How to Enroll in the Right Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program Near Clanton Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Clanton AL and start your journey that will lead to a satisfying career in legal services. However, it's essential that you find the best school so that you will get the extensive training that you need to be successful. As you probably understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more educational options are being offered, both on campus and online. However with so many options to choose from, where does one start? Some potential students begin by looking for schools within traveling range of their Clanton homes. Of those options, they search for the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are important considerations when selecting a college, they are not the only qualifiers you should consider. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the school should be considered too. Later on in this post we will cover a list of questions that you must ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare each one before making your decision. But first, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the educational choices that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants for the most part both hold comparable job roles and responsibilities, just with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and belong to a different job classification. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Clanton AL lawyers with a wide range of job duties, such as legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job duties 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 transporting documents to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is usually billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And just like lawyers, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and abide by a strict code of professional ethics. As stated, their responsibilities can be varied in support of the practices where they work, but some of their daily activities might involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching relevant cases and laws
- Composing correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting attorneys prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be complex and rather demanding. On the other hand, what they are not legally authorized to do is give legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not restricted to administrative or clerical tasks more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the main support systems for attorneys. And since they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys have the ability to handle a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the academic requirements and job prospects will be the same. The fastest way to begin your career as a legal assistant in Clanton AL is by obtaining a certificate, which may require just 6 months to complete. Most entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which provide a more expansive education and may be acquired at many community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are offered as well. Once you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you may choose to proceed and earn a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help improve your job opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. A few of the highly regarded certifying agencies 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 benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 crucial first steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Classes
Paralegal and legal assistant online programs have become more available and may be a good option for individuals looking for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online schools can be especially attractive to Clanton AL students who continue to work while obtaining a degree. As an added benefit, online schools can sometimes be less expensive than on campus options. Even ancillary expenses for such items as commuting or study materials may be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all online programs are accredited, which we will cover in more detail later. But at the very least 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 thinking about are accredited by a highly regarded agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less supervised and conventional setting, then earning your degree or certificate online may be the ideal option for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Programs
Now that you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what academic options are offered, you can start the undertaking of evaluating schools. But since there are numerous programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Clanton AL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you must learn what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is particularly true when you add all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. If you are like many potential students, you will start by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other crucial issues to consider also, including accreditation and the reputation 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 properly vet each one and make your ultimate selection.
Is the Paralegal Training Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you enroll in should be accredited by a highly regarded organization 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 focuses on distance or online learning. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will get will be of the highest standard, but it will establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Many Clanton AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited school. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are often available only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the School? Investigate what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant schools you are considering. This is of specific importance if you are new to the profession with no previous work history, since employers will have to rely on the caliber of your training exclusively. Confirming that the school you choose is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating services, 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 contact some Clanton AL law practices that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask what schools they recommend. Keep in mind that even when a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the School Sponsor Internships? Internship programs offer students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal establishment while still in school. They can also present a pathway for students to begin creating contacts within the Clanton AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal schools you are reviewing offer internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help offered? You will undoubtedly wish to hit the ground running after graduation, but finding that first job in a new field can be difficult without assistance. Ask if the paralegal programs you are considering have job placement programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good indication that the schools have substantial networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their graduates are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the School Located? Considering that laws vary from state to state, it may be beneficial to select a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you plan to work after graduating. In addition, it will be important to cultivate relationships in the neighboring legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is even more justification to receive your education in the community where you wish to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many require an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may wish to first look at those schools that are within the Clanton AL region.
How Much is the Total Cost? Paralegal schools can vary in price depending on the credential received and the length of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only expense for your training. Remember to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid might be accessible to help offset some of the cost, so be sure to consult with the school's financial aid department to see what is available in Clanton AL. Naturally if you opt to attend an online program, a portion these added costs, such as for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? Numerous legal students continue working while obtaining their training and need flexibility in class scheduling. If you can just attend weekend or evening classes near Clanton 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 provides that option. Finally, ask what the protocol is for making-up classes missed due to sickness, work or family obligations.
Enroll in the Best Clanton Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Enrolling in the right paralegal studies degree school is an essential first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have addressed in this post, you have the choice of attending classes at school or you can attend them online in the comfort and privacy of your Clanton home. Paralegal academic programs are offered in many lengths and formats. Different types of public and private institutions offer paralegal education, including community colleges, four-year universities and colleges, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a pronounced influence on your opportunities for success in your new career. Since there is a wide range in the quality of programs, choose wisely. Afford yourself the best possible opportunity to be successful in this rewarding profession. But irrespective of how you elect to acquire your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have presented you will have the ability to assess each school and make your final selection. And with the appropriate training you can achieve your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Clanton Alabama.