How to Enroll in the Best Paralegal School Near Hartselle Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Hartselle AL and start your journey that will lead to a gratifying career in legal services. Nevertheless, it's crucial that you locate the ideal school so that you will receive the extensive training that you need to succeed. As you probably know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more educational choices are being offered, both at school and online. But with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Some potential students begin by searching for schools within commuting range of their Hartselle residences. Of those alternatives, they try to find the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are important considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only qualifiers you need to take into consideration. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the school need to be taken into account also. Later on in this article we will review a list of concerns that you need to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare each one prior to making your selection. But before we do, let's take a look at what a paralegal does and the academic options that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants basically 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 separate job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Hartselle AL lawyers with a wide range 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 legal firm where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm may help with trial logistics or delivering files to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is typically billed hourly as are the attorney's. And the same as attorneys, they must carry out their duties with a high level of professionalism and abide by a strict standard of professional ethics. As stated, their responsibilities can be varied in support of the firms where they are employed, but some of their daily activities might involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on pertinent cases and laws
- Preparing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping attorneys get ready for trial and keep 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 complex and rather challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally permitted to do is offer legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not limited to administrative or clerical functions more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the main support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys are able to manage a much larger number of clients or cases than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the academic requirements and opportunities will be the same. The fastest means to begin your career as a paralegal in Hartselle AL is by obtaining a certificate, which may involve as little as six months to complete. Most entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which provide a more comprehensive education and can be earned at numerous community colleges in 2 years. For an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are an option as well. Once you have earned either a certificate or degree, you might want to continue and obtain a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help increase your career opportunities, but help substantiate 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 degree or certificate from an accredited program (we will discuss the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two crucial initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Classes
Legal assistant and paralegal online schools have become more popular and can be an excellent option for those searching for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online programs can be particularly attractive to Hartselle AL students who continue to work while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an added advantage, online schools can sometimes be less costly than more traditional options. Even secondary expenditures for such things as study materials or commuting can be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all online programs are accredited, which we will address 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 sure that the program and school you are thinking about are accredited by a respected organization, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less structured and conventional setting, then earning your certificate or degree online might be the right choice for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Schools
Since you now you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what academic options are available, you can start the process of evaluating schools. But considering that there are so many programs offered at community and junior colleges in the Hartselle AL area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you need to know what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is especially true if you add all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. If you are like many 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 critical aspects to research also, for instance the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's go over some of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are researching so that you can properly vet each one and make your final selection.
Is the Paralegal Training Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you enroll in need to be accredited by a highly regarded accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it can also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets online or distance learning. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will obtain will be of the highest quality, but it will establish with future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Numerous Hartselle AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited school. Also, financial assistance and student loans are typically accessible only for accredited programs.
What's the Program's Reputation? Learn what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant schools you are contemplating. This is of special importance if you are entering the field with no previous experience, since employers will have to make a decision based on the caliber of your education exclusively. Confirming that the program you select is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating services, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact several Hartselle AL law practices that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask which schools they recommend. Remember that even though a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an excellent reputation.
Does the School Provide Internships? Internship programs offer students an opportunity to experience working in a law practice or other legal operation while still in school. They can also present an avenue for students to start developing contacts within the Hartselle AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal schools you are reviewing provide internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help offered? You will probably want to hit the ground running after graduation, but finding that first job in a new profession can be difficult without help. Find out if the paralegal schools you are assessing have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good sign that the schools have sizable networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their graduates are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the School Located? Considering that laws vary among states, it might be advantageous to select a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you wish to work after graduating. In addition, it will be important to develop relationships in the area legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is all the more justification to receive your education in the community where you choose to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many charge a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may wish to initially look at those schools that are within the Hartselle AL area.
What is the Total Cost? Paralegal schools can vary in price based on the credential obtained and the amount of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your education. Remember to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance might be obtainable to help minimize some of the expense, so be sure to talk to the school's financial aid office to see what is available in Hartselle AL. Of course if you choose to attend an online school, some of these supplementary costs, for instance for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Accommodate your Schedule? Numerous legal students keep working while getting their training and need flexibility in class scheduling. If you can solely attend weekend or evening classes near Hartselle AL, verify classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make sure that the school you select offers that option. Last, find out what the procedure is for making-up classes missed due to work, illness or family obligations.
Enroll in the Best Hartselle Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Choosing the best paralegal degree program is a crucial first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have addressed in this article, you have the choice of attending classes on-campus or you can attend them online in the comfort and privacy of your Hartselle residence. Paralegal academic programs are provided in many lengths and formats. Several kinds of private and public institutions provide paralegal education, including community colleges, four year colleges and universities, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a profound impact on your prospects for success in your new career. Given that there is a wide range in the quality of schools, choose wisely. Afford yourself the best possible chance to succeed in this fascinating profession. But regardless of how you choose to acquire your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have provided you will have the ability to review each school and make your final decision. And with the right education you can achieve your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Hartselle Alabama.