How to Choose the Best Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program Near Cullman Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Cullman AL and begin your journey that will result in a rewarding profession in legal services. However, it's crucial that you find the ideal school so that you will receive the extensive training that you require to succeed. As you probably understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of educational choices are being offered, both at school and online. However with so many options to choose from, where does one begin? Some prospective students start by searching for schools within traveling range of their Cullman residences. Of those alternatives, they search for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are prime considerations when choosing a college, they are not the only factors you need to take into consideration. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the school must be considered as well. Later on in this post we will review a list of concerns that you ought to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare every one prior to making your decision. But first, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic options that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants for the most part both fill the same job positions and functions, 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 Cullman AL lawyers with a diverse array of job functions, such as legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job functions are relevant to 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 files to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is typically billed hourly as are the attorney's. And just like attorneys, they must perform with a high level of professionalism and abide by a strict standard of professional ethics. As mentioned, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they work, but some of their everyday tasks can involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on applicable cases and laws
- Drafting correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting attorneys prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal files, documents and other records
With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be involved and quite challenging. However, what they are not legally authorized to do is offer legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not restricted to clerical or administrative duties more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the main support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys are able to take on a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could alone.
Paralegal Certificates and Degrees and Certification
As we previously covered, 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 launch your career as a paralegal in Cullman AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can require just 6 months to accomplish. A large number of entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more comprehensive education and may be acquired at many community colleges in 2 years. For an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are an option also. Once you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you might want 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 as well. Some of the highly regarded 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 cover 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 paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Classes
Online paralegal or legal assistant programs have become more popular and can be a good option for individuals looking for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online programs can be particularly appealing to Cullman AL students who continue to work while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an added advantage, online classes can often be less costly than more traditional options. Even supplementary expenditures for such things as commuting or study materials may be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all online programs are accredited, which we will cover 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 school and program you are thinking about are accredited by a reputable agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less supervised and formal setting, then obtaining your certificate or degree online may be the right option for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Studies Programs
Once you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what educational choices are offered, you can begin the undertaking of evaluating schools. But because there are numerous programs offered at community and junior colleges in the Cullman AL area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you must know what questions to ask so that you can 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 prospective students, you will start by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other crucial issues to think about also, such as accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at a few of the questions you should be asking the programs you are researching so that you can properly vet each one and make your ultimate decision.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you select need to be accredited by a highly regarded accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, 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 education you will obtain will be of the highest standard, but it will establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. Many Cullman AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited school. Also, financial aid and student loans are typically obtainable only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Investigate what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal programs you are considering. This is of specific importance if you are entering the field with no prior work history, since employers will need to rely on the quality of your education exclusively. Verifying that the school you choose is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating reports, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact a few Cullman AL law firms that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask what 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 excellent reputation.
Does the Program Sponsor Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law firm or other legal operation while attending school. They can also offer an avenue for students to begin establishing contacts within the Cullman AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal programs you are considering offer internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help provided? You will most likely want to hit the ground running after graduation, but getting that initial job in a new field can be challenging without help. Find out if the paralegal programs you are considering have job placement 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 confirms that their students are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the Campus Located? Because laws differ from one state to another, it may be advantageous to choose a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you wish to practice after graduating. In addition, it will be valuable to develop relationships in the area legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is even more justification to acquire your education in the area where you choose to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most require an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might need to first look at those colleges that are within the Cullman AL region.
How Much is the Total Cost? Paralegal schools can differ in price depending on the credential received and the length of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only cost for your education. Remember to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid might be available to help offset part of the cost, so don't forget to talk to the school's financial aid department to see what is offered in Cullman AL. Naturally if you opt to attend an online program, a portion these supplementary expenses, such as for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? Numerous legal students continue working while receiving their training and need flexibility in class scheduling. If you can only attend night or weekend classes near Cullman AL, make certain classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make certain that the program you enroll in makes available that option. Last, ask what the procedure is for making-up classes missed as a result of sickness, work or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Best Cullman Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Enrolling in the best legal assistant degree school is a vital first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have discussed in this post, you have the option of attending classes at school or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Cullman home. Paralegal training programs are provided in numerous lengths and formats. Different types of public and private institutions offer paralegal training, including junior and community colleges, four-year universities and colleges, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal school 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 programs, pick carefully. Afford yourself the greatest possible chance to succeed in this fascinating profession. But irrespective of how you decide to acquire 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 selection. And with the right training you can realize your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Cullman Alabama.