How to Choose a Paralegal Degree Program near Selma Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Selma AL and begin your journey that will result in a rewarding profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it’s essential that you locate the right school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you require to succeed. As you probably understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of educational options are being offered, both at school and online. But with so many options to choose from, where does one begin? Many prospective students begin by looking for paralegal schools within driving distance of their Selma residences. Of those options, they search for the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are very important considerations when choosing a school, they are not the only factors you ought to take into consideration. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the school need to be considered as well. Later on in this article we will cover a list of questions that you should ask prospective paralegal certificate schools so that you can evaluate and compare each one before making your decision. But before we do, let’s take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the instructional choices that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
What is a Paralegal and What Do They Do?
Paralegals and legal assistants essentially both fill the same job roles and functions, only with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and belong to a separate job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist lawyers in Selma AL with a diverse array of job functions, including maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job functions are based upon the type of legal firm where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm might help with trial logistics or transferring documents to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is normally billed hourly as are the attorney’s. And the same as lawyers, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and follow a strict code of professional ethics. As mentioned, their responsibilities can be varied in support of the firms where they work, but a few of their routine tasks may include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching relevant cases and laws
- Drafting correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting attorneys get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal documents, files and other records
With all of their duties, the role of a Selma AL paralegal can be involved and quite challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally permitted to do is give legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not restricted to clerical or administrative functions more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the right hand support systems for attorneys. And since they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys have the ability to handle a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the academic prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The quickest means to start your career in Selma AL as a paralegal is by earning a certificate, which can require as little as 6 months to complete. A large number of entry level positions do call for an Associate’s Degree, which furnish a more extensive education and may be obtained at many community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor’s Degrees are an option as well. After you have acquired either a degree or a certificate, you may choose to continue and obtain a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help increase your employment opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. Some of the highly regarded 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 certificate or degree from an accredited program (we will address the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 crucial first steps that will help ensure your success as a paralegal in Selma AL.
Paralegal Online Training
Online paralegal programs have become more common and can be a good alternative for those in Selma AL looking for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be especially attractive to individuals who keep working while obtaining a degree. As an added benefit, online schools can sometimes be less expensive than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenditures for such items as study materials or commuting may be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all online schools are accredited, which we will address in more detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the training you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the school and program you are considering are accredited by a respected agency, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less structured and conventional environment, then obtaining your degree or certificate online may be the ideal choice for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Degree Programs
Since you now you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what training choices are available, you can start the process of assessing Selma AL area schools. But since there are numerous programs offered at junior and community colleges, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you must know what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is particularly true if you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. If you are like many potential students, you will start by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other critical factors to consider also, for instance accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let’s take a look at several of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are considering so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your ultimate choice.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you pick need to be accredited by a recognized organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it can also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online learning. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will get will be of the highest quality, but it will establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. Many Selma AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited program. Also, financial aid and student loans are often accessible only for accredited schools.
What’s the Reputation of the Program? Learn what the rankings and reputations are for the Selma AL paralegal schools you are looking at. This is of specific importance if you are entering the field with no previous work history, since employers will have to rely on the caliber of your education exclusively. Confirming that the school you select is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating reports, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact some law practices that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask what schools they suggest. Remember that even if a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs give students an opportunity to experience working in a law firm or other legal establishment while attending school. They can also offer an avenue for students to begin creating contacts within the Selma AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal programs you are reviewing offer internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help provided? You will probably want to hit the ground running after graduating, but getting that initial job in a new profession can be difficult without assistance. Ask if the paralegal programs you are interviewing have job placement programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good sign that the schools have substantial networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their graduates are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the Campus Located? Since laws vary from one state to another, it may be advantageous to choose a paralegal school domiciled in the state where you plan to work after graduation. Also, it will be valuable to cultivate relationships in the area legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is all the more reason to obtain your education in the community where you wish to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many charge an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may wish to first consider those schools that are within your Selma AL local area.
How Much is the Total Cost? Paralegal schools can vary in price depending on the credential obtained and the amount of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only expense for your education. Remember to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance may be obtainable to help minimize some of the expense, so don’t forget to consult with the school’s financial aid office to see what is offered in Selma AL. Of course if you decide to attend an online program, some of these supplementary costs, for instance for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? Numerous paralegal students keep working while obtaining their training and require flexibility to schedule classes. If you can just attend night or weekend classes near Selma AL, make certain classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make sure that the program you select offers that option. Last, find out what the procedure is for making-up classes missed as a result of sickness, work or family obligations.
Considering Paralegal School in Selma AL?
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.
Before settlement by European peoples, the area of present-day Selma had been inhabited for thousands of years by varying cultures of indigenous peoples. The Europeans encountered the historic Native American people known as the Muscogee (also known as the Creek), who had been in the area for hundreds of years.
Select the Right Paralegal Certificate Program near Selma AL
Choosing the right paralegal degree program is a crucial 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 privacy and comfort of your Selma home. Paralegal training programs are offered in numerous lengths and formats. Several kinds of private and public institutions make available paralegal education, including junior and community colleges, four year colleges and universities, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a pronounced impact on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Given that there is a wide range in the quality of programs, pick wisely. Give yourself the best possible chance to be successful in this rewarding profession. But no matter how you choose to receive your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have presented you will have the ability to evaluate each school and make your final selection. And with the appropriate education you can realize your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Selma AL.
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