How to Enroll in the Right Paralegal Certificate Program Near Demopolis Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Demopolis AL and start your journey that will lead to a gratifying career in legal services. Nevertheless, it's important that you find the best school so that you will receive the extensive training that you require to achieve success. As you probably know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of academic choices are being offered, both on campus and online. However with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Many potential students begin by trying to find schools within commuting distance of their Demopolis homes. Of those alternatives, they try to find the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are very important considerations when selecting a college, they are not the only factors you ought to take into consideration. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the school must be taken into account also. Later on in this article we will review a list of concerns that you need to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare each one prior to making your choice. But before we do, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the educational alternatives that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants for the most part both fill comparable job roles and functions, only with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and belong to a different job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Demopolis AL lawyers with a diverse array of job duties, such as legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job duties are relevant to the type of legal firm where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice might help with the logistics of a trial or delivering documents to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is typically billed by the hour as are the lawyer's. And the same as lawyers, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and adhere to a strict standard of professional ethics. As mentioned, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they are employed, but some of their routine activities might involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching related laws and cases
- Drafting correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting lawyers get ready 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 complex and very challenging. However, what they are not legally authorized to do is give legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not limited to clerical or administrative tasks more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the right hand support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers have the ability to manage a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could on their own.
Paralegal Certificates and Degrees 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 academic prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The quickest way to begin your career as a legal assistant in Demopolis AL is by earning a certificate, which may involve just six months to complete. Many entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which offer a more comprehensive education and can be acquired at numerous community colleges in 2 years. For an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are available as well. Once you have earned either a certificate or degree, you might choose to proceed and obtain a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help increase your career opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. Some of the highly respected 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 school (we will discuss the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two important initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Classes
Online paralegal or legal assistant programs have become more common and can be an excellent alternative for students searching for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be especially attractive to Demopolis AL students who continue to work while obtaining a degree. As an added advantage, online programs can sometimes be less costly than on campus options. Even secondary expenditures for such items as commuting or study materials may be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all online 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 caliber. So check to make certain that the school and program you are looking into are accredited by a respected agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less structured and formal setting, then earning your certificate or degree online may be the right option for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Studies Programs
Once you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what educational choices are offered, you can begin the process of assessing schools. But because there are so many programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Demopolis AL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you need to find out what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is especially true if you include 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 issues to consider as well, for instance accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at a few of the questions you should be asking the programs you are investigating so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your final selection.
Is the Paralegal School and Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you enroll in should be accredited by a recognized 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 targets distance or online learning. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will obtain will be of the highest quality, but it will demonstrate to future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. A number of Demopolis AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited program. Finally, financial aid and student loans are typically offered only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the School? Research what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant programs you are considering. This is of specific importance if you are entering the profession with no previous experience, since employers will have to make a decision based on the quality of your training exclusively. Checking that the school you choose is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating services, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call several Demopolis AL law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask which schools they recommend. Remember that even though a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an excellent reputation.
Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs offer students an opportunity to experience working in a law office or other legal operation while attending school. They can also offer an avenue for students to start establishing contacts within the Demopolis AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal programs you are evaluating offer internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance provided? 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 schools you are considering have job placement programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have large networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their students are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the School Located? Because laws differ from one state to another, it may be advantageous to enroll in a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you want to work after graduating. Also, it will be valuable to establish relationships in the local legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is even more justification to obtain your education in the area where you choose to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most require an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may need to initially investigate those schools that are within the Demopolis AL area.
What is the Entire Cost? Paralegal programs can differ in price based on the credential obtained and the amount of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only expense for your education. Remember to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance might be obtainable to help reduce some of the cost, so be sure to consult with the school's financial aid office to find out what is available in Demopolis AL. Of course if you decide to attend an online school, a portion these added expenses, such as for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? Numerous paralegal students continue working while receiving their training and must have flexibility in class scheduling. If you can only attend weekend or evening classes near Demopolis AL, verify classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make certain that the school you choose provides that option. Finally, ask what the protocol is for making-up missed classes due to sickness, work or family obligations.
Choose the Right Demopolis Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Selecting the ideal paralegal training school is a vital first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have discussed in this post, you have the option of attending classes on-campus or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Demopolis residence. Paralegal education programs are offered in various lengths and formats. Different kinds of public and private institutions offer paralegal training, including junior and community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a profound influence on your prospects for success in your new profession. Since there is a wide range in the quality of schools, pick wisely. Give yourself the greatest possible opportunity to succeed in this fascinating profession. But no matter how you choose to receive your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have presented you will have the ability to examine each school and make your final decision. And with the right education you can realize your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Demopolis Alabama.