How to Find the Best Paralegal Course Near Decatur Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Decatur AL and start your journey that will result in a satisfying profession in legal services. However, it's important that you locate the right school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you need to be successful. As you most likely understand, 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. However with so many options to choose from, where does one begin? A number of potential students start by searching for schools within traveling range of their Decatur residences. Of those options, they try to find the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are very important considerations when selecting a college, they are not the only factors you should consider. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the school should be considered as well. Later on in this post we will review a list of concerns that you ought to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare every one before making your decision. But first, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic alternatives that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants basically both fill the same job positions and responsibilities, just with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and belong to a different job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Decatur AL lawyers with a wide variety of job functions, including legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job functions are relevant to the type of legal firm where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm may help with the logistics of a trial or transporting documents to court. In private practices, 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 standard of professional ethics. As mentioned, their duties can be varied in support of the firms where they are employed, but a few of their regular tasks can involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on pertinent laws and cases
- Preparing correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping lawyers prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be complex and very demanding. However, what they are not legally allowed to do is offer legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not limited to administrative or clerical functions more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys are able to handle a much larger number of clients or cases than they could on their own.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational requirements and job prospects will be the same. The quickest way to launch your career as a paralegal in Decatur AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can take 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 can be earned at numerous community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are an option as well. Once you have earned either a certificate or degree, you might want to proceed and receive a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help maximize your employment opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. Some 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 program (we will discuss the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two essential initial steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Programs
Online paralegal or legal assistant schools have become more popular and may be an excellent option for students searching for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online programs can be especially appealing to Decatur AL students who continue to work while earning a degree. As an additional benefit, online programs can in some cases be less expensive than on campus options. Even ancillary expenditures for such items as study materials or commuting can be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will address in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the education you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the program and school you are considering are accredited by a highly regarded organization, 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 degree or certificate online might be the right option for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Degree or Certificate Programs
Since you now you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what academic choices are offered, you can begin the undertaking of assessing schools. But because there are numerous programs offered at community and junior colleges in the Decatur AL area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you need to find out what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is especially true if you add all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. 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 important aspects to research also, for instance the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's go over several of the questions you should be asking the programs you are researching so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your final 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 program, it can also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance education. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will receive will be of the highest quality, but it will demonstrate to potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. A number of Decatur AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited school. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are typically available only for accredited schools.
What's the Program's Reputation? Investigate what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal programs you are considering. This is of particular importance if you are entering the field with no previous experience, since employers will need to rely on the quality of your education exclusively. Confirming that the school you select 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 call a few Decatur AL law practices that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask which schools they suggest. 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 Program Provide Internships? Internship programs provide students a chance to experience working in a law practice or other legal enterprise while still in school. They can also present a pathway for students to start developing contacts within the Decatur AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal programs you are assessing provide internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help available? You will undoubtedly want to secure employment quickly after graduation, but getting that first job in a new field can be difficult without help. Find out if the paralegal schools you are considering have job assistance programs and what their success 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 substantiates that their graduates are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the Campus Located? Since laws differ among states, it may be beneficial to choose a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you wish to practice after graduating. Also, it will be important to create relationships in the neighboring legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is all the more justification to obtain your education in the community where you choose to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many require a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may want to initially investigate those schools that are within the Decatur AL area.
What is the Complete Cost? Paralegal programs can differ in price based on the credential earned and the length of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only expense for your training. Remember to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance might be obtainable to help offset some of the cost, so make sure to check with the school's financial aid department to find out what is available in Decatur AL. Of course if you decide to attend an online program, some of these added costs, such as for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Fit your Schedule? Numerous paralegal students keep working while obtaining their training and must have flexibility in class scheduling. If you can just attend night or weekend classes near Decatur 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 choose makes available that option. Last, find out what the procedure is for making up classes missed as a result of work, illness or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Right Decatur Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Enrolling in the best paralegal studies training program is an important first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have covered 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 home. Paralegal education programs are made available in numerous formats and lengths. Several kinds of private and public institutions make available paralegal education, including community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a pronounced influence on your prospects for success in your new career. Given that there is a broad range in the quality of schools, pick carefully. Afford yourself the best possible opportunity to succeed in this exciting profession. But irrespective of how you choose to receive your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have presented you will be able to review each program and make your final decision. And with the ideal education you can achieve your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Decatur Alabama.