How to Pick the Best Paralegal Studies Certificate or Degree Program Near Cullman Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Cullman AL and begin your journey that will lead to a satisfying profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's essential that you locate the right school so that you will get the extensive training that you need to succeed. As you most likely know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more academic alternatives are being offered, both at school and online. But with numerous options to choose from, where does one begin? A number of prospective students begin by searching for schools within traveling range of their Cullman residences. Of those options, they look for the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are necessary considerations when picking a college, they are not the only qualifiers you need to take into consideration. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the program should be considered too. Later in this article we will cover a list of questions that you need to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare each one prior to making your choice. But before we do, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the educational alternatives that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals basically both fill 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 classification. Both legal assistants and paralegals help Cullman AL attorneys with a wide variety of job functions, such as legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job duties are based upon the type of practice where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm might assist with trial logistics or delivering 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 conduct themselves with a high degree of professionalism and adhere to a strict code of professional ethics. As mentioned, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they work, but a few of their day-to-day tasks can include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching relevant cases and laws
- Composing correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting attorneys prepare 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 complicated and very challenging. However, what they are not legally authorized 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 duties more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers have the ability to handle a much larger number of clients or cases than they could alone.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the academic prerequisites 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 can take just six months to accomplish. Most entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which offer a more expansive education and can be acquired at numerous community colleges in 2 years. For an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are available also. Once you have acquired either a degree or a certificate, you might want to proceed and get a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help improve your employment opportunities, but help establish you as a professional as well. A few of the highly regarded 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 benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two crucial first steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Courses
Legal assistant and paralegal online schools have become more common and may be a good alternative for students looking for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online schools can be particularly attractive to Cullman AL students who keep working while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an added advantage, online schools can in some cases be less expensive than on campus options. Even secondary expenditures for such things as study materials or commuting may be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all online programs are accredited, which we will discuss in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the training you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the program and school 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 supervised and conventional setting, then earning your degree or certificate online could be the right choice for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Studies Programs
Since you now you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what educational choices are offered, you can begin the process of assessing schools. But considering that there are so many programs accessible at junior and community colleges in the Cullman AL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you need to know what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is especially true when you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like many potential students, you will start by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other significant issues to consider as well, for instance 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 investigating so that you can properly vet each one and make your final choice.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you select should be accredited by a highly regarded organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it might also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance learning. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will get will be of the highest quality, but it will demonstrate to potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. Numerous Cullman AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited program. Also, financial aid and student loans are often obtainable only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Learn what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant schools you are considering. This is of specific importance if you are entering the field with no previous work history, since employers will have to make a decision based on the quality of your training exclusively. Confirming that the program you choose is accredited is a good 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 call some Cullman AL law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask what schools they recommend. Bear in mind that even though a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an excellent reputation.
Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law practice or other legal enterprise while remaining in school. They can also present a pathway for students to start developing contacts within the Cullman AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal schools you are evaluating provide internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will probably wish to secure employment quickly after graduation, but getting that first job in a new profession can be challenging without help. Find out if the paralegal schools you are interviewing have job placement programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good sign that the schools have substantial networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their students are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the Campus Located? Because laws differ from one state to another, it may be advantageous to choose a paralegal school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you plan to practice after graduating. Also, it will be valuable to create relationships in the neighboring legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is even more justification to obtain your education in the community where you desire to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many charge an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may need to first consider those schools that are within the Cullman AL region.
What is the Complete Expense? Paralegal schools can differ in price based on the credential received and the amount of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your education. Don't forget to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial assistance might be obtainable to help offset some of the expense, so don't forget to contact the school's financial aid office to see what is offered in Cullman AL. Of course if you opt to attend an online school, a portion these supplementary costs, such as for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Accommodate your Schedule? Numerous legal students keep working while getting their training and require flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend weekend or evening classes near Cullman AL, verify classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, confirm that the program you choose provides that option. Finally, inquire what the procedure is for making-up missed classes because of work, illness or family emergencies.
Choose the Best Cullman Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Choosing the ideal paralegal degree program is an important 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 on-campus or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Cullman home. Paralegal academic programs are provided in numerous formats and lengths. Different types of private and public institutions offer paralegal training, including junior and community colleges, four year universities and colleges, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a pronounced impact on your prospects for success in your new profession. Given that there is a wide range in the quality of programs, choose wisely. Afford yourself the best possible chance to succeed in this exciting profession. But no matter how you elect to receive your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to examine each program and make your ultimate selection. And with the right education you can accomplish your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Cullman Alabama.