How to Choose the Right Paralegal Studies School Near Hamilton Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Hamilton AL and begin your journey that will lead to a gratifying career in legal services. However, it's crucial that you find the best school so that you will get 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 increasingly more educational choices are becoming available, both at school and online. But with numerous options to choose from, where does one begin? Some potential students begin by looking for schools within traveling range of their Hamilton homes. Of those alternatives, they search for the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are prime considerations when selecting a college, they are not the only factors you must consider. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the school ought to be taken into account also. Later in this article we will review a list of questions that you need to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare each one prior to making your decision. But before we do, let's take a look at what a paralegal does and the academic choices that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals for the most part both hold the same job roles and functions, just with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and belong to a different job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Hamilton AL attorneys with a wide variety of job duties, including legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job functions are based upon the type of practice where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm may assist with trial logistics or delivering documents to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is normally billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And just like attorneys, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and adhere to a strict code of professional ethics. As stated, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they work, but a few of their everyday tasks might include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching relevant laws and cases
- Drafting correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting attorneys prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be complicated and very challenging. However, what they are not legally permitted to do is provide legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not restricted to clerical or administrative functions more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the main support systems for lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers are able to manage a much larger number of clients or cases than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we discussed earlier, 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 requirements and job prospects will be the same. The fastest means to start your career as a legal assistant in Hamilton AL is by earning a certificate, which may require as little as 6 months to accomplish. Most entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which offer a more extensive education and may be acquired at many community colleges in two years. For an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are available as well. When you have earned either a degree or a certificate, you may choose to continue and obtain a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help maximize your job opportunities, but help establish you as a professional as well. A few of the highly regarded certifying organizations 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 program (we will cover the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 crucial first steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Classes
Online paralegal or legal assistant programs have become more available and may be an excellent option for individuals searching for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online schools can be especially attractive to Hamilton AL students who continue to work while earning a degree. As an added benefit, online schools can in some cases be less costly than on campus options. Even ancillary expenditures for such things as study materials or commuting can be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will discuss in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the training you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the school and program you are looking into are accredited by a respected organization, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less supervised and formal environment, then earning your certificate or degree online may be the ideal choice for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Programs
Since you now you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what training options are offered, you can begin the process of evaluating schools. But since there are so many programs accessible at junior and community colleges in the Hamilton AL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you must find out what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is especially true if you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like the majority of potential students, you will begin by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other important factors to think about also, for instance accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's go over some of the questions you should be asking the schools you are investigating so that you can properly vet each one and make your final choice.
Is the Paralegal Training Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you select need to be accredited by a highly regarded accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it might also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance training. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will get will be of the highest quality, but it will show future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. A number of Hamilton AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited program. Finally, financial aid and student loans are often offered only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Research what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant schools you are looking at. This is of particular importance if you are entering the field with no prior experience, since employers will have to rely on the quality of your education exclusively. Verifying that the school 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 determine school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call several Hamilton AL law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask which schools they recommend. Bear in mind that even when a school is not among 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 establishment while still in school. They can also provide a means for students to start developing contacts within the Hamilton AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal schools you are considering offer internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will undoubtedly wish to hit the ground running after graduation, but finding that first job in a new field can be difficult without help. Ask if the paralegal programs you are assessing have job placement programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have large networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their students are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the School Located? Since laws vary from state to state, it may be beneficial to enroll in a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you plan to work after graduation. In addition, it will be important to develop relationships in the neighboring legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is all the more reason to acquire your education in the area where you want to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most require an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might wish to initially consider those schools that are within the Hamilton AL area.
What is the Complete Expense? Paralegal programs can differ in cost based on the credential received and the length of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your education. Don't forget to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial assistance might be available to help offset some of the cost, so be sure to contact the school's financial aid office to see what is offered in Hamilton AL. Needless to say that if you choose to attend an online school, some of these additional expenses, for instance for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Fit your Schedule? A number of paralegal students continue working while receiving their training and must have flexibility in class scheduling. If you can solely attend night or weekend classes near Hamilton AL, make certain classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make certain that the program you enroll in provides that option. Finally, ask what the protocol is for making up classes missed due to work, illness or family emergencies.
Choose the Right Hamilton Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Selecting the best paralegal studies certificate school is a crucial first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have covered in this article, you have the option of attending classes on campus or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Hamilton home. Paralegal education programs are offered in many lengths and formats. Different 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 choice of a paralegal program will have a profound influence on your prospects for success in your new profession. Given that there is a broad range in the quality of schools, choose carefully. Give yourself the greatest possible chance to be successful in this exciting profession. But regardless of how you choose to acquire your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have presented you will have the ability to evaluate each school and make your final decision. And with the right education you can realize your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Hamilton Alabama.