How to Enroll in the Right Paralegal Certificate Program Near Albertville Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Albertville AL and begin your journey that will lead to a rewarding career in legal services. However, it's essential that you find the right school so that you will get the extensive training that you need to achieve success. As you most likely understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more educational options are being offered, both at school and online. But with numerous options to choose from, where does one begin? Some potential students start by trying to find schools within driving distance of their Albertville residences. Of those options, they try to find the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are necessary considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only factors you should consider. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the school need to be taken into account also. Later in this article we will review a list of concerns that you need to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare each one prior to making your choice. But before we do, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the academic options that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals for the most part both fill comparable job roles and functions, 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 paralegals and legal assistants assist Albertville AL lawyers with a wide variety of job functions, such as legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job duties are based upon the type of practice where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm may help with the logistics of a trial or transporting files to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is usually billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And just like attorneys, they must conduct themselves with a high degree of professionalism and adhere to a strict standard of professional ethics. As stated, their duties can be varied in support of the practices where they work, but some of their day-to-day tasks can include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on related cases and laws
- Composing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping lawyers get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal documents, files and other records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be involved and very challenging. However, what they are not legally authorized to do is provide legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not confined to clerical or administrative duties more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the main support systems for lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys are able to handle a much larger number of cases or clients than they could alone.
Paralegal Certificates and Degrees 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 educational prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The quickest means to launch your career as a paralegal in Albertville AL is by obtaining a certificate, which may require as little as 6 months to accomplish. Many entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more extensive education and can be acquired at numerous community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are available also. Once you have acquired either a degree or a certificate, you may want to proceed and get a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help boost your career opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. 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 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 first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Training
Online legal assistant or paralegal schools have become more popular and may be an excellent alternative for those looking for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online schools can be especially attractive to Albertville AL students who continue to work while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an added advantage, online classes can in some cases be less costly than on campus options. Even supplementary expenses for such items as commuting or study materials can be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will cover in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the education you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the program and school you are considering are accredited by a respected organization, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less supervised and formal environment, then earning your certificate or degree online may be the right choice for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Programs
Since you now you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what academic options are offered, you can begin the undertaking of assessing schools. But because there are so many programs available at community and junior colleges in the Albertville AL area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you need to know what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is particularly true if you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like the majority of prospective students, you will start by searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other important issues to consider as well, such as accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at some of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are investigating so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your final choice.
Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you choose need to be accredited by a reputable accrediting agency 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 education you will receive will be of the highest quality, but it will show future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Many Albertville AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited program. Also, financial aid and student loans are often obtainable only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Learn what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal schools you are looking at. This is of special importance if you are new to the profession with no prior work history, since employers will need to make a decision based on the quality of your education exclusively. Verifying that the school you select is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating services, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact a few Albertville AL law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask what schools they suggest. Remember that even though a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an excellent reputation.
Does the Program Sponsor Internships? Internship programs provide students an opportunity to experience working in a law office or other legal establishment while remaining in school. They can also present a pathway for students to start creating contacts within the Albertville AL legal field. Ask if the paralegal programs you are considering provide internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help available? You will probably want to hit the ground running after graduation, but finding that initial job in a new field can be challenging without help. 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 substantial networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their graduates are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the School's Location? Since laws vary from state to state, it might be advantageous to enroll in a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you want to work after graduating. Also, it will be valuable to create relationships in the neighboring legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is even 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 reside outside of their districts. So you may need to first consider those schools that are within the Albertville AL area.
How Much is the Complete Cost? Paralegal programs can differ in cost depending on the credential received and the length of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expense for your training. Don't forget to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance might be obtainable to help minimize part of the cost, so make sure to contact the school's financial aid department to see what is offered in Albertville AL. Of course if you opt to attend an online school, a portion these added expenses, such as for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Match your Schedule? Many paralegal students continue working while receiving their training and need flexibility in class scheduling. If you can solely attend weekend or evening classes near Albertville AL, make certain classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, confirm that the program you select provides that option. Finally, inquire what the protocol is for making up classes missed due to work, illness or family obligations.
Choose the Best Albertville Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Enrolling in the ideal paralegal certificate program is a vital first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have covered in this post, you have the option of attending classes on campus or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Albertville residence. Paralegal academic programs are offered in many lengths and formats. Different types of public and private institutions provide paralegal training, including community and junior colleges, four-year colleges and universities, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a profound influence on your prospects for success in your new career. Considering that there is a broad range in the quality of schools, choose wisely. Afford yourself the greatest possible chance to be successful in this rewarding profession. But no matter how you choose to acquire your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have provided you will have the ability to examine each program and make your ultimate decision. And with the right training you can achieve your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Albertville Alabama.