How to Select a Paralegal Training Program near Florence Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Florence AL and begin your journey that will lead to a fulfilling career in legal services. Nevertheless, it’s crucial that you find the best school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you require to be successful. As you probably understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more educational options are being offered, both on campus and online. But with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Some prospective students begin by searching for paralegal schools within commuting distance of their Florence residences. Of those alternatives, they try to find 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 must take into consideration. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the school should be taken into consideration as well. Later in this article we will review a list of questions that you ought to ask prospective paralegal certificate schools so that you can evaluate and compare every one prior to making your decision. But before we do, let’s have a look at what a paralegal does and the instructional alternatives that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
What is a Paralegal and What Do They Do?
Paralegals and legal assistants basically both fill comparable job roles and functions, only with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and belong to a separate job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist attorneys in Florence AL with a wide variety of job functions, including maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job duties are relevant to the type of legal firm where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm could assist with trial logistics or transporting documents to court. In private firms, a paralegal’s work is typically billed hourly as are the attorney’s. And the same as attorneys, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and adhere to a strict standard of professional ethics. As noted, their responsibilities can be diverse in support of the practices where they are employed, but some of their day-to-day tasks may include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching related cases and laws
- Composing correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping attorneys get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal documents, files and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a Florence AL paralegal can be complex and rather demanding. On the other hand, what they are not legally permitted to do is provide legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not restricted to clerical or administrative functions more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the right hand support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys are able to manage a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could alone.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The quickest means to launch your career in Florence AL as a paralegal is by obtaining a certificate, which may take as little as 6 months to complete. A large number of entry level positions do require an Associate’s Degree, which provide a more extensive education and can be obtained at numerous community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor’s Degrees are offered as well. When you have earned either a certificate or degree, you may choose to proceed and obtain a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help maximize your employment opportunities, but help establish you as a professional as well. A few of the highly regarded 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 degree or certificate from an accredited program (we will discuss the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two crucial initial steps that will help guarantee your success as a paralegal in Florence AL.
Online Paralegal Schools
Online paralegal programs have become more available and may be a good alternative for those in Florence AL searching for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be particularly appealing to those who continue to work while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an additional benefit, online schools can sometimes be less expensive than on campus options. Even secondary expenses for such items as study materials or commuting may be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will discuss 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 reputable organization, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to attend classes in a less structured and conventional setting, then obtaining your certificate or degree online may be the right choice for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Now that you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what training choices are offered, you can start the process of evaluating Florence AL area schools. But since there are numerous programs accessible at community and junior colleges, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you need to learn what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is particularly true if you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like the majority of potential students, you will start by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other critical factors to research as well, such as accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let’s go over several of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are researching so that you can effectively vet each one and make your ultimate selection.
Is the Paralegal School and Program Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you choose need to be accredited by a recognized accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it might also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online learning. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will get will be of the highest standard, but it will demonstrate to potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. Numerous Florence AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited program. Finally, financial aid and student loans are typically obtainable only for accredited programs.
What’s the School’s Reputation? Find out what the reputations and rankings are for the Florence AL paralegal programs you are considering. This is of particular importance if you are entering the field with no previous work history, since employers will have to make a decision based on the quality of your training exclusively. Checking that the school you pick is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating services, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call a few law practices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask which schools they recommend. Remember that even if a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an excellent reputation.
Does the School Sponsor Internships? Internship programs provide students a chance to experience working in a law practice or other legal establishment while still in school. They can also provide a pathway for students to begin creating contacts within the Florence AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal programs you are reviewing provide internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help offered? You will probably want to hit the ground running after graduation, but getting that first job in a new profession can be challenging without support. Ask if the paralegal programs you are considering have job placement programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good sign that the schools have substantial networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their students are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the School’s Location? Considering that laws differ from state to state, it may be advantageous to choose a paralegal school domiciled in the state where you want to work after graduating. In addition, it will be important to establish relationships in the local legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is all the more reason to receive your education in the area where you desire to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most require a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may need to first look at those colleges that are within your Florence AL local region.
How Much is the Total Cost? Paralegal schools can vary in price depending on the credential obtained and the length of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only cost for your education. Remember to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance may be available to help offset part of the cost, so don’t forget to contact the school’s financial aid department to see what is offered in Florence AL. Naturally if you decide to attend an online school, some of these added expenses, such as for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? Numerous paralegal students continue working while receiving their training and require flexibility to schedule classes. If you can just attend weekend or evening classes near Florence AL, verify classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make sure that the school you enroll in provides that option. Last, ask what the procedure is for making up missed classes because of sickness, work or family emergencies.
Considering Paralegal School in Florence AL?
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 have one hospital, Eliza Coffee Memorial Hospital. ECM is 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 is due to be completed in December 2018.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Florence has a total area of 25.0 square miles (65 km2), of which 24.9 square miles (64 km2) is land, and 0.1 square miles (0.26 km2) (0.40%) is water. Florence is located on Wilson Lake and Pickwick Lake, bodies of water on the Tennessee River dammed by Pickwick Dam and Wilson Dams. Pickwick Lake was created by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), one of several alphabet agencies of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal. Wilson Dam (currently operated by the TVA) was authorized by President Woodrow Wilson in 1918 and was the first dam constructed on the Tennessee River.
Select the Ideal Paralegal Degree Program near Florence AL
Choosing the ideal paralegal training program is an important first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have covered in this article, you have the option of attending classes on campus or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Florence home. Paralegal academic programs are offered in numerous formats and lengths. Several types of private and public institutions offer paralegal education, including community colleges, four-year universities and colleges, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a pronounced impact on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Since there is a wide range in the quality of schools, pick wisely. Afford yourself the best possible chance to be successful in this rewarding profession. But regardless of how you elect to obtain your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will be able to evaluate each program and make your final decision. And with the right education you can achieve your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Florence AL.
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