How to Pick the Right Paralegal Studies Training Program Near Hartselle Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Hartselle AL and start your journey that will lead to a fulfilling career in legal services. However, it's crucial that you find the right school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you require to succeed. As you most likely understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of educational choices are being offered, both on campus and online. But with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one start? A number of prospective students start by trying to find schools within traveling distance of their Hartselle homes. Of those alternatives, they search for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are important considerations when choosing a school, they are not the only factors you must take into consideration. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the school ought to be taken into consideration as well. Later in this post we will cover a list of questions that you should ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare each one before making your choice. But before we do, let's take a look at what a paralegal does and the instructional alternatives that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants essentially both fill the same job roles and responsibilities, just with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and are part of a different job classification. Both legal assistants and paralegals help Hartselle AL attorneys with a diverse array of job functions, such as maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job functions are relevant to the type of legal firm where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm may help with trial logistics or transporting documents to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is normally billed hourly as are the attorney's. And just like lawyers, they must conduct themselves with a high degree of professionalism and abide by a strict code of professional ethics. As noted, their responsibilities can be varied in support of the practices where they work, but some of their everyday tasks can include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on related laws and cases
- Composing correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting lawyers prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be involved and quite demanding. However, what they are not legally permitted to do is give legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not confined to clerical or administrative tasks more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the right hand support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys have the ability to take on a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could alone.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we discussed earlier, 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 opportunities will be the same. The fastest way to start your career as a paralegal in Hartselle AL is by earning a certificate, which may take as little as six months to accomplish. Many entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which provide a more extensive education and can be acquired at many community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are available also. Once you have acquired either a degree or a certificate, you may want to continue and obtain a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help improve 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 school (we will address the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two essential first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Programs
Paralegal and legal assistant online schools have become more prevalent and may be a good alternative for individuals looking for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online programs can be particularly appealing to Hartselle AL students who continue to work while obtaining a degree. As an additional benefit, online classes can in some cases be less costly than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenditures for such items as commuting or study materials may be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all online schools are accredited, which we will discuss in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the training you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the program and school you are considering are accredited by a respected agency, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less structured and formal setting, then obtaining your certificate or degree online could be the ideal option for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Schools
Now that you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what academic options are offered, you can start the undertaking of assessing schools. But considering that there are so many programs accessible at junior and community colleges in the Hartselle AL area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you must find out what questions to ask in order to 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 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 important aspects to think about as well, such as accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at several of the questions you should be asking the schools you are researching so that you can effectively vet each one and make your ultimate selection.
Is the Paralegal Training Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you select need to be accredited by a reputable organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it may also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets distance or online learning. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will obtain will be of the highest standard, but it will demonstrate to potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. A number of Hartselle AL law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited program. Also, financial aid and student loans are usually accessible only for accredited schools.
What's the School's Reputation? Learn what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant schools you are looking at. This is of special importance if you are new to the field with no prior experience, since employers will have to make a decision based on the quality of your education exclusively. Confirming 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 verify school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call a few Hartselle AL law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask which schools they suggest. Keep in mind that even if a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an excellent reputation.
Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal enterprise while attending school. They can also present an avenue for students to start developing contacts within the Hartselle AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal schools you are assessing provide internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance provided? You will undoubtedly wish to hit the ground running after graduation, but getting that initial job in a new profession can be difficult without support. Ask if the paralegal programs you are considering have job placement programs and what their success 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's Location? Because laws vary from state to state, it may be advantageous to select a paralegal school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you plan to work after graduating. Also, it will be valuable to build relationships in the local legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is even more reason to obtain your education in the community where you choose to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most require a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might wish to first look at those colleges that are within the Hartselle AL region.
How Much is the Complete Expense? Paralegal schools can differ in price depending on the credential obtained and the length of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your education. Don't forget to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid might be accessible to help offset part of the expense, so don't forget to consult with the school's financial aid department to see what is offered in Hartselle AL. Needless to say that if you opt to attend an online program, some of these additional costs, such as for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Fit your Schedule? A number of paralegal students keep working while getting their training and must have flexibility in class scheduling. If you can only 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, make sure that the program you select provides that option. Finally, ask what the process is for making-up missed classes because of sickness, work or family emergencies.
Choose the Best Hartselle Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Choosing the right legal assistant certificate school is an important 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 at school or you can attend them online in the comfort and privacy of your Hartselle home. Paralegal training programs are offered in various formats and lengths. Different types of public and private institutions offer paralegal education, including junior and community colleges, four year universities and colleges, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a pronounced influence on your prospects for success in your new profession. Since there is a broad range in the quality of schools, choose wisely. Afford yourself the best possible chance to succeed in this rewarding profession. But irrespective of how you decide to receive your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have presented you will have the ability to review each program and make your final selection. And with the ideal training you can realize your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Hartselle Alabama.