How to Pick the Right Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program Near Decatur Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Decatur AL and start your journey that will lead to a rewarding career in legal services. However, it's crucial that you find the best 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 increasingly more academic options are being offered, both at school and online. But with so many options to choose from, where does one begin? Many potential students begin by searching for schools within traveling distance of their Decatur homes. Of those alternatives, they search for 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 ought to take into consideration. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the school must be taken into consideration also. Later in this post we will review a list of questions that you need to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare each one before making your decision. But first, 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.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals for the most part both hold the same job roles and responsibilities, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and belong to a separate job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Decatur AL attorneys with a diverse array of job duties, such as maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job functions are relevant to the type of practice where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm could assist with trial logistics or transporting documents to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is normally billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And just like lawyers, they must carry out their duties with a high level of professionalism and abide by a strict code of professional ethics. As stated, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they are employed, but a few of their routine tasks may involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching relevant laws and cases
- Preparing correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping lawyers prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal files, documents and other records
With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be complicated and quite demanding. On the other hand, 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 confined to administrative or clerical functions more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the main support systems for lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers are able to manage a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could alone.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational requirements and job prospects will be the same. The fastest means to launch your career as a paralegal in Decatur AL is by earning a certificate, which can require as little as 6 months to accomplish. Most entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which offer a more comprehensive education and may be earned at numerous community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are available as well. When you have acquired 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 practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help maximize your employment opportunities, but help establish you as a professional as well. Some of the highly respected 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 program (we will cover the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two essential initial steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Programs
Online paralegal or legal assistant programs have become more prevalent and may be an excellent alternative for individuals looking for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online schools can be particularly appealing to Decatur AL students who continue to work while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an added advantage, online classes can sometimes be less costly than on campus options. Even ancillary expenditures for such items as study materials or commuting may be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all online schools are accredited, which we will address in greater 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 school and program you are thinking about are accredited by a reputable agency, 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 certificate or degree online could be the right option for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Certificate or Degree Programs
Since you now you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what educational options are offered, you can start the undertaking of assessing schools. But because there are so many programs accessible at community and junior colleges in the Decatur 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 especially true if you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like most potential students, you will start by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other important aspects to research also, such as accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at some of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are investigating so that you can effectively vet each one and make your ultimate selection.
Is the Paralegal Training Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you pick need to be accredited by a highly regarded organization 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 distance or online learning. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will receive will be of the highest quality, but it will show future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Many Decatur AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited school. Also, financial aid and student loans are typically obtainable only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the School? Investigate what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant schools you are contemplating. This is of special importance if you are entering the profession with no previous experience, since employers will have to make a decision based on the caliber of your education exclusively. Checking that the school you pick is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating services, such as those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact some Decatur AL law firms that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask what schools they suggest. Bear in mind that even if a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the Program 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 pathway for students to start developing contacts within the Decatur AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal programs you are evaluating provide internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help offered? You will probably wish to secure employment quickly after graduation, but getting that first job in a new profession can be difficult without help. Ask if the paralegal programs you are considering have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have large networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their graduates are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the Campus Located? Since laws vary from state to state, it might be advantageous to choose a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you wish to work after graduating. Also, it will be important to create relationships in the area legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is even more reason to obtain your education in the community where you want to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many charge an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might want to initially look at those schools that are within the Decatur AL area.
How Much is the Complete Expense? Paralegal programs can vary in price based on the credential earned and the amount of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your training. Don't forget to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid might be obtainable to help reduce some of the cost, so don't forget to check with the school's financial aid department to see what is offered in Decatur AL. Naturally if you opt to attend an online school, a portion these additional costs, for instance for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? Numerous legal students continue working while getting their training and require flexibility in class scheduling. If you can just attend weekend or evening classes near Decatur AL, make certain classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, confirm that the program you enroll in makes available that option. Last, ask what the protocol is for making up classes missed because of sickness, work or family obligations.
Enroll in the Best Decatur Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Choosing the right paralegal certificate school is a vital first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have discussed in this article, you have the option of attending classes on-campus or you can attend them online in the comfort and privacy of your Decatur residence. Paralegal training programs are provided in numerous lengths and formats. Several types of public and private institutions provide paralegal education, including junior and community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, as well as trade and vocational 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 broad range in the quality of schools, pick carefully. Give yourself the greatest possible opportunity to be successful in this rewarding profession. But regardless of how you choose to obtain your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have presented you will be able to review each program and make your final decision. And with the appropriate training you can accomplish your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Decatur Alabama.