How to Choose a Paralegal Program near Winfield Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Winfield AL and start your journey that will lead to a satisfying career in legal services. However, it’s crucial that you find the right school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you need to achieve success. As you probably 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. But with so many options to choose from, where does one begin? Some prospective students start by searching for schools within commuting range of their Winfield homes. Of those choices, they search for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are very important considerations when choosing a college, they are not the only qualifiers you need to take into consideration. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the school must be taken into consideration too. Later in this post we will review a list of concerns that you need to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare each one prior to making your choice. But first, let’s take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic alternatives that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants essentially both hold the same job roles and responsibilities, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and are part of a separate job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Winfield AL lawyers with a wide variety of job duties, including legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job duties are relevant to the type of legal firm where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice could help with trial logistics or delivering files to court. In private firms, a paralegal’s work is normally billed hourly as are the lawyer’s. And just like lawyers, they must carry out their duties with a high degree of professionalism and follow a strict standard of professional ethics. As mentioned, their duties can be diverse in support of the practices where they work, but a few of their everyday activities might include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching applicable laws and cases
- Composing correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping attorneys get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal files, documents and other records
With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be involved and rather challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally authorized to do is give legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not confined to clerical or administrative duties more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys have the ability to take on a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could on their own.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational requirements and opportunities will be the same. The quickest way to start your career as a legal assistant in Winfield AL is by earning a certificate, which can involve as little as six months to accomplish. Most entry level positions do require an Associate’s Degree, which provide a more extensive education and may be obtained at numerous 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. Once you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you might choose to proceed and earn a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help maximize your job opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. Some of the highly regarded 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 degree or certificate from an accredited school (we will cover the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two crucial initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Points to Ask Paralegal Programs
Since you now you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what training choices are available, you can start the process of assessing schools. But since there are so many programs available at junior and community colleges in the Winfield AL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you must know 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 many prospective students, you will start by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other important aspects to think about as well, such as 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 investigating so that you can properly vet each one and make your final choice.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you enroll in need to be accredited by a reputable 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 targets online or distance learning. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will receive will be of the highest standard, but it will show potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. Many Winfield AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited school. Also, financial assistance and student loans are typically available only for accredited schools.
What’s the Program’s Reputation? Investigate what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant schools you are looking at. This is of specific importance if you are new to the field with no previous experience, since employers will need to rely on the quality of your education exclusively. Checking that the school you select is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating services, such as those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also call a few Winfield AL law practices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask which schools they recommend. Keep in mind that even if a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the School Provide Internships? Internship programs give students an opportunity to experience working in a law practice or other legal enterprise while still in school. They can also provide an avenue for students to begin establishing contacts within the Winfield AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal programs you are assessing offer internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help offered? You will probably wish to hit the ground running after graduation, but finding that initial job in a new profession can be challenging without assistance. Find out if the paralegal programs you are interviewing have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good sign that the schools have large networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their students are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the School Located? Because laws differ among states, it might be advantageous to enroll in a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you plan to practice after graduation. Also, it will be valuable to build relationships in the local legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is all the more reason to acquire your education in the community where you desire 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 may need to first investigate those colleges that are within the Winfield AL area.
What is the Complete Cost? Paralegal schools can vary in cost depending on the credential received and the amount of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expense for your education. Don’t forget to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid may be available to help minimize some of the cost, so don’t forget to check with the school’s financial aid department to find out what is available in Winfield AL. Naturally if you choose to attend an online program, a portion these additional costs, for instance for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Fit your Schedule? Numerous paralegal students keep working while obtaining their training and must have flexibility in class scheduling. If you can just attend night or weekend classes near Winfield AL, make sure classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make sure that the program you select offers that option. Finally, inquire what the procedure is for making up missed classes because of sickness, work or family obligations.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Schools
Legal assistant and paralegal online programs have become more common and can be a good alternative for individuals searching for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online schools can be particularly appealing to students who keep working while earning a degree. As an added benefit, online programs can sometimes be less costly than more traditional options. Even supplementary expenses for such things as study materials or commuting may be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will address in more detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the training you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the program and school you are considering are accredited by a respected agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less supervised and conventional environment, then earning your degree or certificate online could be the right choice for you.
Will You Attend Paralegal School near Winfield AL?
If you live near Winfield 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.
Winfield is a small city situated in Northwest Alabama 26 miles (42 km) east of the Mississippi state line. It lies in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountain range which stretches from the deep South all the way to Maine. Long before the earliest settlers arrived, Indian tribes hunted in the forest and fished in the streams and along and around Winfield. The town was originally called "Needmore", but when it was incorporated in either 1887 or 1891, the name was changed to Winfield in honor of General Winfield Scott. This area was once the Chickasaw Indian domain. Although there were no known Indian settlements within the county, several sites were maintained as hunting camps.
Winfield is located in southern Marion County at 33°55′42″N 87°48′29″W / 33.92833°N 87.80806°W / 33.92833; -87.80806 (33.928258, -87.807990), with a portion extending south into Fayette County. U.S. Route 43 passes through the city, leading northwest 6.5 miles (10.5 km) to Guin and south 18 miles (29 km) to Fayette. Hamilton, the Marion County seat, is 20 miles (32 km) northwest via US 43.
Winfield has a subtropical climate characterized by hot, humid summers, mild winters, and abundant rainfall during the late winter and spring. January sees average daily high temperatures of 53.0 °F (11.7 °C) and lows of 31.8 °F (−0.1 °C). In July, the average daily high is 90.6 °F (32.6 °C), and the low is 69.2 °F (20.7 °C). Snowfall is infrequent in the area, with a yearly average of 0.5 inches (12.7 mm). The average yearly rainfall in Winfield is about 52 inches (1,300 mm), with March being the wettest month and October the driest.
Enroll in the Ideal Legal Assistant Program near Winfield AL
Selecting the right paralegal training program is an important first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have covered in this post, you have the choice of attending classes on-campus or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Winfield residence. Paralegal academic programs are offered in various formats and lengths. Different types of private and public institutions offer paralegal training, including community colleges, four-year universities and colleges, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a profound influence on your opportunities for success in your new career. Considering that there is a broad range in the quality of schools, pick wisely. Give yourself the best possible opportunity to succeed in this rewarding profession. But no matter how you decide to receive your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to review each program and make your ultimate decision. And with the appropriate education you can realize your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Winfield AL.
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