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How to Pick the Right Paralegal Studies Course Near Cullman Alabama

Cullman Alabama female paralegal consulting with client on cellphoneCongratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Cullman AL and start your journey that will result in a fulfilling profession in legal services. However, it's essential that you locate the ideal school so that you will receive the extensive training that you require to be successful. As you most likely know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of academic alternatives are becoming available, both on campus and online. But with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one start? A number of prospective students begin by looking for schools within commuting range of their Cullman residences. Of those alternatives, they try to find the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are necessary considerations when choosing a college, they are not the only qualifiers you must take into consideration. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the school must be taken into account as well. Later on in this article we will cover a list of questions that you ought to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare each one before making your decision. But first, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the instructional options that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.

Paralegals and Legal Assistants

Cullman Alabama legal library

Paralegals and legal assistants basically both hold comparable job roles and responsibilities, only with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and belong to a different job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Cullman 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 duties are based upon the type of practice where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm might help with trial logistics or delivering documents to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is usually billed by the hour as are the lawyer's. And the same as attorneys, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and comply with a strict standard of professional ethics. As stated, their responsibilities can be varied in support of the practices where they work, but some of their regular tasks may involve:

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

With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be involved and rather challenging. However, what they are not legally allowed to do is provide legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not limited to administrative or clerical duties more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the right hand support systems for attorneys. And because 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 otherwise.

Paralegal Training and Certification

Cullman Alabama male legal assistant speaking on cellphone taking notes

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 educational requirements and job prospects will be the same. The quickest way to launch your career as a legal assistant in Cullman AL is by earning a certificate, which may involve as little as 6 months to complete. Many entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more expansive education and can be obtained at numerous community colleges in two years. For an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are offered also. After you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you may choose to continue and earn a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help maximize your employment opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. Some of the highly respected 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 certificate or degree from an accredited school (we will discuss the advantages 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.

Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Schools

Cullman Alabama female student attending paralegal online trainingOnline 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 particularly attractive to Cullman AL students who continue to work while obtaining a degree. As an added benefit, online schools can often be less costly than more traditional options. Even secondary expenditures for such things as study materials or commuting may be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will cover in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the education you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the school and program you are thinking about are accredited by a highly regarded organization, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less structured and conventional setting, then obtaining your certificate or degree online could be the ideal choice for you.

Questions to Ask Paralegal Programs

Now that you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what academic choices are available, you can start the process of assessing schools. But considering that there are numerous programs accessible at junior and community colleges in the Cullman 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 add all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. If you are like many prospective students, you will begin by searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other significant issues to consider also, such as accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's go over several 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 Training Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you select need to be accredited by a respected accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it may also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets distance or online learning. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will obtain will be of the highest quality, but it will show future employers that you are a qualified professional also. Many Cullman AL law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited program. Finally, financial aid and student loans are often obtainable only for accredited schools.

What's the Reputation of the School? Research what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal programs you are contemplating. This is of particular importance if you are new to the profession 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 select is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating reports, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call a few Cullman AL law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask what schools they recommend. Bear in mind that even though a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.

Does the School Provide Internships? Internship programs give students an opportunity to experience working in a law practice or other legal enterprise while still in school. They can also provide a means for students to begin creating contacts within the Cullman AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal schools you are evaluating provide internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering after graduation.

Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will undoubtedly wish to secure employment quickly after graduating, but getting that initial job in a new profession can be difficult without assistance. Find out if the paralegal programs you are assessing have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good indication that the schools have large networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their students are well regarded and sought after.

Where is the Campus Located? Since laws vary from state to state, it may be advantageous to choose a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you plan to work after graduation. Also, it will be important to create relationships in the local legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is all the more justification to obtain your education in the area where you wish to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many require a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might need to initially look at those schools that are within the Cullman AL region.

How Much is the Total Expense? Paralegal schools can differ in cost depending on the credential obtained and the length of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only cost for your education. Remember to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid may be available to help reduce part of the expense, so don't forget to contact the school's financial aid department to see what is available in Cullman AL. Needless to say that if you decide to attend an online program, some of these additional costs, for instance for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.

Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? Numerous paralegal students keep working while receiving their training and need flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend weekend or evening classes near Cullman AL, make sure classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make certain that the school you choose provides that option. Last, inquire what the protocol is for making up classes missed as a result of work, illness or family obligations.

Learn More About Cullman Paralegal Training

Choose the Right Cullman Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program

Enrolling in the right legal assistant degree school is an important first step toward your success in the gratifying 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 comfort and privacy of your Cullman home. Paralegal academic programs are offered in various formats and lengths. Various types of private and public institutions make available paralegal education, including junior and community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a profound influence on your prospects for success in your new profession. Given that there is a broad range in the quality of schools, pick wisely. Give yourself the best possible opportunity to be successful in this rewarding profession. But regardless of how you elect 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 program and make your ultimate selection. And with the right education you can achieve your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Cullman Alabama.


 

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