How to Select a Paralegal Certificate Program near Valley Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Valley AL and start your journey that will result in a satisfying profession 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 achieve success. As you most likely know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more educational choices are becoming available, both at school and online. However with numerous options to choose from, where does one begin? A number of prospective students start by searching for schools within traveling range of their Valley residences. Of those choices, they try to find the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are necessary considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only qualifiers you need to consider. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the program need to be considered as well. Later in this post we will cover a list of concerns that you should ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare each one prior to making your decision. But before we do, let’s take a look at what a paralegal does and the instructional choices that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals essentially both hold the same job positions and responsibilities, only with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and belong to a different job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Valley AL lawyers with a wide range of job duties, including maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job functions are relevant to the type of legal firm where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice might help with trial logistics or transporting documents to court. In private firms, a paralegal’s work is usually 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 abide by 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 everyday tasks might involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on applicable cases and laws
- Preparing correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping lawyers get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal files, documents and other records
With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be complicated and rather demanding. However, 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 limited to administrative or clerical duties more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the main support systems for lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys have the ability to take on a much larger number of clients or cases than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the academic requirements and job prospects will be the same. The quickest means to begin your career as a paralegal in Valley AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can require as little as six months to complete. A large number of entry level positions do require an Associate’s Degree, which provide a more extensive education and can be obtained at many community colleges in two years. For an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor’s Degrees are offered as well. When you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you may choose to continue and obtain a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help maximize your employment opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. Some 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 certificate or degree from an accredited school (we will address the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 essential initial steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Once you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what training options are offered, you can start the process of evaluating schools. But considering that there are so many programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Valley AL area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you need to find out what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is especially true when you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like many 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 critical factors to research as well, for instance the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let’s go over a few of the questions you should be asking the programs you are considering so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your final selection.
Is the Paralegal Training Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you pick should be accredited by a highly regarded accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it may also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets distance or online learning. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will receive will be of the highest standard, but it will show potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. Numerous Valley AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited program. Also, financial aid and student loans are often obtainable only for accredited schools.
What’s the Reputation of the School? Research what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant schools you are contemplating. This is of specific importance if you are new to the profession with no previous work history, since employers will need to rely on the caliber of your training exclusively. Checking that the program you choose is accredited is a good 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 call some Valley AL law firms that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask what schools they recommend. Bear in mind that even if a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the Program Sponsor Internships? Internship programs provide students an opportunity to experience working in a law practice or other legal operation while remaining in school. They can also offer an avenue for students to begin developing contacts within the Valley AL legal field. Ask if the paralegal programs you are reviewing provide internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will probably want to secure employment quickly after graduation, but finding that initial job in a new profession can be challenging without assistance. 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 sign that the schools have sizable networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their students are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the Campus Located? Because laws differ 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 plan to practice after graduating. In addition, it will be necessary to develop relationships in the area legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is all the more justification to receive your education in the community where you choose to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most require a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might want to initially investigate those schools that are within the Valley AL area.
How Much is the Total Cost? Paralegal programs can differ in cost depending on the credential received and the amount of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your education. Don’t forget to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid might be accessible to help minimize some of the expense, so make sure to contact the school’s financial aid department to see what is offered in Valley AL. Naturally if you choose to attend an online program, a portion these added expenses, such as for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Fit your Schedule? A number of legal students keep working while obtaining their training and must have flexibility to schedule classes. If you can just attend night or weekend classes near Valley AL, make sure classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, confirm that the school you select offers that option. Last, inquire what the protocol is for making up missed classes as a result of sickness, work or family emergencies.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Training
Online paralegal or legal assistant programs have become more available and can be a good option for individuals looking for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be especially attractive to individuals who keep working while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an additional benefit, online programs can sometimes be less costly than on campus options. Even ancillary expenses for such things as study materials or commuting can be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all online programs are accredited, which we will discuss in more detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the training you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the program and school you are thinking about are accredited by a respected organization, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less structured and conventional environment, then obtaining your certificate or degree online could be the right option for you.
Will You Attend Paralegal School near Valley AL?
If you live near Valley AL or perhaps you are considering attending classes in that area, following is some interesting and useful information regarding the location of your new school campus.
Chambers County, Alabama
Chambers County is a county of the U.S. state of Alabama. As of the 2010 census the population was 34,215. Its county seat is Lafayette. Its name is in honor of Henry H. Chambers, who served as a United States Senator from Alabama.
Chambers County joined its four mill cities to make the city of Valley (which is now the largest city). Valley is rapidly increasing in size and located between Montgomery, Alabama and Atlanta, Georgia.
As of the census of 2010, there were 34,215 people, 13,933 households, and 9,391 families residing in the county. The population density was 57 people per square mile (22/km2). There were 17,004 housing units at an average density of 28 per square mile (11/km2). The racial makeup of the county was 58.8% White (non-Hispanic), 38.7% Black or African American, 0.2% Native American, 0.5% Asian, 0.6% from other races, and 1.1% from two or more races. 1.6% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.
Choose the Best Legal Assistant School near Valley AL
Choosing the ideal paralegal degree program is a vital first step toward your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have covered in this article, you have the choice 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 lengths and formats. Various types of private and public institutions provide paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four-year colleges and universities, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a profound impact on your prospects for success in your new profession. Since there is a broad range in the quality of programs, choose carefully. Give yourself the greatest possible opportunity to succeed in this fascinating profession. But irrespective of how you elect to receive your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have presented you will have the ability to examine each program and make your ultimate decision. And with the appropriate education you can accomplish your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Valley AL.
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