How to Pick the Right Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program Near Hamilton Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Hamilton AL and begin your journey that will result in a satisfying profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's essential that you find the best school so that you will get the extensive training that you need to achieve success. As you most likely understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more educational choices are being offered, both on campus and online. However with so many options to choose from, where does one begin? A number of prospective students start by trying to find schools within traveling range of their Hamilton residences. Of those choices, they search for the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are necessary considerations when choosing a school, they are not the only qualifiers you need to consider. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the program should be taken into account as well. Later in this article we will review a list of questions that you should ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare every one prior to making your choice. But first, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the educational options that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants for the most part both hold the same job positions and responsibilities, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and belong to a separate job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Hamilton AL lawyers with a wide range of job functions, such as legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job functions are based upon the type of legal firm where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice could help with trial logistics or transferring files to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is usually 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 follow a strict standard of professional ethics. As noted, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they work, but a few of their day-to-day activities can involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on pertinent laws and cases
- Preparing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting lawyers prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be complex and quite challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally authorized to do is provide legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not limited to clerical or administrative functions more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys have the ability to take on a much larger number of clients or cases than they could alone.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the academic prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The quickest way to launch your career as a legal assistant in Hamilton AL is by earning a certificate, which may involve 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 many community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are an option as well. Once you have acquired either a degree or a certificate, you may want to proceed and earn a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help improve your job opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. A few 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 discuss the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two crucial first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Courses
Online legal assistant or paralegal schools have become more prevalent and can be a good option for individuals searching for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be particularly appealing to Hamilton AL students who keep working while earning a degree. As an added benefit, online schools can sometimes be less costly than on campus options. Even ancillary expenses for such things as study materials or commuting can be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will address in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the training you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the program and school you are thinking about are accredited by a reputable organization, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to attend classes in a less structured and conventional setting, then obtaining your certificate or degree online could be the ideal choice for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Studies Programs
Since you now you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what training choices are offered, you can start the undertaking of assessing schools. But considering that there are numerous programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Hamilton AL area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you must find out what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is particularly true when you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. If you are like most potential students, you will begin by searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other crucial factors to research also, such as the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's go over some of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are considering so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your ultimate decision.
Is the Paralegal School and Program Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you choose need to be accredited by a reputable accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it can also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets online or distance education. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will get will be of the highest quality, but it will show future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Numerous Hamilton AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited program. Also, financial aid and student loans are often obtainable only for accredited schools.
What's the School's Reputation? Learn what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant programs you are contemplating. This is of particular importance if you are entering the profession with no previous work history, since employers will need to rely on the caliber of your education exclusively. Verifying that the program you select is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating services, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call several Hamilton AL law practices that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask what schools they suggest. Keep in mind that even when a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an excellent reputation.
Does the Program Offer Internships? Internship programs provide students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal enterprise while attending school. They can also present a means for students to begin establishing contacts within the Hamilton AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal programs you are considering provide internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help provided? You will most likely want to secure employment quickly after graduating, but finding that initial job in a new profession can be difficult without help. Find out if the paralegal schools 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 sizable networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their graduates are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the School's Location? Considering that laws vary from one state to another, it may be a good idea to enroll in a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you wish to practice after graduating. In addition, it will be valuable to develop relationships in the area legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is all the more reason to obtain your education in the community where you want to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most charge a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may wish to initially investigate those schools that are within the Hamilton AL area.
What is the Entire Expense? Paralegal schools can differ in price depending on the credential earned and the amount of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your education. Remember to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial assistance might be accessible to help reduce some of the expense, so don't forget to consult with the school's financial aid office to see what is available in Hamilton AL. Of course if you opt to attend an online program, a portion these added costs, for instance for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? Numerous legal students keep working while receiving their training and need flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend weekend or evening classes near Hamilton AL, make certain classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make certain that the program you choose provides that option. Finally, ask what the process is for making up missed classes due to work, illness or family emergencies.
Choose the Best Hamilton Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Enrolling in the ideal paralegal studies certificate school is an important first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying 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 residence. Paralegal training programs are offered in various lengths and formats. Different kinds of public and private institutions make available paralegal training, including community colleges, four-year universities and colleges, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a profound influence on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Given that there is a broad range in the quality of programs, choose carefully. Give yourself the greatest possible opportunity to succeed in this exciting profession. But no matter how you elect to obtain your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have presented you will be able to review each program and make your final decision. And with the ideal training you can realize your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Hamilton Alabama.