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How to Pick the Right Paralegal School Near Clay Alabama

Clay Alabama woman paralegal consulting with client on phoneCongratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Clay AL and begin your journey that will lead to a fulfilling career in legal services. Nevertheless, it's crucial that you find the best school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you require 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 educational options are becoming available, both on campus and online. But with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Many prospective students start by trying to find schools within commuting range of their Clay homes. Of those choices, they look for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are very important considerations when selecting a college, they are not the only qualifiers you must consider. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the school must be taken into account too. Later in this post we will cover a list of concerns that you should ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare each one prior to making your decision. But before we do, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the instructional alternatives that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.

Legal Assistants and Paralegals

Clay Alabama law library

Legal assistants and paralegals for the most part both fill comparable job positions and functions, only with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and belong to a separate job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Clay AL attorneys with a diverse array of job duties, such as maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job duties are relevant to the type of practice where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm could help with trial logistics or delivering documents to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is normally billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And just like lawyers, they must carry out their duties with a high degree of professionalism and adhere to a strict standard of professional ethics. As noted, their responsibilities can be diverse in support of the firms where they work, but a few of their routine activities can involve:

  • Investigating and fact checking cases
  • Researching pertinent laws and cases
  • Drafting correspondence and legal papers
  • Filing legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
  • Assisting lawyers get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
  • Organizing and preserving legal files, documents and additional records

With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be complicated and rather challenging. However, what they are not legally authorized to do is offer legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not confined to administrative or clerical functions more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the main support systems for lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys have the ability to take on a much larger number of cases or clients than they could alone.

Paralegal Programs and Certification

Clay Alabama male legal assistant on phone taking notes

As we discussed earlier, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the academic requirements and job prospects will be the same. The fastest means to launch your career as a legal assistant in Clay AL is by obtaining a certificate, which may involve as little as 6 months to accomplish. Many entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which provide a more extensive education and may be acquired at many community colleges in 2 years. For an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are available also. When you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you may want to proceed and get a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help improve your employment opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. A few of the highly respected 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 certificate or degree from an accredited program (we will address the benefits 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.

Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Certificates and Degrees

Clay Alabama woman student enrolled in paralegal online trainingLegal assistant and paralegal online programs have become more available and can be an excellent alternative for students looking for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be particularly attractive to Clay AL students who continue to work while earning a certificate or degree. As an added benefit, online programs can sometimes be less costly than on campus options. Even secondary expenses for such things as commuting or study materials can be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all online programs are accredited, which we will discuss in more detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the education you obtain 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 example the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less supervised and conventional environment, then obtaining your degree or certificate online might be the right choice for you.

Things to Ask Paralegal Degree or Certificate Programs

Once you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what academic choices are available, you can begin the undertaking of assessing schools. But since there are numerous programs accessible at community and junior colleges in the Clay AL area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you must learn what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is particularly true if you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like most prospective students, you will start by searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other important issues to think about as well, such as the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's take a look at a few of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are investigating so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your final decision.

Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you select need to be accredited by a recognized 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 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 Clay AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited school. Finally, financial aid and student loans are typically obtainable only for accredited schools.

What's the Program's Reputation? Research what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant programs you are contemplating. This is of particular importance if you are new to the field with no previous work history, since employers will have to rely on the caliber of your training exclusively. Verifying that the school you select is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating services, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact several Clay AL law practices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask which schools they suggest. Remember that even though a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an outstanding reputation.

Does the School Sponsor Internships? Internship programs give students an opportunity to experience working in a law firm or other legal operation while still in school. They can also provide a pathway for students to start creating contacts within the Clay AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal schools you are assessing provide internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing upon graduation.

Is Job Placement Assistance provided? You will most likely wish to hit the ground running after graduating, but finding that initial job in a new profession can be challenging without support. Find out if the paralegal schools you are assessing have job placement programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid 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 sought after.

Where is the School Located? Since laws differ from one state to another, it might be advantageous to select a paralegal school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you plan to practice after graduation. In addition, it will be important to build relationships in the local legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is even more reason to receive your education in the area where you desire to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many require a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might need to initially investigate those schools that are within the Clay AL region.

What is the Entire Cost? Paralegal programs can vary in cost based on the credential received and the amount of training provided. 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 also. Financial assistance might be accessible to help offset part of the cost, so be sure to consult with the school's financial aid office to see what is available in Clay AL. Needless to say that if you opt to attend an online program, a portion these added costs, such as for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.

Do the Classes Accommodate your Schedule? Many paralegal students continue working while obtaining their training and require flexibility in class scheduling. If you can only attend night or weekend classes near Clay AL, make sure classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make certain that the school you choose makes available that option. Last, ask what the protocol is for making up missed classes as a result of sickness, work or family obligations.

Learn More About Clay Online Paralegal Certificate and Degree Programs

Enroll in the Best Clay Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program

Choosing the best legal assistant training school is an essential first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have discussed in this post, you have the option of attending classes on-campus or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Clay residence. Paralegal training programs are provided in numerous lengths and formats. Several types of public and private institutions provide paralegal training, including community colleges, four year colleges and universities, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a pronounced impact on your prospects for success in your new career. Given that there is a broad range in the quality of programs, pick wisely. Afford yourself the best possible chance to succeed in this rewarding profession. But regardless of how you choose to receive your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will be able to assess each school and make your final decision. And with the appropriate training you can realize your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Clay Alabama.


 

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