How to Choose a Paralegal Program near Athens Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Athens AL and begin your journey that will lead to a gratifying career in legal services. Nevertheless, it’s important that you find the right school so that you will get the extensive training that you require to succeed. As you most likely know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more educational alternatives are becoming available, both at school and online. However with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one start? Some potential students start by looking for schools within driving distance of their Athens homes. Of those choices, they try to find the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are important considerations when choosing a school, they are not the only qualifiers you should consider. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the program ought to be considered too. Later on in this article we will review a list of concerns that you ought to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare every one prior to making your decision. But before we do, let’s have a look at what a paralegal does and the academic choices that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals essentially both hold the same job roles and functions, only with different titles. However, 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 help Athens AL attorneys with a wide range of job duties, including legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job duties are relevant to the type of practice where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm might help with the logistics of a trial or transporting documents to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is usually billed hourly as are the lawyer’s. And the same as lawyers, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and comply with a strict code of professional ethics. As stated, their duties can be varied in support of the practices where they are employed, but some of their day-to-day tasks may involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on pertinent laws and cases
- Composing correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting attorneys get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal files, documents and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be involved and quite demanding. However, what they are not legally allowed to do is provide legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not restricted to administrative or clerical functions more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the main support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers are able to manage a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could alone.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the educational requirements and opportunities will be the same. The quickest way to launch your career as a paralegal in Athens AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can involve as little as six months to complete. A large number of entry level positions do call for an Associate’s Degree, which provide a more comprehensive 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 acquired either a certificate or degree, you may want to continue and obtain a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help increase your employment opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. A few 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 address the advantages 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.
Things to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Once you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what academic choices are offered, you can start the undertaking of evaluating schools. But considering that there are so many programs accessible at community and junior colleges in the Athens AL area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you need to learn what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is especially true when you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree 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 critical aspects to think about as well, including accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let’s go over some of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are researching so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your ultimate selection.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you enroll in need to be accredited by a reputable organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it may also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online training. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will get will be of the highest standard, but it will show potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Many Athens AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited program. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are often offered only for accredited programs.
What’s the Reputation of the School? Investigate what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal programs you are looking at. This is of particular importance if you are entering the field with no previous work history, since employers will need to rely on the quality of your training exclusively. Checking that the school you choose is accredited is a good first step. Checking 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 call several Athens AL law practices that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask which schools they suggest. Bear in mind that even though a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the Program Offer Internships? Internship programs offer students an opportunity to experience working in a law office or other legal operation while remaining in school. They can also offer a means for students to start establishing contacts within the Athens AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal schools you are evaluating provide internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will most likely wish to secure employment quickly after graduating, but finding that first job in a new field can be challenging without assistance. Ask if the paralegal schools you are considering have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good sign that the schools have large networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their graduates are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the School’s Location? Since laws vary among states, it might be advantageous to enroll in a paralegal school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you plan to work after graduating. Also, it will be necessary to cultivate relationships in the neighboring legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is even more reason to receive your education in the community where you wish to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most require an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might need to first investigate those colleges that are within the Athens AL region.
What is the Entire Expense? Paralegal programs can vary in price depending on the credential earned and the amount of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only cost for your training. Don’t forget to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance may be obtainable to help reduce part of the cost, so make sure to contact the school’s financial aid department to find out what is offered in Athens AL. Naturally if you choose to attend an online program, a portion these added costs, for instance for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Match your Schedule? A number of paralegal students keep working while receiving their training and require flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend night or weekend classes near Athens AL, verify classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make sure that the school you choose offers that option. Last, inquire what the protocol is for making-up classes missed because of sickness, work or family emergencies.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Schools
Legal assistant and paralegal online schools have become more prevalent and may be a good alternative for individuals searching for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online schools can be particularly attractive to those who continue to work while earning a degree. As an added benefit, online programs can sometimes be less costly than on campus options. Even secondary expenditures for such items as study materials or commuting may be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all online programs are accredited, which we will discuss in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the education you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the program and school you are reviewing are accredited by a reputable agency, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less structured and formal setting, then obtaining your certificate or degree online could be the ideal choice for you.
Will You Attend Paralegal School near Athens AL?
If you live near Athens 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.
Athens is a city in Limestone County, in the State of Alabama. As of the 2010 census, the population of the city is 21,897. The city is the county seat of Limestone County and is included in the Huntsville-Decatur Combined Statistical Area.
Founded in 1818 by John Coffee, Robert Beaty, John D. Carroll, and John Read, Athens is one of the oldest incorporated cities in the State of Alabama, having been incorporated one year prior to the state's admittance to the Union in 1819. Limestone County was also created by an act of the Alabama Territorial Legislature in 1818. The town was first called Athenson, but was incorporated as Athens after the ancient city in Greece. The town's first mayor was Samuel Tanner, and the Tanner area, south of Athens, was named on his behalf.
The Athens area was the home of William Wyatt Bibb, the first Governor of Alabama, and its second Governor, his brother Thomas Bibb, who succeeded him in office when he died in a fall from his horse.
Choose the Best Paralegal College near Athens AL
Enrolling in the ideal paralegal degree program is a vital first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have discussed in this post, you have the option of attending classes at school or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Athens residence. Paralegal training programs are offered in many formats and lengths. Several types of private and public institutions offer paralegal education, including junior and community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your choice 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, choose carefully. Give yourself the best possible opportunity to be successful in this fascinating profession. But regardless of how you choose to acquire your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to evaluate each school and make your final selection. And with the appropriate education you can accomplish your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Athens AL.
Other Alabama Locations That May Be Of Interest
Business Results 1 - 10 of 11