How to Choose a Paralegal Degree Program near Piedmont Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Piedmont AL and begin your journey that will lead to a fulfilling profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it’s essential that you find the ideal school so that you will receive the extensive training that you require to be successful. As you probably know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more educational choices are being offered, both on campus and online. However with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one start? Some prospective students start by searching for schools within commuting range of their Piedmont residences. Of those options, they search for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are very important considerations when picking a school, they are not the only qualifiers you should take into consideration. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the school must be taken into consideration also. Later in this post we will review a list of concerns that you should ask potential paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare every one prior to making your selection. But before we do, let’s take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the educational options that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants for the most part both hold comparable job roles and responsibilities, only with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and are part of a separate job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Piedmont AL lawyers with a diverse array of job functions, such as maintaining client files, legal research, 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 firm might assist with the logistics of a trial or transporting documents to court. In private practices, a paralegal’s work is normally billed by the hour as are the attorney’s. And just like attorneys, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and comply with a strict code of professional ethics. As noted, their responsibilities can be diverse in support of the practices where they are employed, but a few of their everyday tasks might include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on pertinent cases and laws
- Drafting correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping attorneys get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal files, documents and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be complicated and rather demanding. On the other hand, what they are not legally authorized to do is give legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not confined to administrative or clerical functions more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the main support systems for attorneys. 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 alone.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the educational prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The quickest way to launch your career as a legal assistant in Piedmont AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can involve just six months to accomplish. Many entry level positions do call for an Associate’s Degree, which offer a more extensive education and can be obtained at numerous community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor’s Degrees are an option also. Once you have earned either a certificate or degree, you may choose to continue and get a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help improve your job opportunities, but help establish you as a professional as well. 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 certificate or degree from an accredited school (we will discuss the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two important initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
What to Ask Paralegal Schools
Since you now you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what academic options are available, you can begin the process of assessing schools. But since there are so many programs available at junior and community colleges in the Piedmont AL area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you need to know what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is particularly true when you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like many potential students, you will start by searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other important issues to consider as well, including accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let’s go over a few of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are considering so that you can properly vet each one and make your final decision.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you choose need to be accredited by a highly regarded accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it can also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online education. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will get will be of the highest standard, but it will show future employers that you are a qualified professional also. A number of Piedmont AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited school. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are usually accessible only for accredited programs.
What’s the School’s Reputation? Investigate what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal schools you are looking at. This is of special importance if you are entering the profession with no prior work history, since employers will have to rely on the caliber of your education exclusively. Verifying that the school you choose is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating services, such as 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 Piedmont AL law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask what schools they recommend. Keep in mind that even when a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an excellent reputation.
Does the Program Provide Internships? Internship programs offer students an opportunity to experience working in a law practice or other legal operation while remaining in school. They can also present a means for students to start developing contacts within the Piedmont AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal schools you are considering provide internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance provided? You will most likely wish to secure employment quickly after graduation, but finding that first job in a new profession can be difficult without assistance. Find out if the paralegal schools you are reviewing have job placement programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have large networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their students are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the School’s Location? Because laws differ among states, it may be advantageous to select a paralegal school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you wish to practice after graduating. Also, 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 area where you want to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many require an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may need to first look at those colleges that are within the Piedmont AL area.
What is the Total Cost? Paralegal schools can differ in price depending on the credential obtained and the length of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your education. Remember to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid might be accessible to help offset part of the cost, so be sure to contact the school’s financial aid department to see what is offered in Piedmont AL. Naturally if you choose to attend an online school, some of these additional costs, for instance for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Accommodate your Schedule? Numerous legal students keep working while receiving their training and need flexibility in class scheduling. If you can just attend night or weekend classes near Piedmont AL, verify classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make sure that the school you enroll in provides that option. Finally, ask what the protocol is for making up missed classes as a result of sickness, work or family obligations.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Degrees
Paralegal and legal assistant online schools have become more available and can be an excellent alternative for those looking for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be particularly appealing to students who continue to work while earning a certificate or degree. As an additional benefit, online programs can in some cases be less expensive than on campus options. Even ancillary expenditures for such things as study materials or commuting may be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will cover in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the education you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the school and program you are looking into are accredited by a highly regarded agency, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less supervised and formal setting, then obtaining your degree or certificate online could be the ideal choice for you.
Will You Attend Paralegal School near Piedmont AL?
If you live near Piedmont 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.
Piedmont is a city in Calhoun and Cherokee counties in the U.S. state of Alabama. The population was 4,878 at the 2010 census. It is included in the Anniston-Oxford, Alabama Metropolitan Statistical Area. Many surrounding communities are served by the 36272 ZIP code, including Spring Garden, Rock Run, Knighten's Crossroads, and Nance's Creek. The current mayor is Bill Baker, who was chosen by the city council to lead after elected mayor Rick Freeman resigned due to medical issues.
The area now known as Piedmont is a community that began in the early 1840s, located at the crossroads of two early post roads. Major Jacob Forney Dailey of North Carolina came to Alabama in 1848 and bought land in present-day Piedmont. Major Dailey named the area Cross Plains, and an official post office with that name was established on September 22, 1851.
In Reconstruction-era Alabama, an incident at Cross Plains affected race relations and the future of the northeast section of the state for generations as a result of the lynching of William Luke, a northern missionary, and several other men in 1870. In that year, the new northern-owned railroad to connect Washington, D.C. and the North with New Orleans was to have its headquarters near the small northeast Alabama town, at Patona. After the Ku Klux Klan-led lynchings, however, the headquarters was moved, and the town never achieved the dominant position in Calhoun County, with Anniston, founded the next year, achieving that status instead.
Choose the Ideal Paralegal Program near Piedmont AL
Selecting the right paralegal educational 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 choice of attending classes on-campus or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Piedmont residence. Paralegal training programs are offered in various lengths and formats. Different types of private and public institutions provide paralegal training, including junior and community colleges, four-year universities and colleges, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a pronounced impact on your opportunities for success in your new career. Considering that there is a broad range in the quality of programs, pick wisely. Give yourself the best possible chance to succeed in this fascinating profession. But regardless of how you choose to acquire your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will have the ability to examine each school and make your ultimate decision. And with the right education you can achieve your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Piedmont AL.
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