How to Find the Right Paralegal Studies Degree Program Near Harvest Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Harvest AL and start your journey that will result in a fulfilling profession in legal services. However, it's crucial that you find the ideal school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you require to achieve success. As you probably understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more educational options are being offered, both at school and online. However with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one start? Many prospective students start by looking for schools within driving distance of their Harvest homes. Of those options, 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 consider. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the school must be taken into consideration as well. Later on in this article we will review a list of questions that you ought to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare every one before making your decision. But first, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic choices that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals for the most part both hold 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 different job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Harvest AL attorneys with a diverse array of job duties, such as maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. 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 practice might assist with the logistics of a trial or delivering files to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is normally billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And the same as attorneys, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and adhere to a strict code of professional ethics. As mentioned, their responsibilities can be varied in support of the practices where they are employed, but some of their regular activities may include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on pertinent cases and laws
- Composing correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping lawyers get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal files, documents and other records
With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be complicated and rather challenging. However, what they are not legally authorized to do is offer legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not confined to administrative or clerical functions 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 ground work and preparation, lawyers have the ability to manage a much larger number of cases or clients than they could alone.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the academic requirements and opportunities will be the same. The quickest means to start your career as a paralegal in Harvest AL is by earning a certificate, which may require as little as six months to accomplish. A large number of entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which offer a more extensive education and can be obtained at many community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are offered as well. When you have earned either a degree or a certificate, you may choose to continue and get a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help increase your career opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. A few of the highly regarded 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 school (we will cover the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 essential first steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Programs
Paralegal and legal assistant online programs have become more available and may be a good option for individuals looking for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online schools can be particularly attractive to Harvest AL students who keep working while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an additional advantage, online classes can often be less expensive than on campus options. Even supplementary expenses for such things as commuting or study materials may be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all online schools are accredited, which we will discuss in more detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the education you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the school and program you are looking into are accredited by a reputable agency, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to attend classes in a less supervised and formal setting, then obtaining your degree or certificate online might be the ideal choice for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Schools
Once you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what educational choices are available, you can begin the process of evaluating schools. But considering that there are numerous programs accessible at junior and community colleges in the Harvest AL area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you need to learn what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is particularly true if you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like the majority of prospective 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 critical issues to research also, such as the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's go over several of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are considering so that you can effectively vet each one and make your ultimate choice.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you select should be accredited by a recognized organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it might also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance training. 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 also. Numerous Harvest AL law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited school. Finally, financial aid and student loans are often available only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Research what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal programs you are contemplating. This is of particular importance if you are new to the profession with no prior work history, since employers will have to make a decision based on the caliber of your education exclusively. Checking that the program you select is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating services, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact a few Harvest AL law offices that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask what schools they suggest. Keep in mind that even when a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an excellent reputation.
Does the Program Offer Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law firm or other legal operation while still in school. They can also provide an avenue for students to start establishing contacts within the Harvest AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal programs you are assessing provide internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance offered? You will undoubtedly wish to secure employment quickly after graduation, but finding that first job in a new field can be challenging without assistance. Ask if the paralegal programs you are reviewing have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have large networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their students are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the School's Location? Considering that laws differ from one state to another, it might be advantageous to enroll in a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you want to work after graduating. In addition, it will be necessary to build relationships in the local legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is all the more justification to obtain your education in the area where you wish to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many require a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might want to initially investigate those schools that are within the Harvest AL region.
What is the Complete Expense? Paralegal schools can differ in price based on the credential obtained and the amount of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your education. Don't forget to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid may be available to help reduce some of the expense, so don't forget to talk to the school's financial aid department to find out what is offered in Harvest AL. Needless to say that if you choose to attend an online program, some of these added expenses, such as for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Match your Schedule? A number of paralegal students keep working while receiving their training and require flexibility in class scheduling. If you can only attend weekend or evening classes near Harvest AL, make sure classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make certain that the school you enroll in makes available that option. Last, inquire what the protocol is for making up missed classes as a result of sickness, work or family obligations.
Choose the Right Harvest Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Enrolling in the right paralegal studies degree school is an important first step toward your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have discussed in this post, you have the choice of attending classes on campus or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Harvest residence. Paralegal training programs are provided in various formats and lengths. Several kinds of public and private institutions offer paralegal education, including junior and community colleges, four year universities and colleges, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a profound influence on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Since there is a wide range in the quality of programs, pick wisely. Afford yourself the best possible opportunity to be successful in this exciting profession. But irrespective of how you decide 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 school and make your final selection. And with the appropriate education you can realize your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Harvest Alabama.