How to Choose the Right Paralegal Program Near Chelsea Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Chelsea AL and start your journey that will result in a satisfying profession in legal services. However, it's crucial that you find the ideal school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you require to be successful. As you most likely know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of educational options are being offered, both on campus and online. But with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Some potential students begin by looking for schools within driving distance of their Chelsea homes. Of those alternatives, they try to find the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are prime considerations when choosing a college, they are not the only factors you need to consider. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the school need to be taken into account also. Later on in this post we will cover a list of questions that you must ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare every one before making your decision. But before we do, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the academic choices that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants for the most part both fill comparable job positions and functions, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and belong to a separate job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Chelsea AL attorneys with a wide variety of job duties, including maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job duties are based upon the type of practice where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm might assist with the logistics of a trial or transferring documents to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is normally billed hourly as are the attorney's. And just like lawyers, they must carry out their duties with a high degree of professionalism and abide by a strict standard of professional ethics. As mentioned, their responsibilities can be varied in support of the practices where they are employed, but a few of their daily tasks may involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching applicable laws and cases
- Composing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting lawyers prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal files, documents and other 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 provide legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not limited to clerical or administrative duties more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the main support systems for attorneys. And since they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers have the ability to take on a much larger number of cases or clients than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational requirements and job prospects will be the same. The quickest way to begin your career as a legal assistant in Chelsea AL is by obtaining a certificate, which may take as little as six months to accomplish. Most entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more comprehensive education and may be obtained at numerous community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are an option also. After you have earned either a degree or a certificate, you may choose to continue and receive a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help maximize your career opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. 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 address the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 essential first steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Programs
Online legal assistant or paralegal programs have become more common and can be a good option for those searching for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online programs can be especially appealing to Chelsea AL students who keep working while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an additional advantage, online classes can sometimes be less costly than on campus options. Even ancillary expenditures for such items as study materials or commuting may be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will address in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the training you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the school and program you are reviewing are accredited by a reputable agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less structured and conventional setting, then earning your certificate or degree online may be the ideal option for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Schools
Since you now you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what academic options are offered, you can start the undertaking of assessing schools. But because there are numerous programs available at community and junior colleges in the Chelsea AL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you need to find out what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is especially true if you add 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 commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other significant factors to research as well, such as the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's go over several of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are researching so that you can properly vet each one and make your ultimate selection.
Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you select should be accredited by a recognized accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it might also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets distance or online education. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will receive will be of the highest quality, but it will demonstrate to potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. A number of Chelsea AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited program. Also, financial assistance and student loans are typically accessible only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the School? Investigate what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal schools you are considering. This is of particular importance if you are entering the field with no prior work history, since employers will have to rely on the quality of your training exclusively. Confirming that the school you select is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating services, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also call some Chelsea AL law practices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask what schools they suggest. Keep in mind that even when a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs provide students an opportunity to experience working in a law office or other legal establishment while attending school. They can also offer an avenue for students to start developing contacts within the Chelsea AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal programs you are assessing provide internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help provided? You will undoubtedly wish to hit the ground running after graduating, but getting that first job in a new field can be challenging without assistance. Ask if the paralegal programs you are interviewing have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have large networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their graduates are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the Campus Located? Since laws differ from state to state, it may be advantageous to enroll in a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you want to work after graduation. Also, it will be valuable to cultivate relationships in the neighboring legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is all the more justification to obtain your education in the area where you want 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 might want to initially investigate those colleges that are within the Chelsea AL region.
What is the Complete Cost? Paralegal programs can differ in cost depending on the credential received and the amount 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 be sure to talk to the school's financial aid department to see what is available in Chelsea AL. Of course if you decide to attend an online program, some of these additional expenses, such as for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Fit your Schedule? Numerous paralegal students continue working while receiving their training and must have flexibility in class scheduling. If you can just attend weekend or evening classes near Chelsea AL, verify classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, confirm that the school you choose makes available that option. Finally, ask what the protocol is for making up missed classes due to sickness, work or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Right Chelsea Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Choosing the ideal paralegal degree school is an important first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding 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 comfort and privacy of your Chelsea home. Paralegal academic programs are provided in various formats and lengths. Various kinds of public and private institutions offer paralegal training, including junior and community colleges, four-year universities and colleges, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a profound influence on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Considering that there is a broad range in the quality of schools, choose wisely. Give yourself the greatest possible chance to succeed in this exciting profession. But irrespective of how you elect to acquire your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have presented you will have the ability to examine each program and make your final selection. And with the appropriate training you can realize your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Chelsea Alabama.