How to Find the Right Paralegal Studies 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 lead to a fulfilling profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's crucial that you locate the best school so that you will receive the extensive training that you require to succeed. As you probably understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more academic alternatives are becoming available, both at school and online. However with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? A number of prospective students begin by searching for schools within traveling range of their Decatur residences. Of those alternatives, they look for the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are necessary considerations when choosing a school, they are not the only factors you ought to take into consideration. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the program should be taken into consideration as well. Later in this post we will review a list of concerns that you ought to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare each one prior to making your selection. But first, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the instructional choices that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals essentially both hold comparable job positions and responsibilities, only with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and belong to a separate job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Decatur AL lawyers with a diverse array of job functions, including maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job duties are relevant to the type of legal firm where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm could 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 lawyer's. And the same as attorneys, they must carry out their duties with a high degree of professionalism and abide by a strict standard of professional ethics. As mentioned, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they work, but some of their day-to-day tasks can include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on applicable laws and cases
- Composing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting lawyers get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal files, documents and other records
With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be complicated and quite challenging. However, what they are not legally authorized to do is give legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not confined to clerical or administrative functions more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the main support systems for attorneys. And since they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys are able to manage a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could alone.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the academic prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The quickest way to start your career as a legal assistant in Decatur AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can take just 6 months to complete. A large number of entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more expansive education and may be acquired at many community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are an option also. When you have earned either a certificate or degree, you might want to continue and get a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help increase your career opportunities, but help establish 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 school (we will address the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 important first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Training
Paralegal and legal assistant online schools have become more available and can be a good alternative for those looking for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online programs can be especially appealing to Decatur AL students who keep working while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an additional benefit, online programs can often be less costly than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenses for such things as study materials or commuting may be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all online schools are accredited, which we will cover in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the training you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the program and school you are thinking about are accredited by a respected organization, for example 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 may be the right choice for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Now that you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what training choices are available, you can begin the undertaking of assessing schools. But considering that there are numerous programs accessible at community and junior colleges in the Decatur AL area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you need to find out 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 also. If you are like many prospective students, you will begin by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other significant aspects to consider as well, for instance accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at some of the questions you should be asking the programs you are considering so that you can effectively vet each one and make your ultimate choice.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you pick should be accredited by a reputable 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 distance or online training. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will receive will be of the highest quality, but it will establish with future employers that you are a qualified professional also. A number of Decatur AL law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited school. Also, financial assistance and student loans are often obtainable only for accredited schools.
What's the School's Reputation? Research what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal programs you are looking at. This is of specific importance if you are new to the profession with no prior work history, since employers will need to rely on the quality of your education exclusively. Checking that the program you select is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating services, 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 call a few Decatur AL law offices 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 may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the School Provide Internships? Internship programs offer students a chance to experience working in a law firm or other legal enterprise while attending school. They can also present a pathway for students to start establishing contacts within the Decatur AL legal field. Ask if the paralegal schools you are considering provide internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help provided? You will most likely wish to hit the ground running after graduation, but finding that first job in a new profession can be difficult without support. Ask if the paralegal programs you are considering have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good sign that the schools have substantial networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their students are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the School's Location? Because laws differ from state to state, it might be beneficial to enroll in a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you wish to work after graduating. Also, it will be valuable to develop relationships in the local legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is all the more justification to receive your education in the community where you wish to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most charge a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might want to first consider those schools that are within the Decatur AL area.
What is the Complete Expense? Paralegal schools can differ in price depending on the credential received and the length of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only cost for your education. Don't forget to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance may be available to help reduce some of the expense, so make sure to check with the school's financial aid department to see what is offered in Decatur AL. Of course if you decide to attend an online school, some of these additional costs, for instance for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? A number of legal students continue working while obtaining their training and must have flexibility in class scheduling. If you can only attend night or weekend classes near Decatur AL, verify classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make sure that the school you enroll in makes available that option. Last, ask what the protocol is for making up missed classes due to work, illness or family obligations.
Enroll in the Right Decatur Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Selecting the right paralegal studies 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 made available in many formats and lengths. Several kinds of public and private institutions make available paralegal training, including community colleges, four year colleges and universities, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a pronounced impact on your prospects for success in your new career. Since there is a broad range in the quality of schools, choose carefully. Give yourself the greatest possible chance to be successful in this fascinating 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 review each school and make your final selection. And with the right training you can achieve your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Decatur Alabama.