How to Enroll in the Right Paralegal Course Near Clanton Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Clanton AL and start your journey that will result in a gratifying profession in legal services. However, it's important that you find the best school so that you will get the extensive training that you need to achieve success. As you most likely know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more academic options are being offered, both at school and online. However with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? A number of prospective students begin by trying to find schools within driving range of their Clanton homes. Of those options, they try to find the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are necessary considerations when picking 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 consideration also. Later in this post we will review a list of questions that you must ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare every one before making your choice. But first, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the academic options that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants basically both hold comparable job positions and responsibilities, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and are part of a different job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Clanton AL attorneys with a wide variety of job functions, including legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job duties are relevant to the type of legal firm where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice may help with the logistics of a trial or transporting files to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is normally billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And just like lawyers, they must conduct themselves with a high degree of professionalism and adhere to a strict standard of professional ethics. As noted, their duties can be varied in support of the practices where they are employed, but a few of their routine tasks may include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching relevant cases and laws
- Preparing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping attorneys prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal documents, files and other records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be complicated and very challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally allowed to do is give legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not limited to clerical or administrative functions more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the right hand support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers are able to take on a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could alone.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The fastest means to start your career as a legal assistant in Clanton AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can require just six months to accomplish. A large number of entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which offer a more comprehensive education and can be obtained at many community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are an option as well. After you have earned either a certificate or degree, you might choose to continue and receive a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help increase your job opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. Some of the highly regarded certifying organizations 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 school (we will discuss the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 important first steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Courses
Paralegal and legal assistant online programs have become more common and may be an excellent alternative for individuals looking for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online schools can be especially appealing to Clanton AL students who continue to work while obtaining a degree. As an additional advantage, online classes can in some cases be less costly than more traditional options. Even supplementary expenditures for such items as commuting or study materials can be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all online schools are accredited, which we will address in more detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the education you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the school and program you are reviewing are accredited by a highly regarded organization, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less supervised and formal setting, then obtaining your degree or certificate online could be the ideal choice for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Schools
Once you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what training options are available, you can begin the process of assessing schools. But because there are so many programs available at community and junior colleges in the Clanton AL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you must know what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is particularly true when you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like many prospective students, you will begin by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other crucial factors to consider also, for instance accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's go over a few of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are researching so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your ultimate selection.
Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you select need to be accredited by a highly regarded accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it can also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets online or distance education. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will obtain will be of the highest quality, but it will establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. A number of Clanton AL law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited program. Also, financial assistance and student loans are typically available only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Learn what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant schools you are contemplating. This is of special importance if you are entering the field with no previous work history, since employers will have to rely on the caliber of your education exclusively. Verifying that the program you select is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating reports, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call some Clanton AL law firms that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask what schools they suggest. Bear in mind that even if a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the School Sponsor Internships? Internship programs offer students an opportunity to experience working in a law practice or other legal operation while attending school. They can also offer an avenue for students to start creating contacts within the Clanton AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal schools you are evaluating offer internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help provided? You will probably want to hit the ground running after graduating, but getting that first job in a new profession can be difficult without support. Ask if the paralegal schools you are assessing have job placement 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 in demand.
Where is the Campus Located? Considering that laws vary among states, it may be advantageous to choose a paralegal school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you want to work after graduation. Also, it will be valuable to establish relationships in the local legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is even more reason to obtain your education in the community where you choose to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many charge an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might want to first investigate those schools that are within the Clanton AL area.
What is the Complete Expense? Paralegal schools can differ in cost based on the credential obtained and the amount of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only expense for your education. Don't forget to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid may be accessible to help offset some of the cost, so don't forget to contact the school's financial aid office to see what is available in Clanton AL. Needless to say that if you decide to attend an online program, some of these supplementary expenses, for instance for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Match your Schedule? A number of legal students keep working while getting their training and need flexibility in class scheduling. If you can just attend night or weekend classes near Clanton AL, make certain classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make sure that the program you choose provides that option. Finally, find out what the process is for making-up classes missed because of sickness, work or family obligations.
Choose the Best Clanton Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Selecting the ideal paralegal studies training program is an essential 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 Clanton residence. Paralegal education programs are made available in numerous lengths and formats. Different kinds of public and private institutions provide paralegal education, including community colleges, four year colleges and universities, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a profound influence on your opportunities for success in your new career. Since there is a wide range in the quality of schools, pick wisely. Afford yourself the best possible opportunity to succeed in this exciting profession. But regardless of how you choose to obtain your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have provided you will have the ability to evaluate each program and make your final decision. And with the right education you can achieve your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Clanton Alabama.