How to Select the Right Legal Assistant School near Florence Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Florence AL and begin your journey that will result in a rewarding career in legal services. However, it’s essential that you find the best school so that you will receive the extensive training that you need to achieve success. As you probably know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of academic choices are being offered, both on campus and online. However with numerous options to choose from, where does one start? Some prospective students begin by searching for schools within driving distance of their Florence homes. Of those choices, they search for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are prime considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only qualifiers you need to take into consideration. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the school should be taken into account too. Later in this article we will cover a list of concerns that you should ask potential paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare each one prior to making your selection. But before we do, let’s have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic options that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals basically both fill comparable job positions and responsibilities, only with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and are part of a separate job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals help Florence AL attorneys with a wide variety of job functions, including maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job functions are based upon the type of legal firm where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice could assist with trial logistics or transferring files to court. In private practices, a paralegal’s work is usually billed by the hour as are the lawyer’s. And the same as attorneys, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and abide by a strict code of professional ethics. As mentioned, their responsibilities can be diverse in support of the firms where they are employed, but a few of their routine tasks may include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on pertinent laws and cases
- Preparing correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping attorneys 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 involved and rather demanding. However, what they are not legally authorized to do is offer legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not limited to clerical or administrative functions more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the main support systems for lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys are able to handle a much larger number of cases or clients than they could alone.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the academic requirements and opportunities will be the same. The fastest way to begin your career as a paralegal in Florence AL is by earning a certificate, which can take as little as six months to accomplish. A large number of entry level positions do call for an Associate’s Degree, which provide a more extensive education and can be acquired at numerous community colleges in two years. For an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor’s Degrees are an option as well. Once you have earned either a degree or a certificate, you might choose to continue and obtain a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help improve your career opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. A few 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 paralegal degree or certificate from an accredited school (we will address the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 essential first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Points to Ask Paralegal Studies Programs
Once you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what academic choices are available, you can start the process of evaluating schools. But considering that there are numerous programs available at community and junior colleges in the Florence AL area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you need to learn what questions to ask so that you can 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 already discussed, there are other critical factors to consider also, such as the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let’s go over some of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are considering so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your final selection.
Is the Paralegal Training Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you choose need to be accredited by a respected accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it can also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance learning. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will receive will be of the highest quality, but it will show future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. A number of Florence AL law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited program. Finally, financial aid and student loans are usually accessible only for accredited programs.
What’s the School’s Reputation? Learn what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal programs you are looking at. This is of specific importance if you are new to the profession with no prior experience, since employers will have to make a decision based on the quality of your education exclusively. Checking that the program you pick is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating reports, 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 Florence AL law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask which schools they recommend. Bear in mind that even if a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an excellent reputation.
Does the School Provide Internships? Internship programs provide students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal enterprise while attending school. They can also provide a pathway for students to begin creating contacts within the Florence AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal programs you are evaluating offer internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help provided? You will probably want to secure employment quickly after graduation, but finding that initial job in a new profession can be challenging without assistance. Find out if the paralegal programs you are interviewing have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good sign that the schools have large networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their students are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the Campus Located? Because laws vary from one state to another, it may be advantageous to choose a paralegal school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you want to practice after graduation. In addition, it will be necessary to develop relationships in the neighboring legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is all the more justification to acquire your education in the area where you want to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many charge an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may need to initially consider those schools that are within the Florence AL region.
How Much is the Complete Cost? Paralegal schools can differ in cost based on the credential obtained and the length of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only cost for your education. Don’t forget to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial assistance may be accessible to help minimize part of the expense, so make sure to consult with the school’s financial aid department to find out what is available in Florence AL. Naturally if you opt to attend an online program, some of these supplementary costs, such as for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? Numerous legal students keep working while receiving their training and need flexibility to schedule classes. If you can solely attend night or weekend classes near Florence AL, make certain classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make certain that the program you enroll in provides that option. Last, ask what the process is for making-up missed classes as a result of sickness, work or family emergencies.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Programs
Paralegal and legal assistant online programs have become more common and may be an excellent alternative for students searching for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online programs can be particularly attractive to those who continue to work while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an added benefit, online schools can often be less expensive than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenses for such items as study materials or commuting may be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will cover in more detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the education you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the program and school you are thinking about are accredited by a respected agency, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less supervised and formal setting, then earning your certificate or degree online may be the right option for you.
Attending a Paralegal School near Florence AL?
If you live near Florence Alabama or perhaps are considering attending classes in that area, following is some interesting and useful information regarding the location of your new school campus.
Florence is the largest and principal city of the Florence-Muscle Shoals Metropolitan Statistical Area (which includes Muscle Shoals, Sheffield, and Tuscumbia metropolitan areas in Colbert and Lauderdale counties). Florence is considered northwestern Alabama's primary economic hub.
Annual tourism events include the W. C. Handy Music Festival in the summer and the Renaissance Faire in the fall. Landmarks in Florence include the Rosenbaum House, the only Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home located in Alabama.
Florence and Lauderdale County had one hospital, Eliza Coffee Memorial Hospital. ECM was a 358-bed facility owned by RCCH HealthCare Partners in Brentwood, Tennessee. In 2010 RCCH HealthCare Partners announced that they would build a new hospital in Florence. The hospital was completed in December 2018.
Paralegal Schooling Florence AL
Selecting the right legal assistant training program is a vital first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. You originally came to this website because you had an interest in getting more information about Paralegal Schooling. But as we have addressed in this post, you have the option of attending classes on-campus or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Florence residence. Paralegal training programs are provided in various lengths and formats. Various types of private and public institutions provide paralegal education, including junior and community colleges, four year universities and colleges, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a profound impact on your prospects for success in your new profession. Since there is a broad range in the quality of schools, choose carefully. Afford yourself the greatest possible chance to succeed in this fascinating profession. But regardless of how you elect to receive your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to assess each school and make your final selection. And with the ideal training you can achieve your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Florence AL.
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