How to Pick the Right Paralegal Certificate Program Near Alexander City Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Alexander City AL and begin your journey that will lead to a fulfilling profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's important that you find the best school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you require to succeed. As you most likely understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more academic choices are becoming available, both on campus and online. But with so many options to choose from, where does one start? Many potential students start by searching for schools within traveling range of their Alexander City homes. Of those choices, they look for the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are very important considerations when selecting a college, they are not the only qualifiers you ought to consider. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the school must be considered as well. Later in this article we will cover a list of questions that you must ask potential paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare every one prior to 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
Paralegals and legal assistants essentially both fill the same job roles and functions, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and belong to a different job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Alexander City AL lawyers with a wide range of job functions, such as legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job duties are relevant to the type of practice where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm might help with trial logistics or delivering files to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is typically billed by the hour as are the lawyer's. And the same as attorneys, they must perform with a high level of professionalism and abide by a strict code of professional ethics. As stated, their duties can be diverse in support of the firms where they are employed, but a few of their routine activities might include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching relevant laws and cases
- Composing correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping lawyers get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be involved and rather demanding. On the other hand, what they are not legally permitted to do is give legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not limited to clerical or administrative tasks more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the right hand support systems for attorneys. And since they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys are able to handle a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could alone.
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. As a result, for either position the educational requirements and opportunities will be the same. The fastest means to launch your career as a paralegal in Alexander City AL is by obtaining a certificate, which may require as little as 6 months to accomplish. A large number of entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more extensive education and may be earned at many community colleges in two years. For an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are available also. When you have earned either a certificate or degree, you might choose to proceed and receive a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help maximize your employment opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. Some of the highly respected certifying organizations in the field 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 cover the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two important first steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Schools
Online paralegal or legal assistant programs have become more common and may be a good option for individuals looking for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online programs can be especially appealing to Alexander City AL students who keep working while earning a certificate or degree. As an additional advantage, online schools can in some cases be less costly than more traditional options. Even secondary expenditures for such things as commuting or study materials may be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all online 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 quality. So check to make sure that the program and school you are reviewing are accredited by a respected agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less structured and conventional setting, then obtaining your certificate or degree online may be the ideal option for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Studies Programs
Once you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what educational options are offered, you can begin the process of evaluating schools. But considering that there are numerous programs offered at community and junior colleges in the Alexander City AL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you need to find out what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is particularly true when you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like the majority of prospective students, you will start by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other critical aspects 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 researching so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your final decision.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you enroll in need to be accredited by a respected accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it may also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets online or distance training. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will obtain will be of the highest quality, but it will show future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Numerous Alexander City AL law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited school. Also, financial assistance and student loans are often accessible only for accredited programs.
What's the School's Reputation? Find out what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant programs you are contemplating. This is of specific importance if you are new to the field with no previous experience, since employers will need to make a decision based on the caliber of your training exclusively. Checking that the program you pick is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating reports, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also call a few Alexander City AL law practices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask what schools they recommend. Bear in mind that even though a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the Program Offer Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal operation while still in school. They can also offer an avenue for students to begin establishing contacts within the Alexander City AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal programs you are considering provide internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will probably want to secure employment quickly after graduating, but getting that initial job in a new field can be challenging without assistance. Find out if the paralegal schools you are interviewing have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have substantial networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their students are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the Campus Located? Since laws vary from one state to another, it might be advantageous to select a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you wish to practice after graduating. In addition, it will be necessary to create relationships in the local legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is all the more reason to receive your education in the area where you choose to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most require a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might wish to initially look at those schools that are within the Alexander City AL region.
What is the Entire Expense? Paralegal schools can differ in price based on the credential received and the amount of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your education. Don't forget to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance may be available to help reduce some of the cost, so don't forget to talk to the school's financial aid office to find out what is offered in Alexander City AL. Naturally if you opt to attend an online program, a portion these additional expenses, such as for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? A number of paralegal students keep working while obtaining their training and need flexibility in class scheduling. If you can just attend weekend or evening classes near Alexander City AL, verify classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make sure that the program you select offers that option. Last, ask what the procedure is for making up missed classes due to sickness, work or family obligations.
Choose the Best Alexander City Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Selecting the best legal assistant degree school is a crucial first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have discussed in this post, you have the option of attending classes on-campus or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Alexander City home. Paralegal academic programs are provided in numerous lengths and formats. Different kinds of public and private institutions make available paralegal education, including community colleges, four year colleges and universities, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a profound influence on your prospects for success in your new career. Considering that there is a wide range in the quality of schools, choose wisely. Afford yourself the best possible chance to succeed in this fascinating profession. But no matter how you elect to obtain your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have presented you will be able to examine each program and make your ultimate decision. And with the ideal education you can achieve your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Alexander City Alabama.