How to Select the Right Paralegal Studies Program Near Cullman Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Cullman AL and start your journey that will result in a rewarding career in legal services. Nevertheless, it's essential that you find the right school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you require to succeed. As you most likely know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of educational alternatives are being offered, both at school and online. However with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one start? Some prospective students start by looking for schools within driving range of their Cullman residences. Of those choices, they look for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are very important considerations when picking a college, they are not the only factors you need to consider. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the program ought to be considered too. Later on in this article we will cover a list of questions that you must ask potential paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare every one prior to making your choice. But first, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the academic options that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals for the most part both hold 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 different job classification. Both legal assistants and paralegals help Cullman AL lawyers with a wide variety of job duties, such as maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job functions are relevant to the type of legal firm where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice may assist with trial logistics or transporting documents to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is usually billed hourly as are the attorney's. And the same as attorneys, they must perform with a high level of professionalism and follow a strict code of professional ethics. As stated, their duties can be diverse in support of the practices where they are employed, but some of their regular activities can include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on applicable laws and cases
- Drafting correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping attorneys get ready for trial and stay 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 complex and quite challenging. However, what they are not legally permitted to do is provide legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not restricted to administrative or clerical functions more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the main support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers are able to handle a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could on their own.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are basically 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 legal assistant in Cullman AL is by earning a certificate, which can require just 6 months to complete. A large number of entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more comprehensive education and may be acquired at many community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are offered as well. After you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you may choose to proceed and earn a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help boost your career opportunities, but help establish you as a professional as well. 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 two important initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Certificates and Degrees
Online legal assistant or paralegal schools have become more popular and can be a good alternative for students looking for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online programs can be particularly attractive to Cullman AL students who keep working while earning a degree. As an added advantage, online classes can sometimes be less costly than more traditional options. Even supplementary expenditures for such items as commuting or study materials can be reduced 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 certain that the school and program you are thinking about are accredited by a highly regarded agency, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to attend classes in a less structured and conventional setting, then obtaining your certificate or degree online may be the ideal option for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Studies Programs
Since you now you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what educational options are offered, you can start the process of assessing schools. But considering that there are so many programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Cullman AL area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you must know what questions to ask so that you can 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 most prospective students, you will begin by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other significant aspects to research as well, such as accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at several of the questions you should be asking the programs you are considering so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your ultimate selection.
Is the Paralegal Training Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you select need to be accredited by a reputable organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it can also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets online or distance education. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will obtain will be of the highest quality, but it will show potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. Numerous Cullman AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited program. Also, financial assistance and student loans are typically offered only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the School? Research what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal schools you are contemplating. This is of particular importance if you are new to the field with no previous work history, since employers will need to rely on the quality of your training exclusively. Verifying that the school you pick is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating services, such as those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also call a few Cullman AL law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask which schools they recommend. Bear in mind that even though a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the Program Provide Internships? Internship programs offer students an opportunity to experience working in a law practice or other legal enterprise while still in school. They can also offer a pathway for students to begin developing contacts within the Cullman AL legal field. Ask if the paralegal programs you are reviewing provide internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance provided? You will undoubtedly wish to hit the ground running after graduation, but getting that first job in a new field can be challenging without support. Find out if the paralegal programs you are interviewing have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good indication that the schools have large networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their graduates are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the School's Location? Because laws vary from state to state, it may be beneficial to select a paralegal school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you wish to work after graduation. Also, it will be important to build relationships in the neighboring legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is all the more reason to receive your education in the community where you wish to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most charge an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might want to initially look at those schools 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. Having said that, 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 as well. Financial assistance may be accessible to help reduce part of the expense, so be sure to talk to the school's financial aid department to see what is offered in Cullman AL. Needless to say that if you decide to attend an online program, some of these added costs, for instance for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Fit your Schedule? Many paralegal students continue working while obtaining their training and require flexibility in class scheduling. If you can only attend weekend or evening classes near Cullman AL, make sure classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, confirm that the school you choose provides that option. Finally, find out what the process is for making-up missed classes due to work, illness or family emergencies.
Choose the Right Cullman Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Enrolling in the ideal paralegal studies training program is a vital first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have addressed in this article, you have the choice of attending classes on campus or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Cullman residence. Paralegal education programs are provided in numerous formats and lengths. Various types of public and private institutions offer paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four-year universities and colleges, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a pronounced influence on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Considering that there is a broad range in the quality of programs, pick wisely. Give yourself the best possible chance to be successful in this rewarding profession. But no matter how you choose to receive your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have presented you will be able to evaluate each program and make your final decision. And with the right training you can achieve your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Cullman Alabama.