How to Find the Right Paralegal Studies Course Near Clay Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Clay AL and begin your journey that will result in a satisfying career in legal services. However, it's crucial that you find the best school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you require to achieve success. As you most likely know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more academic choices are becoming available, both at school and online. But with numerous options to choose from, where does one start? Some prospective students start by trying to find schools within driving range of their Clay residences. Of those choices, they look for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are very important considerations when choosing a college, they are not the only qualifiers you need to take into consideration. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the school must be taken into consideration too. Later in this post we will review a list of concerns that you should ask potential paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare every one before making your choice. But first, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the instructional alternatives that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants basically both hold the same job positions and functions, only with different titles. On the other hand, 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 help Clay AL attorneys with a wide range of job functions, such as legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job duties are relevant to the type of practice where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice could assist with the logistics of a trial or transporting files to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is usually billed hourly as are the attorney's. And just like lawyers, they must perform with a high level of professionalism and adhere to a strict standard of professional ethics. As stated, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they are employed, but a few of their daily activities may involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching applicable cases and laws
- Composing correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping attorneys get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal documents, files and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be complex and very challenging. However, what they are not legally authorized to do is offer legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not limited to administrative or clerical tasks more suited 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 preparation and ground work, attorneys are able to manage a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could on their own.
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. In any case, for either position the academic prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The quickest way to begin your career as a paralegal in Clay AL is by earning a certificate, which may involve just six months to complete. A large number of entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more comprehensive education and can be obtained at many community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are available as well. When you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you might want to proceed and receive a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help increase your career opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. Some of the highly regarded certifying organizations 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 certificate or degree from an accredited program (we will cover the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 essential first steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Certificates and Degrees
Online legal assistant or paralegal schools have become more common and can be an excellent alternative for those searching for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be particularly appealing to Clay AL students who keep working while earning a certificate or degree. As an additional advantage, online schools can sometimes be less costly than on campus options. Even ancillary expenses for such items as commuting or study materials can be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will address in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the training you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the school and program you are looking into are accredited by a highly regarded organization, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to attend classes in a less supervised and formal setting, then earning your degree or certificate online could be the ideal choice for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Once you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what academic options are available, you can begin the undertaking of evaluating schools. But considering that there are numerous programs accessible at community and junior colleges in the Clay AL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you need to know what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is particularly true when you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like most prospective students, you will begin by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other crucial issues to think about also, including 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 schools you are investigating so that you can effectively vet each one and make your final selection.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you pick should be accredited by a reputable organization 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 focuses on online or distance training. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will receive will be of the highest standard, but it will demonstrate to potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. Many Clay AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited school. Finally, financial aid and student loans are usually offered only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Learn what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal schools you are looking at. This is of particular importance if you are new to the profession with no previous experience, since employers will have to make a decision based on the quality of your training exclusively. Verifying that the school you pick is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating reports, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact some Clay AL law practices that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask what schools they recommend. Bear in mind that even when 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 a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal establishment while remaining in school. They can also present a pathway for students to start establishing contacts within the Clay AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal schools you are assessing provide internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance offered? You will most likely want to hit the ground running after graduating, but finding that first job in a new field can be difficult without support. Ask if the paralegal programs you are interviewing have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good sign that the schools have large networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their students are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the School's Location? Because laws differ among states, it may be advantageous to select a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you want to practice after graduation. In addition, it will be valuable to build relationships in the neighboring legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is all the more reason to receive your education in the area where you desire to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many require a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may need to first investigate those colleges that are within the Clay AL region.
How Much is the Complete Cost? Paralegal schools can differ in cost based on the credential received and the length of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your education. Don't forget to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance may be obtainable to help minimize part of the cost, so don't forget to talk to the school's financial aid office to see what is available in Clay AL. Naturally if you choose to attend an online program, some of these additional costs, for instance for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Fit your Schedule? Many legal students continue working while obtaining their training and require flexibility in class scheduling. If you can just attend weekend or evening classes near Clay AL, make certain classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make certain that the program you enroll in offers that option. Finally, ask what the process is for making up classes missed because of sickness, work or family obligations.
Choose the Right Clay Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Enrolling in the right paralegal training school is a vital first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have discussed in this article, you have the option of attending classes at school or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Clay residence. Paralegal academic programs are made available in various formats and lengths. Various types of private and public institutions offer paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four year colleges and universities, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a profound impact on your opportunities for success in your new career. Considering that there is a wide range in the quality of programs, choose carefully. Give yourself the best possible opportunity to be successful in this rewarding profession. But no matter how you decide to obtain your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to examine each school and make your ultimate decision. And with the right education you can accomplish your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Clay Alabama.