How to Select the Best Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program Near Decatur Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Decatur AL and begin your journey that will result in a rewarding profession in legal services. However, it's essential that you find the right school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you require to succeed. As you most likely understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more academic choices are becoming available, both at school and online. But with numerous options to choose from, where does one begin? Some potential students begin by searching for schools within commuting distance of their Decatur homes. Of those choices, they try to find the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are necessary considerations when choosing a college, they are not the only qualifiers you must take into consideration. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the program should be taken into consideration too. Later on in this post we will review a list of questions that you should ask potential paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare each one prior to making your decision. But before we do, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the educational options that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants for the most part both fill comparable job roles and responsibilities, only with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and are part of a separate job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Decatur AL attorneys with a wide variety of job functions, such as legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job functions are based upon the type of practice where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice may assist with trial logistics or delivering documents to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is typically billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And the same as attorneys, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and comply with a strict code of professional ethics. As noted, their responsibilities can be varied in support of the practices where they work, but a few of their daily activities may involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching relevant laws and cases
- Preparing correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting attorneys get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be complicated and rather challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally authorized to do is offer legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not confined to administrative or clerical duties more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the right hand support systems for attorneys. And since they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys are able to handle a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could on their own.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the educational prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The quickest means to launch your career as a legal assistant in Decatur AL is by obtaining a certificate, which may take as little as six months to complete. Most entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which offer a more extensive education and can be earned at many community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are an option as well. Once you have acquired either a degree or a certificate, you might choose to continue and earn a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help maximize your career opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. Some of the highly regarded certifying organizations 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 certificate or degree from an accredited program (we will discuss the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two crucial first steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Classes
Online paralegal or legal assistant programs have become more prevalent and can be a good alternative for students searching for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be particularly attractive to Decatur AL students who continue to work while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an added benefit, online schools can in some cases be less expensive than more traditional options. Even secondary expenses for such items as commuting or study materials can be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will discuss in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the education you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the school and program you are considering are accredited by a respected organization, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less supervised and formal environment, then earning your certificate or degree online could be the right choice for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Programs
Since you now you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what educational options are available, you can start the process of evaluating schools. But since there are numerous programs accessible at community and junior colleges in the Decatur AL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you must learn what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is particularly true when you add all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like the majority of potential students, you will begin by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other important factors to research also, such as the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's take a look at some of the questions you should be asking the schools you are considering 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 select need to be accredited by a respected accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it might also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on 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 future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. A number of Decatur AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited school. Also, financial assistance and student loans are usually available only for accredited programs.
What's the School's Reputation? Find out what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal schools you are looking at. This is of particular importance if you are new to the field with no previous work history, since employers will need to make a decision based on the caliber of your training exclusively. Confirming that the school you choose is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating reports, such as those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact several Decatur AL law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask what schools they recommend. Bear in mind that even when a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the Program Sponsor Internships? Internship programs provide students a chance to experience working in a law firm or other legal establishment while attending school. They can also provide a pathway for students to start creating contacts within the Decatur AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal schools you are reviewing provide internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance offered? You will most likely wish to secure employment quickly after graduating, but getting that initial job in a new profession can be difficult without support. Ask if the paralegal schools you are assessing have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good indication that the schools have large networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their students are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the School Located? Since laws vary from one state to another, it might be a good idea to select a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you plan to work after graduating. Also, it will be necessary to create relationships in the neighboring legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is all the more justification to acquire your education in the area where you want to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many charge a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may want to first investigate those colleges that are within the Decatur AL region.
How Much is the Entire Cost? Paralegal schools can vary in cost depending on the credential obtained and the amount of training provided. However, 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 aid may be obtainable to help minimize some of the expense, so don't forget to talk to the school's financial aid department to find out what is available in Decatur AL. Needless to say that if you choose to attend an online school, some of these additional expenses, such as for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Fit your Schedule? Many legal students continue working while obtaining their training and require flexibility to schedule classes. If you can solely attend weekend or evening classes near Decatur AL, verify classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, confirm that the school you select offers that option. Finally, inquire what the process is for making-up missed classes due to work, illness or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Best Decatur Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Choosing the best paralegal studies certificate school is an important first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have addressed in this article, you have the option of attending classes on-campus or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Decatur residence. Paralegal training programs are made available in various formats and lengths. Various types of private and public institutions make available paralegal training, including junior and community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a pronounced influence on your prospects for success in your new profession. Given that there is a wide range in the quality of schools, pick wisely. Give yourself the greatest possible opportunity to be successful in this fascinating profession. But irrespective of how you elect to acquire your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have provided you will have the ability to evaluate each program and make your ultimate selection. And with the right training you can accomplish your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Decatur Alabama.