How to Pick the Best Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program Near Guntersville Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Guntersville AL and start your journey that will lead to a gratifying career in legal services. However, it's important that you find the ideal school so that you will receive the extensive training that you need to achieve success. As you probably know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more academic options are becoming available, both at school and online. However with so many options to choose from, where does one start? A number of potential students begin by trying to find schools within driving distance of their Guntersville homes. Of those alternatives, they try to find the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are prime considerations when selecting a college, they are not the only factors you need to consider. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the program need to be taken into consideration also. Later on in this post we will review a list of questions that you ought to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare every one prior to making your decision. But before we do, let's have a look at exactly 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 basically both fill comparable job roles and functions, only with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and are part of a separate job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Guntersville AL attorneys with a wide range of job functions, 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 firms, the work of a paralegal is normally billed hourly as are the attorney's. And just like lawyers, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and adhere to a strict code of professional ethics. As stated, their responsibilities can be varied in support of the practices where they work, but some of their everyday tasks might involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching applicable cases and laws
- Preparing correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping lawyers get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be involved and rather challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally allowed to do is offer legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not restricted to administrative or clerical duties more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the main support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers are able to manage a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could on their own.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational requirements and job prospects will be the same. The fastest way to launch your career as a legal assistant in Guntersville AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can require just 6 months to complete. Many entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which provide a more extensive education and can be obtained at numerous community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are offered also. When you have acquired either a degree or a certificate, you may choose to continue and earn a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help maximize your career opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. A few 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 degree or certificate from an accredited school (we will address the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two essential first steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Training
Online legal assistant or paralegal schools have become more available and may be a good option for students looking for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be particularly appealing to Guntersville AL students who keep working while earning a certificate or degree. As an added advantage, online schools can often be less expensive than on campus options. Even supplementary expenses for such items as study materials or commuting can be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will address in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the education you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the program and school you are looking into are accredited by a highly regarded agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to attend classes in a less structured and conventional environment, then obtaining your degree or certificate online may be the ideal option for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Programs
Since you now you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what academic choices are available, you can begin the process of assessing schools. But since there are numerous programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Guntersville AL area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you need to know what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is particularly true if you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like many prospective 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 critical issues to consider as well, including accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's go over a few of the questions you should be asking the programs you are investigating so that you can effectively vet each one and make your ultimate choice.
Is the Paralegal School and Program Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you pick need to be accredited by a highly regarded organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it may also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets distance or online education. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will receive will be of the highest standard, but it will demonstrate to future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. A number of Guntersville AL law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited school. Also, financial assistance and student loans are often available only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the School? Research what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant programs you are contemplating. This is of special 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 select is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking 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 some Guntersville AL law practices that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask what schools they suggest. Remember that even though a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an excellent reputation.
Does the Program Offer Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law practice or other legal enterprise while remaining in school. They can also provide a pathway for students to start establishing contacts within the Guntersville AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal schools you are assessing offer internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will most likely want to secure employment quickly after graduating, but finding that initial job in a new profession can be challenging without assistance. Ask if the paralegal schools you are assessing have job placement programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have substantial networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their graduates are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the School Located? Because laws differ from state to state, it may be beneficial to choose a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you wish to practice after graduation. In addition, it will be necessary to develop relationships in the neighboring legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is all the more justification to obtain your education in the community where you desire to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most require a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may wish to first consider those colleges that are within the Guntersville AL area.
What is the Total Expense? Paralegal schools can vary in cost based on the credential received and the amount of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only expense for your training. Don't forget to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid might be available to help reduce part of the expense, so make sure to contact the school's financial aid office to find out what is available in Guntersville AL. Of course if you decide to attend an online program, a portion these additional expenses, such as for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? Numerous legal students continue working while getting their training and require flexibility to schedule classes. If you can just attend night or weekend classes near Guntersville AL, verify classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make sure that the school you select makes available that option. Last, find out what the protocol is for making-up classes missed due to work, illness or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Right Guntersville Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Selecting the right paralegal training school is an essential first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying 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 Guntersville home. Paralegal academic programs are made available in many lengths and formats. Different types of public and private institutions make available paralegal training, 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 influence on your opportunities for success in your new career. Considering that there is a broad range in the quality of schools, choose wisely. Afford yourself the greatest possible opportunity to be successful in this fascinating profession. But regardless of how you decide to obtain your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will be able to assess each program and make your final selection. And with the appropriate training you can realize your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Guntersville Alabama.