How to Select a Paralegal Program near Columbiana Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Columbiana AL and begin your journey that will result in a rewarding career in legal services. However, it’s important that you locate the right school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you require to achieve success. As you most likely know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more educational alternatives are being offered, both on campus and online. However with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Many potential students start by searching for schools within driving range of their Columbiana homes. Of those options, they search for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are important considerations when picking a school, they are not the only factors you need to consider. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the program must be considered also. Later in this post we will cover a list of concerns that you need to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare every one before making your choice. But before we do, let’s take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the instructional alternatives that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants for the most part both hold the same job roles 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 category. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Columbiana AL lawyers with a diverse array of job functions, including legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job duties are based upon the type of legal firm where they work. 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 firms, a paralegal’s work is usually billed by the hour as are the lawyer’s. And the same as lawyers, they must carry out their duties with a high degree of professionalism and follow a strict standard of professional ethics. As mentioned, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they are employed, but a few of their everyday tasks may involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching related laws and cases
- Composing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping lawyers get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be complicated and very challenging. However, what they are not legally authorized to do is give legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not confined to clerical or administrative duties more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really 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 handle a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the educational requirements and job prospects will be the same. The fastest means to launch your career as a legal assistant in Columbiana AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can take as little as six months to accomplish. Most entry level positions do require an Associate’s Degree, which offer a more expansive education and may be acquired at many community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor’s Degrees are an option also. After you have acquired either a degree or a certificate, you might choose to continue and get a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help improve your employment opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. Some 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 cover the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two crucial initial steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
What to Ask Paralegal Studies Programs
Now that you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what training options are available, you can begin the process of assessing schools. But since there are so many programs available at community and junior colleges in the Columbiana AL area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you need to learn what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is especially true if you add all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. If you are like the majority of potential 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 important factors to consider as well, including accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let’s take a look at a few of the questions you should be asking the schools you are researching so that you can effectively vet each one and make your ultimate decision.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you pick need to be accredited by a recognized accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it might also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets distance or online learning. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will receive will be of the highest standard, but it will show potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. A number of Columbiana AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited program. Also, financial assistance and student loans are typically obtainable only for accredited programs.
What’s the Reputation of the School? Investigate what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal programs you are considering. This is of particular importance if you are entering the profession with no prior work history, since employers will have to make a decision based on the quality of your education exclusively. Verifying that the school you choose is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating services, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact some Columbiana AL law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask which schools they suggest. Bear in mind that even though a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the Program Sponsor Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law firm or other legal enterprise while still in school. They can also provide a means for students to begin establishing contacts within the Columbiana AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal programs you are evaluating provide internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help available? You will probably wish to secure employment quickly after graduation, but getting that first job in a new profession can be challenging without help. Ask 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 confirms that their students are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the Campus Located? Considering that laws differ from state to state, it might be a good idea to select a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you wish to work after graduation. In addition, it will be valuable to develop relationships in the area legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is even more justification to acquire your education in the community where you wish to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many charge an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may wish to initially look at those schools that are within the Columbiana AL region.
What is the Total Cost? Paralegal programs can vary in price depending on the credential obtained and the length of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expense for your training. Remember to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid might be obtainable to help offset some of the cost, so make sure to check with the school’s financial aid office to see what is available in Columbiana AL. Of course if you decide to attend an online program, a portion these additional costs, for instance for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? Numerous legal students continue working while obtaining their training and need flexibility in class scheduling. If you can solely attend night or weekend classes near Columbiana AL, make sure classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make sure that the program you select offers that option. Finally, find out what the process is for making-up missed classes as a result of work, illness or family obligations.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Training
Legal assistant and paralegal online schools have become more available and can be a good alternative for students looking for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be especially attractive to individuals who keep working while earning a degree. As an added advantage, online programs can in some cases 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 cover in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the education you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the school and program you are looking into are accredited by a reputable organization, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less structured and formal setting, then obtaining your certificate or degree online could be the right option for you.
Will You Attend Paralegal School near Columbiana AL?
If you live near Columbiana 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.
Columbiana, originally called Columbia, was selected as the county seat of Shelby County in 1826 over rivals Calera and Montevallo. After the selection as the county seat, Columbiana celebrated by drilling holes in a large pine tree and packing it with gunpowder. The tree was blown up and the sound could be heard for miles. Later in 1826, the courthouse was moved to an old school building in Columbiana.
An act of the Alabama Legislature officially changed the name of Shelby County’s county seat to Columbiana on January 13, 1832. Columbiana was incorporated on December 5, 1837 with corporate limits one-quarter of a mile in each direction from the public square.
In 1854, the decision was made to build a larger courthouse at the south end of “Silk Stocking Road”, now Main Street. From 1854 to 1908 several additions and changes were made to the courthouse. During the American Civil War, Columbiana was connected to the nearby town of Shelby by the Shelby Iron Company Railroad, which connected the Shelby Iron Works to the Alabama and Tennessee River Railroad. The Iron Works supplied iron to the C.B. Churchill and Company foundry, which moved to Columbiana in 1862 after the fall of Corinth, Mississippi. The Churchill foundry made eight and ten pound shot, eight and ten pound shells, and shells for Blakely rifles. The C.B. Churchill and Company foundry, Shelby Iron Works and the railroad were destroyed by Union forces on March 31, 1865, as part of Wilson's Raid.
Choose the Best Paralegal College near Columbiana AL
Enrolling in the right paralegal degree program is a vital first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have discussed in this article, you have the option of attending classes on campus or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Columbiana home. Paralegal training programs are made available in various lengths and formats. Several kinds of public and private institutions offer paralegal training, 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 pronounced impact on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Given that there is a broad 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 education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have presented you will be able to evaluate each school and make your ultimate selection. And with the appropriate education you can accomplish your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Columbiana AL.
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