How to Select a Paralegal School near Dothan Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Dothan AL and start your journey that will lead to a gratifying career in legal services. However, it’s crucial that you locate the ideal school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you need to achieve success. As you probably know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of educational choices are becoming available, both at school and online. But with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? A number of prospective students start by searching for schools within commuting range of their Dothan residences. Of those alternatives, they look for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are necessary considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only factors you need to consider. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the school should be taken into consideration as well. Later in this article we will review a list of concerns that you need to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare each one prior to making your decision. But first, let’s have 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 essentially both hold comparable job roles and responsibilities, just 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 assist Dothan AL attorneys with a diverse array of job duties, including maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job duties are relevant to the type of practice where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice might help with trial logistics or transporting files to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is normally billed by the hour as are the lawyer’s. And just like lawyers, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and comply with a strict code 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 can include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching related laws and cases
- Drafting correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping lawyers prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be complex and very demanding. However, what they are not legally allowed to do is provide legal advice and counsel 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 truly are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys are able to handle a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could on their own.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the academic requirements and opportunities will be the same. The quickest way to launch your career as a legal assistant in Dothan AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can require just 6 months to accomplish. Most entry level positions do require an Associate’s Degree, which offer a more extensive education and may be obtained at numerous community colleges in two years. For an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor’s Degrees are an option also. After you have acquired either a degree or a certificate, you might want to continue and get a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help maximize your employment opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. Some 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 paralegal degree or certificate from an accredited school (we will discuss the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 crucial initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Things to Ask Paralegal Schools
Since you now you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what educational choices are offered, you can begin the undertaking of evaluating schools. But since there are numerous programs accessible at junior and community colleges in the Dothan AL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you need to find out what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is especially true if 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 covered, there are other critical factors to consider also, such as 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 investigating so that you can properly vet each one and make your final choice.
Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you enroll in 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 education. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will obtain will be of the highest quality, but it will demonstrate to potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Numerous Dothan AL law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited program. Finally, financial aid and student loans are typically offered only for accredited schools.
What’s the School’s Reputation? Research what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal schools you are contemplating. This is of particular importance if you are new to the profession with no prior work history, since employers will have to make a decision based on the quality of your training exclusively. Verifying that the school you select is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating reports, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also call a few Dothan AL law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask what schools they recommend. Remember that even though a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an excellent reputation.
Does the Program Sponsor Internships? Internship programs give students an opportunity to experience working in a law practice or other legal operation while attending school. They can also provide a pathway for students to begin creating contacts within the Dothan AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal programs you are assessing offer internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help provided? You will probably want to hit the ground running after graduation, but getting that initial job in a new profession can be difficult without support. Ask if the paralegal programs you are considering have job placement programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good indication that the schools have large networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their students are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the School’s Location? Considering that laws differ from state to state, it might be advantageous to choose a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you wish to work after graduating. In addition, it will be important to establish relationships in the local legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is even more justification to obtain your education in the area where you choose to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most charge an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might wish to first consider those schools that are within the Dothan AL region.
How Much is the Complete Expense? Paralegal programs can differ in cost depending on the credential received and the length of training provided. However, 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 assistance may be accessible to help minimize part of the expense, so don’t forget to consult with the school’s financial aid department to find out what is available in Dothan AL. Naturally if you choose to attend an online school, a portion these added costs, for instance for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Match your Schedule? A number of paralegal students continue working while receiving their training and must have flexibility in class scheduling. If you can just attend night or weekend classes near Dothan AL, make certain classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, confirm that the program you select provides that option. Finally, ask what the procedure is for making up classes missed as a result of work, illness or family emergencies.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Programs
Online paralegal or legal assistant schools have become more popular and can be an excellent alternative for those searching for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be particularly appealing to individuals who continue to work while earning a degree. As an additional advantage, online classes can in some cases be less costly than more traditional options. Even secondary expenditures for such items as commuting or study materials may be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will discuss in more detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the education you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the program and school you are reviewing are accredited by a reputable 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 certificate or degree online could be the ideal choice for you.
Will You Attend Paralegal School near Dothan AL?
If you live near Dothan 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.
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 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, the place where Joseph's brothers threw him into a cistern and 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 in Dale County is part of the Ozark Micropolitan Statistical Area. The combined population of 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, much of it processed in the city, Dothan is sometimes called "The Peanut Capital of the World". It 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.
Find the Ideal Paralegal School near Dothan AL
Choosing the best paralegal educational program is a vital first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have addressed in this post, you have the choice of attending classes at school 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 kinds of public and private institutions offer paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four year colleges and universities, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a profound influence on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Given that there is a broad range in the quality of schools, pick wisely. Afford yourself the best possible chance to be successful in this rewarding profession. But irrespective of how you elect to receive your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have presented you will be able to review each school and make your ultimate selection. And with the ideal education you can achieve your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Dothan AL.
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