How to Select a Paralegal Degree Program near Centre Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Centre AL and start your journey that will lead to a gratifying profession in legal services. However, it’s important that you locate the best school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you need to achieve success. As you most likely understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more educational alternatives are becoming available, both on campus and online. However with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Many potential students start by looking for schools within commuting range of their Centre homes. Of those options, they look for the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are very important considerations when choosing a college, they are not the only qualifiers you should consider. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the program should be taken into account as well. Later on in this article we will review a list of questions that you must ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare every one prior to making your decision. But before we do, let’s have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic choices that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals essentially both fill comparable 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 classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Centre AL lawyers with a wide range of job duties, such as legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job functions are relevant to the type of practice where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice might help with the logistics of a trial or transferring files to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is typically billed hourly 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 noted, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they are employed, but some of their routine tasks can include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on pertinent cases and laws
- Drafting correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping lawyers get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal documents, files and other records
With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be complicated and quite challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally allowed to do is offer legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not restricted to clerical or administrative tasks more apropos 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 clients or cases than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the academic prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The quickest way to start your career as a paralegal in Centre AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can take just 6 months to complete. Most entry level positions do call for an Associate’s Degree, which provide a more extensive education and may be acquired at numerous community colleges in 2 years. For an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor’s Degrees are an option also. When you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you might choose to proceed and receive a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help boost your employment opportunities, but help establish you as a professional as well. 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 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.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Studies Programs
Since you now you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what educational options are offered, you can start the process of assessing schools. But because there are numerous programs available at community and junior colleges in the Centre AL area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you must know what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is especially true when you include 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 commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other critical aspects to think about also, for instance accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let’s take a look at a few of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are investigating so that you can effectively vet each one and make your final selection.
Is the Paralegal School and Program Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you select should be accredited by a recognized organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it can also obtain 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 obtain will be of the highest quality, but it will demonstrate to potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Many Centre AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited school. Also, financial aid and student loans are typically offered only for accredited schools.
What’s the Reputation of the Program? Learn what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant programs you are considering. This is of specific importance if you are new to the profession with no prior experience, since employers will need to make a decision based on the caliber of your training exclusively. Confirming that the program you pick 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 contact several Centre AL law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask which schools they suggest. Remember that even if a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the Program Sponsor Internships? Internship programs offer students an opportunity to experience working in a law firm or other legal establishment while still in school. They can also provide a means for students to begin establishing contacts within the Centre AL legal field. Ask if the paralegal schools you are considering offer internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help offered? You will most likely wish to secure employment quickly after graduation, but finding that first job in a new field can be difficult without support. Ask if the paralegal programs you are interviewing have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have sizable networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their students are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the School’s Location? Since laws differ from one state to another, it might be beneficial to choose a paralegal school located 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, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is even 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 reside outside of their districts. So you might want to initially consider those schools that are within the Centre AL region.
How Much is the Total Cost? Paralegal programs can vary in price depending on the credential obtained and the length of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only expense for your education. Don’t forget to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid may be accessible to help reduce part of the cost, so be sure to check with the school’s financial aid office to see what is available in Centre AL. Of course if you decide to attend an online school, some of these supplementary expenses, for instance for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Fit your Schedule? Many legal students continue working while getting their training and need flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend night or weekend classes near Centre AL, make certain classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, confirm that the program you choose provides that option. Last, inquire what the process is for making up missed classes because of work, illness or family obligations.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Programs
Online legal assistant or paralegal schools have become more prevalent and can be an excellent option for individuals looking for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be particularly appealing to individuals who keep working while earning a certificate or degree. As an additional benefit, online schools can often be less expensive than more traditional options. Even supplementary expenses for such things as commuting or study materials can be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will address in more detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the education you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the school and program you are considering 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 degree or certificate online might be the right option for you.
Will You Attend Paralegal School near Centre AL?
If you live near Centre 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.
Centre is a city in Cherokee County, Alabama, United States. At the 2010 census the population was 3,489. The city is the county seat of Cherokee County and is part of the Gadsden, Alabama Metropolitan Statistical Area.
Cherokee County was created on January 9, 1836, and named for the Cherokee people who once lived in the area. The famous Cherokee chief Pathkiller lived in Turkeytown near the present town of Centre. In 1836 the newly founded town of Cedar Bluff became the county seat, but in 1844 the county seat was moved to the more centrally located town of Centre. The name was chosen, and carries the British English spelling, because of this central location in the county. In 2011, Centre began allowing the sale of alcoholic beverages, and is no longer a dry city.
Centre is located slightly west of the center of Cherokee County at 34°9'33.052" North, 85°40'29.071" West (34.159181, -85.674742). The city limits extend north to the south shore of Weiss Lake on the Coosa River.
Choose the Ideal Legal Assistant Program near Centre AL
Enrolling in the right paralegal degree program is an important first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have addressed in this article, you have the option of attending classes at school or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Centre home. Paralegal academic programs are offered in many lengths and formats. Different kinds of private and public institutions provide paralegal education, including community colleges, four-year universities and colleges, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a profound impact on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Considering that there is a broad range in the quality of schools, choose carefully. Afford yourself the greatest possible chance to be successful in this exciting profession. But regardless of how you elect to acquire your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will be able to examine each school and make your ultimate decision. And with the ideal education you can accomplish your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Centre AL.
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