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How to Pick the Right Paralegal Degree Program Near Guntersville Alabama

Guntersville Alabama female paralegal speaking with client on cellphoneCongratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Guntersville AL and begin your journey that will lead to a gratifying career 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 know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more academic choices are being offered, both on campus and online. But with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Some potential students begin by looking for schools within traveling distance of their Guntersville homes. Of those choices, they look for the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are prime considerations when picking a school, they are not the only qualifiers you ought to take into consideration. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the program must be considered also. Later in this article we will cover a list of concerns that you should ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare each one prior to making your selection. But first, 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.

Paralegals and Legal Assistants

Guntersville Alabama law books

Paralegals and legal assistants basically both fill comparable job positions and responsibilities, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and belong to a different job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Guntersville AL attorneys with a wide range of job functions, including legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job functions are relevant to the type of practice where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm might help with the logistics of a trial or delivering files to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is usually billed hourly as are the attorney's. And the same as lawyers, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and comply with a strict code of professional ethics. As stated, their duties can be diverse in support of the firms where they are employed, but a few of their daily tasks can include:

  • Investigating and fact checking cases
  • Researching relevant laws and cases
  • Composing correspondence and legal documents
  • Filing legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
  • Helping lawyers get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
  • Organizing and preserving legal documents, files and additional records

With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be complex and very demanding. On the other hand, what they are not legally allowed to do is give legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not restricted to clerical or administrative duties more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the right hand support systems for attorneys. And since they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers have the ability to handle a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could alone.

Paralegal Programs and Certification

Guntersville Alabama male legal assistant speaking on phone writing notes

As we discussed earlier, 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 requirements and job prospects will be the same. The fastest way to launch your career as a legal assistant in Guntersville AL is by earning a certificate, which may require as little as six months to complete. Many entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more comprehensive education and may be obtained at numerous community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are available as well. After you have acquired either a degree or a certificate, you might choose to proceed and obtain a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help maximize your career opportunities, but help establish you as a professional as well. Some of the highly respected 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 cover the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 essential initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.

Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Courses

Guntersville Alabama woman student attending paralegal online classesLegal assistant and paralegal online schools have become more prevalent and can be an excellent option for individuals searching for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online schools can be especially attractive to Guntersville AL students who keep working while earning a certificate or degree. As an additional benefit, online classes can in some cases be less costly than on campus options. Even ancillary expenditures for such items as commuting or study materials may be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will cover in more detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the education you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the program and school you are reviewing are accredited by a reputable agency, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less structured and conventional environment, then obtaining your degree or certificate online could be the right choice for you.

What to Ask Paralegal Colleges

Since you now you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what training choices are offered, you can begin the undertaking of evaluating schools. But considering that there are numerous programs accessible at community and junior colleges in the Guntersville AL area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you need to learn what questions to ask in order to 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 start by searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other important aspects to think about as well, for instance the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's go over a few of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are investigating so that you can properly vet each one and make your ultimate decision.

Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you enroll in should be accredited by a reputable accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it can also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets distance or online education. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will obtain will be of the highest quality, but it will demonstrate to potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Numerous Guntersville AL law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited program. Also, financial aid and student loans are typically accessible only for accredited programs.

What's the School's Reputation? Investigate what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal programs you are contemplating. This is of particular importance if you are new to the field with no prior experience, since employers will have to make a decision based on the caliber of your education exclusively. Checking that the school you select is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating reports, such as those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call some Guntersville AL law practices that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask what schools they recommend. Bear in mind that even though a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an excellent reputation.

Does the Program Provide Internships? Internship programs offer students a chance to experience working in a law firm or other legal operation while still in school. They can also offer an avenue for students to begin establishing contacts within the Guntersville AL legal field. Ask 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 Help offered? You will probably want to secure employment quickly after graduating, but getting that first job in a new profession can be challenging without assistance. Find out if the paralegal programs you are interviewing have job assistance programs and what their placement 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 graduates are well regarded and in demand.

Where is the School Located? Since laws differ from state to state, it might be advantageous to enroll in a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you want to practice after graduating. In addition, it will be important to cultivate relationships in the neighboring legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is all the more justification to acquire your education in the area where you desire to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most charge an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may need to initially investigate those colleges that are within the Guntersville AL region.

How Much is the Entire Expense? Paralegal schools can vary in cost depending on the credential received and the amount of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only expense for your education. Remember to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid may be available to help reduce some of the cost, so be sure to check with the school's financial aid office to find out what is offered in Guntersville AL. Of course if you decide to attend an online school, some of these additional expenses, such as for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.

Do the Class Times Fit your Schedule? Many paralegal students keep working while receiving their training and require flexibility to schedule classes. If you can solely 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, confirm that the program you select offers that option. Finally, ask what the protocol is for making up missed classes as a result of sickness, work or family obligations.

Find Out More About Guntersville Paralegal Certificate and Degree Programs

Enroll in the Right Guntersville Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program

Enrolling in the best legal assistant certificate school is an important 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 privacy and comfort of your Guntersville home. Paralegal training programs are offered in various lengths and formats. Various types of private and public institutions offer paralegal training, including junior and community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a profound impact on your prospects for success in your new career. Since there is a wide range in the quality of programs, choose carefully. Give yourself the best possible opportunity to succeed in this exciting profession. But irrespective of how you choose to receive your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have provided you will have the ability to examine each program and make your final selection. And with the right training you can achieve your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Guntersville Alabama.


 

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