How to Choose a Paralegal Training Program near Selma Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Selma AL and start your journey that will result in a satisfying profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it’s essential that you locate the best school so that you will receive the extensive training that you need to succeed. As you probably understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more academic options are being offered, both on campus and online. But with numerous options to choose from, where does one start? A number of potential students begin by looking for schools within traveling range of their Selma homes. Of those options, they try to find the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are very important considerations when picking a college, they are not the only factors you ought to consider. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the school need to be taken into account as well. Later on in this post we will review a list of concerns that you should ask potential paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare every one before making your decision. But before we do, let’s take a look at what a paralegal does and the educational choices that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants for the most part both fill comparable job positions and responsibilities, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and are part of a different job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Selma AL attorneys with a wide variety of job functions, such as legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job functions are based upon the type of legal firm where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm may assist with trial logistics or delivering files to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is normally 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 adhere to a strict code of professional ethics. As noted, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they work, but some of their everyday tasks may include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching pertinent laws and cases
- Preparing correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping lawyers prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal files, documents and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be complex and quite demanding. On the other hand, what they are not legally permitted to do is provide legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not confined to administrative or clerical tasks more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the main support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys are able to manage a much larger number 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 fastest way to launch your career as a legal assistant in Selma AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can take as little as 6 months to accomplish. Most entry level positions do call for an Associate’s Degree, which provide a more comprehensive education and can be acquired at many community colleges in two years. For an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor’s Degrees are available also. Once you have acquired either a certificate or degree, you might want to proceed and earn a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help maximize your job opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. Some of the highly respected certifying organizations 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 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 paralegal or a legal assistant.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Degree Programs
Once you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what academic options are available, you can start the process of assessing schools. But because there are so many programs accessible at community and junior colleges in the Selma AL area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you must find out what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is especially true if you add all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like most prospective students, you will begin by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other crucial aspects to think about also, including the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let’s go over some of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are considering so that you can effectively vet each one and make your final choice.
Is the Paralegal Training Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you choose need to be accredited by a highly regarded accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it may also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets online or distance education. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will receive will be of the highest standard, but it will establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. A number of Selma AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited school. Finally, financial aid and student loans are usually available only for accredited programs.
What’s the Program’s Reputation? Find out what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal programs you are looking at. This is of special importance if you are entering the field with no prior experience, since employers will need to rely on the quality of your training exclusively. Checking that the program you pick is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating reports, 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 Selma AL law firms that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask what schools they recommend. Keep in mind that even though a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the School Sponsor Internships? Internship programs give students an opportunity to experience working in a law office or other legal operation while attending school. They can also provide a means for students to start establishing contacts within the Selma AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal programs you are evaluating offer internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help provided? You will most likely want to hit the ground running after graduation, but getting that initial job in a new field can be challenging without assistance. Find out if the paralegal schools you are considering have job placement programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have sizable networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their students are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the Campus Located? Because laws differ among states, it might be a good idea to select a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you plan to practice after graduating. In addition, it will be valuable to build relationships in the area legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is all the more reason to acquire your education in the area where you want to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most charge a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might want to first consider those colleges that are within the Selma AL area.
What is the Total Cost? Paralegal schools can differ in cost depending on the credential earned and the length of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your training. 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 offset some of the cost, so be sure to talk to the school’s financial aid office to find out what is available in Selma AL. Naturally if you opt to attend an online school, a portion these added costs, for instance for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Fit your Schedule? Many paralegal students continue working while getting their training and need flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend weekend or evening classes near Selma AL, verify classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, confirm that the school you select provides that option. Finally, find out what the protocol is for making up missed classes due to sickness, work or family emergencies.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Degrees
Online legal assistant or paralegal programs have become more available and may be a good alternative for those looking for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be particularly attractive to those who continue to work while obtaining a degree. As an added benefit, online classes can sometimes be less costly than more traditional options. Even secondary expenses for such items as study materials or commuting may be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all online programs are accredited, which we will discuss in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the education you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the school and program you are reviewing are accredited by a respected organization, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less supervised and formal environment, then obtaining your degree or certificate online might be the right option for you.
Will You Attend Paralegal School near Selma AL?
If you live near Selma 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.
Selma is a city in and the county seat of Dallas County, in the Black Belt region of south central Alabama and extending to the west. Located on the banks of the Alabama River, the city has a population of 20,756 as of the 2010 census.
The city is best known for the 1960s Selma Voting Rights Movement and the Selma to Montgomery marches, beginning with "Bloody Sunday" in March 1965 and ending with 25,000 people entering Montgomery at the end of the last march to press for voting rights. This activism generated national attention to social justice and that summer, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed by Congress to authorize federal oversight and enforcement of constitutional rights of all citizens.
It had been a trading center and market town during the years of King Cotton in the South. It was also an important armaments manufacturing and iron shipbuilding center during the Civil War, surrounded by miles of earthen fortifications. The Confederate forces were defeated during the Battle of Selma.
Find the Ideal Paralegal School near Selma AL
Selecting the best paralegal degree program is a crucial first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have addressed in this post, you have the option of attending classes on-campus or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Selma residence. Paralegal education programs are made available in various formats and lengths. Different kinds of public and private institutions offer paralegal education, including junior and community colleges, four year universities and colleges, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a profound impact on your prospects for success in your new profession. Considering that there is a broad range in the quality of schools, pick carefully. Give yourself the best possible chance to succeed in this rewarding profession. But no matter how you choose to acquire your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to review each school and make your ultimate selection. And with the appropriate education you can realize your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Selma AL.
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