands of years by successive cultures of indigenous peoples. In historic times it was occupied by the Alabama and Creek Native American tribes who were hunters and gatherers in the vast forests of pine that covered this region. These tribes had developed complex cultures, and often used to meet and camp for trading near a large spring at the crossroads of two trails.
Between 1763 and 1783, the region that is now Dothan was part of the colony of British West Florida. European-American settlers moving through the area during the late 18th and early 19th centuries discovered the Indian spring, naming it "Poplar Head". Most felt that the sandy soil common to this region would be unsuitable for farming, so they moved on.
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