How to Choose a Paralegal Program near Cottonwood Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Cottonwood AL and start your journey that will lead to a gratifying profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it’s crucial that you find the ideal school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you need to succeed. As you most likely understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of academic choices are becoming available, both at school and online. But with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Many prospective students begin by trying to find schools within commuting range of their Cottonwood residences. Of those options, 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 must take into consideration. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the school ought to be taken into consideration as well. Later on in this post we will review a list of concerns that you must ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare each one prior to making your selection. But first, let’s have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the educational alternatives that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants essentially both fill comparable job positions and functions, just with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and belong to a different job classification. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Cottonwood AL lawyers with a diverse array of job duties, such as legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job duties are based upon the type of legal firm where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice may assist with trial logistics or delivering files to court. In private practices, a paralegal’s work is typically billed hourly as are the attorney’s. And just like lawyers, they must carry out their duties with a high level of professionalism and adhere to a strict standard of professional ethics. As noted, their responsibilities can be varied in support of the practices where they are employed, but a few of their everyday tasks may include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching related cases and laws
- Drafting correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping lawyers prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be involved and rather challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally permitted to do is offer legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not limited to administrative or clerical duties 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, attorneys are able to take on a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could on their own.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly 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 Cottonwood AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can take just six months to complete. Many entry level positions do require an Associate’s Degree, which provide a more comprehensive education and may be earned at many community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor’s Degrees are an option as well. Once you have acquired either a certificate or degree, you may want to proceed and get a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help improve your job opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. Some of the highly respected 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 two essential initial steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
What to Ask Paralegal Degree Programs
Once you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what academic choices are available, you can begin the undertaking of evaluating schools. But because there are so many programs offered at community and junior colleges in the Cottonwood AL area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you need to know what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is particularly true when you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like most prospective students, you will start by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other crucial factors to think about also, including 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 considering so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your final decision.
Is the Paralegal School and Program Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you select should be accredited by a reputable organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it might also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets distance or online education. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will obtain will be of the highest quality, but it will establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. Numerous Cottonwood AL law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited program. Also, financial aid and student loans are usually available only for accredited programs.
What’s the Reputation of the Program? Learn what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal programs you are looking at. This is of special importance if you are new to the field with no previous experience, since employers will have to rely on the caliber of your education exclusively. Checking that the school you choose is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating reports, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call several Cottonwood AL law offices that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask what schools they suggest. Keep in mind that even when a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the Program Sponsor 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 a pathway for students to start developing contacts within the Cottonwood AL legal field. Ask if the paralegal programs you are assessing provide internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help available? You will most likely wish to hit the ground running after graduation, but getting that first job in a new profession can be challenging without help. Ask if the paralegal schools you are assessing have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good sign that the schools have large networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their students are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the School’s Location? Considering that laws differ from state to state, it might be beneficial to choose a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you want to practice after graduation. In addition, it will be important to create relationships in the area legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is even more reason to obtain your education in the area where you desire to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many require a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may want to initially investigate those schools that are within the Cottonwood AL area.
How Much is the Total 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 expenditure for your education. Remember to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial assistance may be available to help minimize some of the expense, so make sure to consult with the school’s financial aid department to see what is offered in Cottonwood AL. Naturally if you choose to attend an online school, some of these added costs, for instance for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Match your Schedule? Numerous legal students continue working while obtaining their training and need flexibility in class scheduling. If you can solely attend night or weekend classes near Cottonwood AL, verify classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, confirm that the program you choose makes available that option. Last, inquire what the process is for making up classes missed as a result of sickness, work or family emergencies.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Schools
Legal assistant and paralegal online programs have become more common and can be a good alternative for individuals looking for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be especially attractive to those who continue to work while obtaining a degree. As an added benefit, online programs can often be less costly than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenses for such things as study materials or commuting can be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will address in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the education you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the school and program you are looking into are accredited by a reputable organization, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to attend classes in a less structured and formal environment, then obtaining your degree or certificate online may be the right option for you.
Will You Attend Paralegal School near Cottonwood AL?
If you live near Cottonwood 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.
Cottonwood is a town in Houston County, Alabama, United States. One source said the town incorporated in 1901, although the 1910 U.S. Census stated 1903. It is part of the Dothan, Alabama Metropolitan Statistical Area. At the 2010 census the population was 1,289, up from 1,170 in 2000.
Cottonwood is located in southern Houston County at 31°3′13″N 85°18′9″W / 31.05361°N 85.30250°W / 31.05361; -85.30250 (31.053646, -85.302409).Alabama State Route 53 passes through the center of town, leading north 14 miles (23 km) to Dothan and southeast 7 miles (11 km) to the Florida state line. Malone, Florida, is 11 miles (18 km) southeast of Cottonwood.
As of the census of 2000, there were 1,170 people, 485 households, and 323 families residing in the town. The population density was 212.9 people per square mile (82.1/km2). There were 548 housing units at an average density of 99.7 per square mile (38.5/km2). The racial makeup of the town was 69.06% White, 29.06% Black or African American, 0.68% Native American, and 1.20% from two or more races. 1.97% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.
Enroll in the Ideal Legal Assistant Certificate Program near Cottonwood AL
Selecting the best paralegal training program is an essential first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have covered in this article, you have the option of attending classes on campus or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Cottonwood residence. Paralegal academic programs are offered in various lengths and formats. Several types of public and private institutions provide paralegal training, including junior and community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a pronounced impact on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Considering that there is a broad range in the quality of programs, choose carefully. Afford yourself the best possible chance to succeed in this fascinating profession. But no matter how you choose to obtain your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have presented you will be able to examine each program and make your ultimate selection. And with the appropriate education you can accomplish your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Cottonwood AL.
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