How to Pick the Right Paralegal Studies Certificate or Degree Program Near Clay Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Clay AL and start your journey that will result in a gratifying profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's important that you locate the right school so that you will get the extensive 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 educational alternatives are being offered, both on campus and online. However with numerous options to choose from, where does one begin? Many prospective students start by trying to find schools within driving distance of their Clay homes. Of those alternatives, 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 must take into consideration. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the school need to be taken into consideration also. Later on in this article we will review a list of concerns that you need to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare every one before making your selection. But before we do, let's take a look at what a paralegal does and the academic choices that are offered 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 separate job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Clay AL lawyers with a wide variety of job functions, including legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job duties are based upon the type of legal firm where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm might assist with trial logistics or transporting documents to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is typically billed hourly as are the attorney's. And the same as attorneys, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and abide by a strict standard of professional ethics. As mentioned, their responsibilities can be varied in support of the practices where they are employed, but a few of their everyday activities can include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching related cases and laws
- Composing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting lawyers get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be complicated and rather demanding. On the other hand, what they are not legally allowed to do is provide legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not limited to clerical or administrative functions more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the main support systems for lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers have the ability to handle a much larger volume of clients or cases 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 academic requirements and opportunities will be the same. The fastest way to start your career as a paralegal in Clay AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can require as little as six months to complete. A large number of entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which offer a more extensive education and can be obtained at numerous community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are available as well. Once you have acquired either a degree or a certificate, you may want to proceed and obtain a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help increase your employment opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. 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 degree or certificate from an accredited school (we will discuss the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 crucial initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Schools
Online paralegal or legal assistant programs have become more prevalent and may be a good alternative for individuals searching for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be especially attractive to Clay AL students who continue to work while obtaining a degree. As an added benefit, online programs can in some cases be less expensive than more traditional options. Even supplementary expenses for such items as study materials or commuting may 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 caliber. So check to make certain 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 study in a less structured and formal environment, then earning your degree or certificate online might be the right option for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Degree or Certificate Programs
Since you now you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what training choices are offered, you can begin the process of evaluating schools. But considering that there are numerous programs accessible at community and junior colleges in the Clay AL area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you need to learn what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is particularly true when you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like many potential students, you will begin by searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other significant factors to think about also, for instance the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's take a look at several 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 choice.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you enroll in need to be accredited by a recognized organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it can also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online education. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will obtain will be of the highest standard, but it will demonstrate to potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. A number of Clay AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited school. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are often accessible only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Investigate what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal programs you are looking at. This is of particular importance if you are entering the field with no prior work history, since employers will need to make a decision based on the quality of your education exclusively. Verifying that the school you choose is accredited is a good first step. Checking 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 contact some Clay AL law practices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask which schools they suggest. Keep in mind that even though a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the Program Provide Internships? Internship programs provide students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal operation while remaining in school. They can also present a pathway for students to begin creating contacts within the Clay AL legal field. Ask if the paralegal schools you are reviewing provide internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help offered? You will undoubtedly wish to secure employment quickly after graduating, but finding that initial job in a new field can be challenging without help. Find out if the paralegal schools you are interviewing have job placement programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have large networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their graduates are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the School Located? Because laws differ among states, it may be beneficial to enroll in a paralegal school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you plan to practice after graduating. Also, it will be valuable to develop relationships in the neighboring legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is even more justification to acquire your education in the area where you wish to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many charge a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might wish to initially look at those schools that are within the Clay AL area.
How Much is the Entire Expense? Paralegal programs can vary in price depending on the credential earned and the length of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only expense for your education. Don't forget to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance might be accessible to help reduce part of the cost, so don't forget to contact the school's financial aid department to see what is available in Clay AL. Needless to say that if you choose to attend an online school, a portion these supplementary expenses, for instance for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? A number of paralegal students continue working while receiving their training and require flexibility in class scheduling. If you can solely attend night or weekend classes near Clay AL, make sure classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, confirm that the program you enroll in offers that option. Finally, inquire what the protocol is for making-up classes missed due to work, illness or family emergencies.
Choose the Best Clay Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Choosing the best legal assistant degree program is a crucial first step toward your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have discussed in this article, 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 made available in various lengths and formats. Various kinds of public and private institutions make available paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four year colleges and universities, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a pronounced influence on your opportunities for success in your new career. Since there is a wide range in the quality of schools, pick carefully. Give yourself the greatest possible chance to succeed 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 provided you will be able to evaluate each program and make your final decision. And with the appropriate training you can accomplish your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Clay Alabama.