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How to Select the Best Paralegal Studies Certificate or Degree Program Near Decatur Alabama

Decatur Alabama female paralegal speaking with client on phoneCongratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Decatur AL and begin your journey that will result in a gratifying profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's crucial that you locate the ideal school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you need to succeed. As you probably know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more academic choices are becoming available, both at school and online. However with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one start? Some potential students start by searching for schools within driving distance of their Decatur residences. Of those options, they search for the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are very important considerations when picking a college, they are not the only qualifiers you need to consider. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the program ought to be taken into consideration too. Later in this article we will cover a list of questions that you should ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare each one before making your choice. But first, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic choices that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.

Paralegals and Legal Assistants

Decatur Alabama law library

Paralegals and legal assistants essentially both fill comparable job positions and responsibilities, just with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and belong to a separate job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Decatur AL attorneys with a wide range of job duties, 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. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice may assist with the logistics of a trial or delivering documents to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is usually billed hourly as are the attorney's. And just like lawyers, they must conduct themselves with a high degree of professionalism and comply with a strict standard of professional ethics. As mentioned, their duties can be diverse in support of the practices where they are employed, but some of their routine activities might include:

  • Investigating and fact checking cases
  • Conducting research on pertinent cases and laws
  • Drafting correspondence and legal papers
  • Submitting legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
  • Assisting lawyers prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
  • Organizing and managing legal files, documents and additional records

With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be complex and rather challenging. However, what they are not legally permitted to do is give legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not limited to administrative or clerical duties more applicable 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, lawyers have the ability to take on a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could alone.

Paralegal Training and Certification

Decatur Alabama male paralegal speaking on cellphone writing notes

As we previously covered, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational requirements and job prospects will be the same. The quickest means to start your career as a legal assistant in Decatur AL is by earning a certificate, which can take as little as 6 months to complete. Most entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which provide a more expansive education and may be earned at many community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are an option also. Once you have acquired either a degree or a certificate, you might choose to continue and obtain a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help boost your job opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. A few of the highly regarded 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 school (we will address the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two crucial initial steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.

Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Classes

Decatur Alabama female student enrolled in paralegal online coursesParalegal and legal assistant online programs have become more prevalent and can be an excellent alternative for individuals looking for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online programs can be particularly appealing to Decatur AL students who continue to work while earning a degree. As an additional benefit, online schools can in some cases be less costly than on campus options. Even ancillary expenses for such things as study materials or commuting can be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will address in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the training you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the school and program you are considering are accredited by a respected agency, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less supervised and conventional setting, then obtaining your certificate or degree online may be the ideal option for you.

Questions to Ask Paralegal Degree or Certificate Programs

Now that you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what training options are available, you can begin the process of assessing schools. But because there are numerous programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Decatur AL area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you need to find out what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is particularly true when you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like many prospective students, you will start by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other critical issues to research also, including the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's go over some of the questions you should be asking the programs you are researching so that you can effectively vet each one and make your final decision.

Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you select should be accredited by a recognized organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it might also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets distance or online education. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will obtain will be of the highest standard, but it will show future employers that you are a qualified professional also. Many Decatur AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited program. Also, financial aid and student loans are usually accessible only for accredited schools.

What's the School's Reputation? Find out what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant schools you are looking at. This is of special 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 program you choose is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating reports, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact some Decatur AL law practices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask what schools they suggest. Keep in mind that even if a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an excellent reputation.

Does the Program Sponsor Internships? Internship programs offer students an opportunity to experience working in a law firm or other legal establishment while still in school. They can also offer a pathway for students to start establishing contacts within the Decatur AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal programs 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 provided? You will probably wish to secure employment quickly after graduation, but getting that initial job in a new profession can be difficult without support. Ask if the paralegal schools you are interviewing have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good indication that the schools have substantial networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their graduates are highly regarded and in demand.

Where is the Campus Located? Because laws differ among states, it may be beneficial to enroll in a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you wish to practice after graduation. In addition, it will be important to cultivate relationships in the area legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is even more justification to receive your education in the community where you choose to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many require a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may wish to first investigate those colleges that are within the Decatur AL region.

What is the Complete Expense? Paralegal programs can differ in cost depending on the credential obtained and the amount of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only cost for your education. Don't forget to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance might be accessible to help reduce some of the expense, so make sure to talk to the school's financial aid office to see what is available in Decatur AL. Needless to say that if you opt to attend an online school, some of these added costs, such as for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.

Do the Classes Accommodate your Schedule? Many legal students keep working while receiving their training and need flexibility in class scheduling. 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, make certain that the school you enroll in makes available that option. Last, find out what the protocol is for making up missed classes because of sickness, work or family obligations.

Learn More About Decatur Online Paralegal Studies

Choose the Right Decatur Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program

Selecting the right paralegal studies training program is a crucial first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have addressed in this post, you have the choice of attending classes on campus or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Decatur home. Paralegal training programs are made available in various formats and lengths. Several kinds of public and private institutions make available paralegal training, including junior and community colleges, four year universities and colleges, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a profound impact on your prospects for success in your new profession. Since there is a wide range in the quality of programs, pick carefully. Afford yourself the best possible opportunity to be successful in this rewarding profession. But regardless of how you decide to acquire your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will be able to assess each school and make your ultimate decision. And with the appropriate education you can realize your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Decatur Alabama.


 

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