How to Pick the Right Paralegal Studies Training Program Near Clanton Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Clanton AL and begin your journey that will lead to a rewarding profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's important that you find the best school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you need to be successful. As you most likely understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of academic choices are being offered, both at school and online. But with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one start? Some prospective students begin by trying to find schools within driving distance of their Clanton homes. Of those choices, they look for the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are important considerations when picking a college, they are not the only qualifiers you need to consider. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the program should be taken into account too. Later on in this article we will cover a list of questions that you should ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare each one before 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.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals for the most part both fill comparable job roles and responsibilities, only with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and belong to a separate job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals help Clanton AL attorneys with a wide variety of job duties, such as legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job functions are relevant to the type of practice where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm might help with the logistics of a trial or delivering documents to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is normally billed by the hour as are the lawyer's. And the same as attorneys, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and follow a strict standard of professional ethics. As mentioned, their responsibilities can be varied in support of the firms where they work, but a few of their regular activities can involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on applicable cases and laws
- Composing correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting attorneys prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal files, documents and other records
With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be complex and quite challenging. 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 they are not confined to administrative or clerical tasks more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the main support systems for attorneys. And because 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 otherwise.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the educational prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The quickest way to begin your career as a legal assistant in Clanton AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can involve as little as 6 months to complete. Most entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which offer a more comprehensive education and can be earned at numerous community colleges in two years. For an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are an option also. When you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you may choose to proceed and earn a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help boost your employment opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. Some 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 degree or certificate from an accredited program (we will discuss the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 important initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Schools
Legal assistant and paralegal online programs have become more prevalent and can be a good alternative for individuals looking for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be especially appealing to Clanton AL students who keep working while earning a certificate or degree. As an additional benefit, online programs can in some cases be less expensive than on campus options. Even secondary expenditures for such items as study materials or commuting may be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will address in greater 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 looking into are accredited by a respected organization, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less structured and conventional environment, then earning your certificate or degree online might be the right choice for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Now that you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what educational options are available, you can start the process of assessing schools. But considering that there are numerous programs offered at community and junior colleges in the Clanton AL area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you must know what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is particularly true when you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like most potential students, you will start by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other crucial issues to consider also, such as the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's take a look at some of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are considering so that you can effectively vet each one and make your ultimate decision.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you select need to be accredited by a reputable organization 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 distance or online education. Accreditation will not only help guarantee 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 Clanton AL law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited program. Also, financial aid and student loans are usually offered only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the School? Investigate what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal schools you are considering. This is of specific importance if you are entering the field with no previous work history, since employers will need to make a decision based on the quality of your training exclusively. Confirming that the school you choose is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating services, such as those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact a few Clanton AL law practices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask which schools they recommend. Bear in mind that even if a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an excellent reputation.
Does the School Provide Internships? Internship programs provide students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal operation while attending school. They can also offer an avenue for students to begin establishing contacts within the Clanton AL legal field. Ask if the paralegal programs you are reviewing offer internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance offered? You will most likely want to hit the ground running after graduation, but getting that initial job in a new field can be difficult without help. Find out if the paralegal schools you are assessing have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good sign that the schools have sizable networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their students are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the School's Location? Because laws differ among states, it may be beneficial to choose a paralegal school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you wish to practice after graduating. Also, it will be necessary to create relationships in the area legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is all the more reason to acquire your education in the area where you choose to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many charge a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might need to initially look at those schools that are within the Clanton AL area.
How Much is the Complete Cost? Paralegal schools can differ in price based on the credential received and the length of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your training. Remember to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance might be available to help offset part of the cost, so make sure to contact the school's financial aid office to see what is available in Clanton AL. Naturally if you decide to attend an online program, a portion these additional costs, for instance for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Fit your Schedule? Numerous paralegal students keep working while getting their training and must have flexibility in class scheduling. If you can just attend weekend or evening classes near Clanton AL, make certain classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, confirm that the school you enroll in makes available that option. Last, ask what the procedure is for making up missed classes due to sickness, work or family obligations.
Enroll in the Right Clanton Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Selecting the best paralegal degree school is an essential first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have covered in this article, you have the choice of attending classes on campus or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Clanton home. Paralegal academic programs are made available in various formats and lengths. Various kinds of private and public institutions offer paralegal education, including junior and community colleges, four year universities and colleges, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a profound influence on your prospects for success in your new career. Given that there is a wide range in the quality of programs, choose carefully. Afford yourself the best possible chance to be successful in this rewarding profession. But no matter how you elect to acquire your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to examine each school and make your ultimate decision. And with the ideal training you can realize your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Clanton Alabama.