How to Choose the Right Paralegal Studies Course Near Hartselle Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Hartselle AL and begin your journey that will lead to a rewarding career in legal services. Nevertheless, it's crucial that you locate the best school so that you will get the extensive training that you require to be successful. As you most likely understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of educational options are becoming available, both at school and online. But with numerous options to choose from, where does one start? Some prospective students start by looking for schools within traveling range of their Hartselle residences. Of those alternatives, they look for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are prime considerations when choosing a school, they are not the only qualifiers you should take into consideration. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the program should be taken into consideration also. Later on in this article we will review a list of concerns that you should ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare each one before making your decision. But before we do, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the educational options that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants essentially both fill the same job positions and responsibilities, just with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and belong to a separate job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Hartselle AL lawyers with a wide variety 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 firm might assist with trial logistics or transferring files to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is usually billed hourly as are the attorney's. And just like attorneys, they must carry out their duties with a high level of professionalism and abide by a strict standard of professional ethics. As mentioned, their responsibilities can be diverse in support of the firms where they are employed, but a few of their routine activities can involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching applicable cases and laws
- Composing correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting attorneys prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal documents, files and other records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be complicated and quite challenging. However, what they are not legally allowed to do is offer legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not confined to clerical or administrative duties more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the main support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers are able to take on a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could on their own.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the educational requirements and job prospects will be the same. The quickest means to begin your career as a paralegal in Hartselle AL is by earning a certificate, which can require just 6 months to accomplish. A large number of entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which provide a more expansive education and may be obtained at numerous community colleges in two years. For an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are available also. When you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you might choose to continue and earn a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help increase your employment opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. Some of the highly respected certifying agencies 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 program (we will discuss the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two crucial first steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Programs
Legal assistant and paralegal online schools have become more popular and can be a good alternative for those looking for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be particularly attractive to Hartselle AL students who keep working while obtaining a degree. As an added benefit, online programs can sometimes be less expensive than more traditional options. Even secondary expenditures for such things as commuting or study materials can be minimized or eliminated. One caution, 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 obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the school and program you are considering are accredited by a respected organization, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less structured and conventional setting, then obtaining your certificate or degree online might be the right choice for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Certificate or Degree Programs
Since you now you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what educational choices are offered, you can start the undertaking of assessing schools. But since there are numerous programs available at community and junior colleges in the Hartselle AL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you must know what questions to ask so that you can 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 the majority of potential students, you will start by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other significant aspects to consider as well, including accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at some of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are investigating so that you can effectively vet each one and make your ultimate selection.
Is the Paralegal School and Program Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you choose need to be accredited by a respected accrediting agency 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 certify that the training you will receive will be of the highest standard, but it will show potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. Numerous Hartselle AL law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited school. Finally, financial aid and student loans are typically available only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Learn what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal schools you are considering. This is of special importance if you are entering the field with no prior experience, since employers will have to make a decision based on the caliber of your training exclusively. Confirming that the program you choose is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating services, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact several Hartselle AL law firms that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask which schools they recommend. Remember that even if a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the Program Offer Internships? Internship programs offer students a chance to experience working in a law practice or other legal operation while remaining in school. They can also provide a means for students to begin establishing contacts within the Hartselle AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal schools you are reviewing offer internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help offered? You will undoubtedly want to secure employment quickly after graduating, but getting that initial job in a new field can be challenging without support. Find out if the paralegal programs you are considering have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have sizable networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their students are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the School Located? Because laws vary from state to state, it may be advantageous to choose a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you plan to work after graduation. In addition, it will be valuable to establish relationships in the local legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is even more justification to receive your education in the community where you wish to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most require a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may wish to first look at those schools that are within the Hartselle AL area.
What is the Entire Expense? Paralegal programs can differ in price depending on the credential received and the amount of training furnished. Having said that, 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 as well. Financial assistance may be available to help offset part of the expense, so be sure to contact the school's financial aid office to find out what is offered in Hartselle AL. Of course if you opt to attend an online program, some of these additional costs, such as for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Accommodate your Schedule? Numerous legal students continue working while receiving their training and must have flexibility to schedule classes. If you can just attend weekend or evening classes near Hartselle AL, make certain classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make certain that the program you select offers that option. Last, ask what the procedure is for making up missed classes due to work, illness or family obligations.
Enroll in the Best Hartselle Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Selecting the best legal assistant training school is an essential first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have addressed in this article, you have the option of attending classes at school or you can attend them online in the comfort and privacy of your Hartselle residence. Paralegal training programs are made available in various formats and lengths. Various types of private and public institutions provide paralegal training, including community and junior colleges, four year colleges and universities, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a profound impact on your opportunities for success in your new career. Since there is a wide range in the quality of schools, choose carefully. Afford yourself the greatest possible opportunity to succeed in this exciting profession. But no matter how you choose to obtain your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to evaluate each program and make your ultimate selection. And with the appropriate training you can realize your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Hartselle Alabama.