How to Choose the Best Paralegal Studies School Near Clanton Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Clanton AL and start your journey that will result in a fulfilling profession in legal services. However, it's important that you locate the ideal school so that you will receive the extensive training that you need to be successful. As you probably know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of academic choices are being offered, both on campus and online. But with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one start? Some prospective students start by looking for schools within traveling distance of their Clanton residences. Of those alternatives, they try to find the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are prime considerations when picking a college, they are not the only qualifiers you need to take into consideration. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the school need to be taken into account also. Later on in this article we will cover a list of questions that you must ask potential paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare each one before making your choice. But before we do, let's take a look at what a paralegal does and the educational choices that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals basically both hold the same 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 separate job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Clanton AL attorneys with a diverse array of job duties, including maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job functions are based upon the type of practice where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice may assist with trial logistics or delivering files to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is normally billed hourly as are the attorney's. And just like lawyers, they must perform with a high level of professionalism and abide by a strict standard of professional ethics. As noted, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they work, but some of their everyday tasks can involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on related cases and laws
- Composing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping attorneys get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal documents, files and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be involved and very demanding. However, what they are not legally authorized to do is offer legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not restricted to clerical or administrative duties more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the main support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers have the ability to take on a much larger number of clients or cases than they could on their own.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the academic prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The quickest means to start your career as a legal assistant in Clanton AL is by earning a certificate, which can involve as little as six months to complete. A large number of entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which offer a more expansive education and can be earned at many community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are available also. Once you have earned either a certificate or degree, you may choose to proceed and receive a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help increase your employment opportunities, but help establish you as a professional as well. 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 school (we will discuss the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 important initial steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Schools
Legal assistant and paralegal online schools have become more available and can be a good option for individuals looking for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online programs can be particularly attractive to Clanton AL students who keep working while earning a degree. As an added benefit, online classes can often be less costly than more traditional options. Even supplementary expenditures for such things as commuting or study materials can be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will address in greater detail later. But at the very least 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 reputable agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to attend classes in a less structured and conventional environment, then earning your certificate or degree online might be the ideal choice for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Since you now you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what educational options are offered, you can begin the process of assessing schools. But because there are so many programs available at junior and community colleges in the Clanton AL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you need to learn 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 commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other significant aspects to research as well, such as the reputation and accreditation 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 decision.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you pick should be accredited by a reputable accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it may also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets online or distance learning. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will get will be of the highest standard, but it will show future employers that you are a qualified professional also. A number of Clanton AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited school. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are usually offered only for accredited schools.
What's the School's Reputation? Research what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal schools you are considering. This is of special importance if you are entering the field with no previous work history, since employers will need to make a decision based on the caliber of your education exclusively. Checking that the program you pick is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating reports, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call a few Clanton AL law firms that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask which schools they suggest. Bear in mind that even though a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the School Provide Internships? Internship programs give students an opportunity to experience working in a law firm or other legal enterprise while remaining in school. They can also present a means for students to begin creating contacts within the Clanton AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal programs you are considering offer internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance provided? You will most likely want to hit the ground running after graduation, but getting that first job in a new profession can be difficult without help. Find out if the paralegal programs you are reviewing have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have substantial networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their graduates are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the Campus Located? Since laws vary from state to state, it might be a good idea to enroll in a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you wish to practice after graduation. Also, it will be necessary to cultivate relationships in the area legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is all the more justification to receive your education in the community where you desire to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many require an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may want to initially look at those schools that are within the Clanton AL region.
What is the Total Expense? Paralegal programs can vary in cost based on the credential obtained and the length of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your education. Remember to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid may be obtainable to help reduce some of the expense, so don't forget to consult with the school's financial aid department to see what is available in Clanton AL. Naturally if you choose to attend an online school, some of these supplementary expenses, for instance for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? A number of legal students continue working while getting their training and must have flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend weekend or evening 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 school you choose provides that option. Finally, inquire what the process is for making up classes missed because of sickness, work or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Right Clanton Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Enrolling in the best paralegal studies degree school is an essential first step toward your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have discussed in this article, you have the choice of attending classes on campus or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Clanton residence. Paralegal education programs are offered in various formats and lengths. Different types of public and private institutions make available paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four-year colleges and universities, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a pronounced influence on your prospects for success in your new profession. Considering that there is a broad range in the quality of schools, choose wisely. Give yourself the best possible chance to succeed in this fascinating profession. But no matter how you choose to obtain your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will have the ability to examine each school and make your ultimate selection. And with the appropriate education you can achieve your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Clanton Alabama.