How to Choose the Right Paralegal Studies Program Near Guntersville Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Guntersville AL and begin your journey that will result in a satisfying career in legal services. However, it's essential that you find the best school so that you will get the extensive training that you need to be successful. As you probably understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more educational alternatives are becoming available, both on campus and online. But with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Many prospective students start by looking for schools within commuting distance of their Guntersville homes. Of those alternatives, they try to find the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are necessary considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only factors you ought 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 review a list of questions that you ought to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare every one before making your decision. But before we do, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic choices that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals for the most part both fill the same job roles and responsibilities, just 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 assist Guntersville AL lawyers with a wide range of job duties, such as maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job duties are relevant to the type of practice where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm could assist with trial logistics or delivering files to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is typically billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And just like lawyers, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and comply with a strict standard of professional ethics. As noted, their duties can be diverse in support of the firms where they are employed, but a few of their daily activities might include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on pertinent laws and cases
- Drafting correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting lawyers get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be complicated and rather demanding. However, what they are not legally allowed to do is provide legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not confined to clerical or administrative functions more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys are able to take on a much larger number of clients or cases than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the academic prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The quickest means to launch your career as a paralegal in Guntersville AL is by earning a certificate, which may involve just 6 months to accomplish. A large number of entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which provide a more comprehensive education and may be obtained at many community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are available as well. When you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you may choose to continue and receive a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help maximize your job opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. A few 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 degree or certificate from an accredited program (we will discuss the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 important first steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Classes
Legal assistant and paralegal online programs have become more common and may be an excellent option for individuals looking for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online programs can be particularly appealing to Guntersville AL students who keep working while earning a degree. As an added benefit, online classes can sometimes be less expensive than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenditures for such things as commuting or study materials may be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will discuss in more detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the training you obtain 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 conventional environment, then earning your degree or certificate online could be the right option for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Now that you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what educational options are offered, you can begin the process of evaluating schools. But since there are so many programs accessible at community and junior colleges in the Guntersville AL area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you need to know what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is especially true if you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. If you are like most potential students, you will begin by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other crucial aspects to research as well, such as accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's go over several of the questions you should be asking the programs you are investigating so that you can effectively vet each one and make your ultimate selection.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you choose should be accredited by a respected organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it may also receive 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 obtain will be of the highest quality, but it will show future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Numerous Guntersville AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited program. Finally, financial aid and student loans are usually offered only for accredited programs.
What's the School's Reputation? Learn what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal schools you are looking at. This is of particular importance if you are entering the profession with no previous work history, since employers will have to rely on the caliber of your education exclusively. Verifying that the program you select is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating reports, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact several Guntersville AL law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask which schools they recommend. Remember that even if a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an excellent reputation.
Does the School Sponsor Internships? Internship programs provide students a chance to experience working in a law firm or other legal establishment while still in school. They can also offer a means for students to start establishing contacts within the Guntersville AL legal field. Ask if the paralegal programs you are reviewing provide internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help offered? You will most likely want to secure employment quickly after graduation, but finding that first job in a new profession can be challenging without help. Find out if the paralegal programs you are considering have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good indication that the schools have sizable networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their students are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the Campus Located? Since laws vary from state to state, it may be a good idea to choose a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you plan to practice after graduating. In addition, it will be necessary to build relationships in the area legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is even more justification to receive your education in the area where you desire to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most charge a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may want to initially consider those schools that are within the Guntersville AL region.
What is the Complete Cost? Paralegal schools can vary in price based on the credential obtained and the length of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your education. Remember to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid may be accessible to help minimize part of the cost, so make sure to check with the school's financial aid department to see what is available in Guntersville AL. Of course if you opt to attend an online school, some of these additional costs, such as for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Fit your Schedule? Many legal students keep working while receiving their training and require flexibility to schedule classes. If you can just attend weekend or evening classes near Guntersville AL, make sure classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make sure that the program you choose provides that option. Last, ask what the procedure is for making up classes missed because of sickness, work or family obligations.
Choose the Right Guntersville Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Choosing the best paralegal degree school is an essential first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have discussed in this post, you have the choice of attending classes on campus or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Guntersville residence. Paralegal training programs are provided in various formats and lengths. Various types of public and private institutions offer paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four-year colleges and universities, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a profound impact on your prospects for success in your new profession. Considering that there is a wide range in the quality of schools, choose carefully. Give yourself the best possible chance to be successful in this rewarding profession. But no matter how you decide to acquire your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will have the ability to evaluate each school and make your ultimate decision. And with the ideal education you can achieve your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Guntersville Alabama.