How to Select the Right Paralegal Program Near Center Point Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Center Point AL and start your journey that will lead to a rewarding career in legal services. However, it's important that you find the right 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 a growing number of academic choices are becoming available, both at school and online. However with so many options to choose from, where does one begin? Many potential students begin by searching for schools within traveling distance of their Center Point residences. Of those alternatives, they search for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are important considerations when picking a school, they are not the only qualifiers you must consider. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the school ought to be taken into account also. Later in this post we will cover a list of questions that you need to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare each one prior to making your decision. But before we do, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the educational alternatives that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals essentially both fill the same job roles and responsibilities, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and are part of a separate job classification. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Center Point AL lawyers with a wide variety of job functions, such as 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 are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm could assist with trial logistics or delivering files to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is typically billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And just like attorneys, they must carry out their duties with a high degree of professionalism and comply with a strict standard of professional ethics. As noted, their duties can be diverse in support of the firms where they are employed, but a few of their routine tasks may involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching related laws and cases
- Preparing correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting attorneys get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be complex and very challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally allowed to do is give legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not restricted to clerical or administrative functions more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the right hand support systems for attorneys. And since they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys have the ability to take on a much larger number 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 arguably having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the educational prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The quickest way to launch your career as a legal assistant in Center Point AL is by obtaining a certificate, which may involve as little as 6 months to accomplish. Many entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which provide a more expansive education and can be acquired at many community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are an option as well. Once you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you might want to continue and get a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help increase your job opportunities, but help establish 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 certificate or degree from an accredited program (we will cover the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 essential first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Courses
Online legal assistant or paralegal programs have become more popular and may be a good option for individuals searching for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be particularly appealing to Center Point AL students who keep working while earning a certificate or degree. As an additional benefit, online classes can sometimes be less expensive than more traditional options. Even secondary expenditures for such things as study materials or commuting may be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all online schools are accredited, which we will cover in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the training you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the program and school you are reviewing are accredited by a respected organization, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to attend classes in a less supervised and conventional setting, then earning your certificate or degree online may be the ideal option for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Studies Programs
Once you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what training options are available, you can start the process of assessing schools. But considering that there are numerous programs accessible at junior and community colleges in the Center Point AL area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you need to find out what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is especially true when you add all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. If you are like the majority of potential students, you will start by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other important factors to consider also, including accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's go over a few of the questions you should be asking the programs you are considering so that you can effectively vet each one and make your final choice.
Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you select need to be accredited by a recognized accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it might also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance education. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will receive will be of the highest standard, but it will demonstrate to future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Numerous Center Point AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited school. Also, financial assistance and student loans are usually offered only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the School? Investigate what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal schools you are looking at. This is of particular importance if you are new to the field with no prior work history, since employers will need to rely on the quality of your education exclusively. Checking that the school you choose is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating reports, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact several Center Point AL law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask which schools they recommend. Remember that even if a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs give students an opportunity to experience working in a law office or other legal establishment while remaining in school. They can also provide a pathway for students to begin developing contacts within the Center Point AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal schools 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 Assistance provided? You will probably wish to hit the ground running after graduating, but getting that initial job in a new field can be difficult without help. Find out if the paralegal schools you are considering have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high 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 graduates are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the Campus Located? Since laws vary from state to state, it may be advantageous to enroll in a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you plan to practice after graduating. Also, it will be important to establish relationships in the area legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is even more reason to acquire your education in the area where you desire 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 want to first investigate those schools that are within the Center Point AL region.
What is the Entire Cost? Paralegal programs can vary in cost depending on the credential earned and the amount of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only cost for your education. Remember to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid may be accessible to help minimize part of the cost, so make sure to check with the school's financial aid department to see what is available in Center Point AL. Needless to say that if you decide to attend an online program, a portion these additional costs, for instance for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? A number of legal students continue working while getting their training and must have flexibility in class scheduling. If you can solely attend night or weekend classes near Center Point AL, make sure classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make sure that the program you enroll in makes available that option. Last, ask what the procedure is for making-up classes missed because of sickness, work or family obligations.
Enroll in the Best Center Point Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Choosing the ideal paralegal studies degree program is a vital first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have covered in this post, you have the choice of attending classes on-campus or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Center Point residence. Paralegal training programs are made available in many formats and lengths. Several kinds of private and public institutions provide paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four year universities and colleges, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a pronounced influence on your prospects for success in your new career. Given that there is a broad range in the quality of schools, choose carefully. Give yourself the best possible opportunity to be successful in this rewarding profession. But regardless of how you choose to receive your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will have the ability to review each program and make your ultimate selection. And with the ideal education you can achieve your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Center Point Alabama.