How to Select a Paralegal Certificate Program near Sheffield Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Sheffield AL and start your journey that will result in a rewarding 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 most likely know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of educational options are becoming available, both on campus and online. However with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? A number of potential students start by looking for schools within commuting range of their Sheffield residences. Of those alternatives, they search for the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are necessary considerations when picking a college, they are not the only qualifiers you should consider. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the school ought to be taken into consideration too. Later in this post we will cover a list of questions that you should ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare every one before making your selection. But before we do, let’s take a look at what a paralegal does and the educational options that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals basically both fill the same job positions and responsibilities, only with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and are part of a separate job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Sheffield AL attorneys with a wide variety of job duties, such as maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job functions are relevant to the type of practice where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice could help with the logistics of a trial or transporting documents to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is usually billed hourly as are the attorney’s. And just like attorneys, they must carry out their duties with a high level of professionalism and adhere to a strict standard of professional ethics. As noted, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they are employed, but some of their everyday activities might involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching pertinent cases and laws
- Preparing correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping attorneys get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be complicated and very demanding. However, what they are not legally permitted to do is offer legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not limited to clerical or administrative functions more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the main support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers are able to handle a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the educational prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The fastest means to begin your career as a legal assistant in Sheffield AL is by earning a certificate, which may take as little as 6 months to complete. Many entry level positions do call for an Associate’s Degree, which furnish a more expansive education and may be obtained at numerous community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor’s Degrees are offered as well. Once you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you might want to continue and earn a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help maximize your job opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. A few of the highly respected certifying agencies 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 certificate or degree from an accredited program (we will address the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two essential initial steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Things to Ask Paralegal Studies Programs
Once you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what educational choices are offered, you can start the process of evaluating schools. But considering that there are numerous programs accessible at community and junior colleges in the Sheffield AL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you must learn what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is particularly true if you add all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like most potential students, you will start by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other critical issues to consider also, such as the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let’s go over several of the questions you should be asking the schools you are researching so that you can properly vet each one and make your ultimate selection.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you enroll in need to be accredited by a highly regarded 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 distance or online learning. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will get will be of the highest quality, but it will establish with future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. A number of Sheffield AL law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited school. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are typically accessible only for accredited programs.
What’s the Reputation of the Program? Research what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant schools you are considering. This is of specific importance if you are new to the profession with no previous experience, since employers will have to rely on the caliber of your training exclusively. Verifying that the program you select is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating services, such as those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact a few Sheffield 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 may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law firm or other legal operation while still in school. They can also offer an avenue for students to begin developing contacts within the Sheffield AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal programs you are reviewing offer internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance offered? You will most likely want to secure employment quickly after graduating, but getting that initial job in a new profession can be difficult without support. Ask if the paralegal programs you are assessing have job placement programs and what their placement 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 corroborates that their students are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the School’s Location? Since laws vary among states, it might be a good idea to select a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you wish to practice after graduating. Also, it will be necessary to cultivate relationships in the local legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is even more justification to acquire your education in the area where you wish to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many charge a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may wish to first look at those schools that are within the Sheffield AL area.
How Much is the Total Expense? Paralegal programs can vary in cost based on the credential earned and the amount of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only cost for your training. Remember to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid may be obtainable to help reduce some of the cost, so be sure to check with the school’s financial aid office to see what is offered in Sheffield AL. Naturally if you choose to attend an online school, some of these additional expenses, for instance for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Fit your Schedule? Many legal students keep working while getting their training and must have flexibility in class scheduling. If you can only attend weekend or evening classes near Sheffield AL, make sure classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, confirm that the program you enroll in makes available that option. Finally, find out what the procedure is for making up missed classes because of sickness, work or family emergencies.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Training
Legal assistant and paralegal online schools have become more popular and may be a good alternative for students searching for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online schools can be especially appealing to students who keep working while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an additional benefit, online classes can often be less costly than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenditures for such things as study materials or commuting can be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all online programs are accredited, which we will cover in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the education you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the program and school you are looking into are accredited by a reputable organization, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less supervised and conventional setting, then obtaining your degree or certificate online might be the right option for you.
Will You Attend Paralegal School near Sheffield AL?
If you live near Sheffield 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.
Sheffield is a city in Colbert County, Alabama, United States, and is included in the Shoals metropolitan area. As of the 2010 census, the population of the city was 9,039. Sheffield is the birthplace of "country-soul pioneer" and songwriter Arthur Alexander, French horn player Willie Ruff, notable attorney, actor, former senator and presidential contender Fred Thompson, Watergate committee U.S. Senator Howell Heflin and U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell, whose father was working in nearby Athens when he was born. It sometimes is referred to as "the City of Senators" due to the births of Heflin, McConnell and Thompson within its borders. Col. Harland Sanders worked in the Sheffield depot for Southern Railway in the 1900s. It is also home to the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio where many popular 20th century musicians recorded their work, including Alexander and Ruff. It is the site of historic Helen Keller Hospital, formerly known as Colbert County Hospital and originally constructed in 1921. It was changed to Helen Keller Hospital in 1979, and Keller's birthplace Ivy Green is located less than one mile southwest of the hospital in adjacent Tuscumbia.
Sheffield is located in eastern Colbert County at 34°45′35″N 87°41′41″W / 34.75972°N 87.69472°W / 34.75972; -87.69472 (34.759721, -87.694592), on the south bank of the Tennessee River. Sheffield is bordered to the south by the city of Tuscumbia, to the southeast by Muscle Shoals, and to the north, across the river, by Florence.
Sheffield was one of the Colbert County sites of embarkation by riverboat and barge on the Tennessee River during the forced relocation of Eastern and Southern United States Indian tribes, known as the Trail of Tears. The embarkation site was at what is now the Spring Creek boat launch and park area.
Enroll in the Ideal Legal Assistant Degree Program near Sheffield AL
Choosing the right paralegal training program is a vital first step toward your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have covered in this article, you have the choice of attending classes on-campus or you can attend them online in the comfort and privacy of your Sheffield residence. Paralegal education programs are offered in many formats and lengths. Several kinds of private and public institutions make available paralegal education, including junior and 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 prospects for success in your new career. Since there is a wide range in the quality of programs, choose wisely. Give yourself the greatest possible chance to be successful in this fascinating profession. But no matter how you elect to obtain your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have presented you will have the ability to examine each program and make your ultimate selection. And with the appropriate training you can accomplish your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Sheffield AL.
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