How to Select the Right Paralegal Program Near Hartselle Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Hartselle AL and begin your journey that will lead to a fulfilling profession in legal services. However, it's crucial that you locate the right school so that you will receive the extensive training that you need to succeed. As you probably understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of academic alternatives are being offered, both at school and online. But with so many options to choose from, where does one start? Many prospective students start by trying to find schools within driving range of their Hartselle homes. Of those alternatives, they search for the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are very important considerations when picking a college, they are not the only factors you should consider. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the program should be taken into consideration as well. Later on in this article we will review a list of questions that you need to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare each one before making your decision. But first, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the educational alternatives that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals essentially both hold comparable job positions and functions, only with different titles. On the other hand, 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 Hartselle AL attorneys with a wide range of job duties, including maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job functions are relevant to the type of practice where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice may assist with trial logistics or delivering files to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is usually billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And the same as lawyers, they must carry out their duties with a high level of professionalism and abide by a strict standard of professional ethics. As mentioned, their duties can be diverse in support of the practices where they work, but some of their daily tasks may involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on related cases and laws
- Preparing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping attorneys get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal documents, files and other records
With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be complicated and rather demanding. 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 restricted to clerical or administrative duties more apropos 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 preparation and ground work, lawyers are able to manage 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 requirements and job prospects will be the same. The fastest way to begin your career as a paralegal in Hartselle 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 offer a more extensive education and may be obtained at many community colleges in two years. For an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are offered also. When you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you may choose to continue and earn a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help boost your employment opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. Some 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 certificate or degree from an accredited program (we will address the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two essential first steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Courses
Online paralegal or legal assistant schools have become more common and may be an excellent option for students searching for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online schools can be particularly appealing to Hartselle AL students who continue to work while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an added benefit, online classes can sometimes be less expensive than on campus options. Even supplementary expenses for such items as commuting or study materials can be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all online schools are accredited, which we will discuss in greater 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 considering are accredited by a highly regarded organization, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less structured and formal setting, then earning your certificate or degree online might be the right option for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Since you now you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what academic choices are offered, you can start the process of evaluating schools. But since there are numerous programs available at junior and community colleges in the Hartselle 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 if you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like most prospective students, you will begin by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other crucial factors to consider as well, such as accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at some of the questions you should be asking the programs you are investigating so that you can properly vet each one and make your ultimate choice.
Is the Paralegal School and Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you select need to be accredited by a reputable organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it might also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online learning. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will obtain will be of the highest quality, but it will show future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Many Hartselle AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited school. Also, financial aid and student loans are usually offered only for accredited schools.
What's the Program's Reputation? Research what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant schools you are contemplating. This is of specific importance if you are entering the field with no previous work history, since employers will need to make a decision based on the quality of your education exclusively. Verifying that the program you select is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating reports, 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 a few Hartselle AL law offices that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask which schools they recommend. Keep in mind that even if a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an excellent reputation.
Does the Program Sponsor Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal operation while remaining in school. They can also present a means for students to begin developing contacts within the Hartselle AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal schools you are considering offer internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will probably wish to secure employment quickly after graduating, but finding that initial job in a new profession can be challenging without support. Find out if the paralegal schools you are interviewing have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good indication that the schools have sizable networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their graduates are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the School Located? Considering that laws vary from state to state, it may be advantageous to enroll in a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you plan to practice after graduation. In addition, it will be necessary to establish relationships in the local legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is all the more reason to receive your education in the area where you choose to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many require a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may wish to first investigate those schools that are within the Hartselle AL region.
What is the Entire Expense? Paralegal programs can differ in cost based on the credential received and the amount of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your training. Don't forget to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance may be obtainable to help minimize part of the cost, so don't forget to check with the school's financial aid office to see what is available in Hartselle AL. Naturally if you decide to attend an online school, a portion these additional expenses, such as for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Match your Schedule? Many legal students continue working while obtaining their training and need flexibility in class scheduling. If you can solely attend night or weekend classes near Hartselle AL, make sure classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, confirm that the school you choose offers that option. Finally, ask what the procedure is for making up classes missed as a result of work, illness or family obligations.
Enroll in the Right Hartselle Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Selecting the right legal assistant certificate program is an essential first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have addressed in this post, you have the choice of attending classes on-campus or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Hartselle residence. Paralegal academic programs are offered in various lengths and formats. Various types of public and private institutions make available paralegal education, including junior and community colleges, four year colleges and universities, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a profound impact on your opportunities for success in your new career. Since there is a broad range in the quality of schools, choose carefully. Give yourself the greatest possible opportunity to be successful in this fascinating profession. But irrespective of how you elect to receive your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will have the ability to assess each program and make your final selection. And with the ideal education you can realize your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Hartselle Alabama.