How to Pick the Right Paralegal Certificate Program Near Harvest Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Harvest AL and start your journey that will result in a gratifying profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's crucial that you locate the ideal school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you need to succeed. As you probably know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of educational options are becoming available, both on campus and online. But with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one start? Some potential students begin by trying to find schools within commuting distance of their Harvest residences. Of those alternatives, they search for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are prime considerations when picking a college, they are not the only factors you should consider. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the school should be taken into consideration also. Later in this article we will review a list of questions that you ought to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare each one before making your choice. But first, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the educational choices that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals essentially both hold the same job roles and functions, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and are part of a different job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Harvest AL attorneys with a wide range of job duties, including maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job functions are based upon the type of practice where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice might assist with the logistics of a trial or transporting documents to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is usually billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And the same as attorneys, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and abide by a strict code of professional ethics. As mentioned, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they are employed, but some of their daily activities can include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on pertinent laws and cases
- Drafting correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping attorneys get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be involved and quite challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally authorized to do is give legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not confined to clerical or administrative functions more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the main support systems for lawyers. 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 otherwise.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The fastest way to start your career as a paralegal in Harvest AL is by earning a certificate, which can require just 6 months to accomplish. A large number of entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which offer a more expansive education and may be acquired at many community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are available as well. When you have earned either a degree or a certificate, you might want to proceed and obtain a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help boost your job opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. A few of the highly respected 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 degree or certificate from an accredited school (we will discuss the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 crucial first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Courses
Online legal assistant or paralegal programs have become more available and may be an excellent option for individuals searching for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be especially attractive to Harvest AL students who continue to work while earning a degree. As an added advantage, 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 caveat, not all online programs 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 quality. So check to make certain that the school and program you are reviewing are accredited by a highly regarded agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less structured and conventional environment, then obtaining your certificate or degree online might be the ideal choice for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Schools
Once you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what educational options are offered, you can begin the undertaking of evaluating schools. But because there are numerous programs available at junior and community colleges in the Harvest AL area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you must learn what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is particularly true if you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like the majority of prospective students, you will start by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other critical issues to research also, 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 schools you are considering so that you can effectively vet each one and make your final decision.
Is the Paralegal Training Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you pick should be accredited by a reputable accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it can also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance education. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will get will be of the highest standard, but it will establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. A number of Harvest AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited program. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are usually obtainable only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Find out what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal programs you are looking at. This is of particular importance if you are entering the profession with no prior work history, since employers will have to make a decision based on the caliber of your training exclusively. Checking that the school you select is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating services, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call some Harvest AL law offices that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask which schools they recommend. Bear in mind that even though a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an excellent reputation.
Does the School Sponsor Internships? Internship programs offer students an opportunity to experience working in a law office or other legal enterprise while remaining in school. They can also provide a means for students to begin establishing contacts within the Harvest AL legal field. Ask if the paralegal schools you are assessing offer internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help offered? You will undoubtedly want to secure employment quickly after graduation, but getting that initial job in a new field can be difficult without help. Find out if the paralegal programs you are assessing have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have substantial networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their students are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the School Located? Since laws vary from state to state, it may be beneficial to select a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you wish to practice after graduation. In addition, it will be important to cultivate relationships in the local legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is all the more reason to receive your education in the community where you want to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most charge a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may want to initially investigate those colleges that are within the Harvest AL region.
How Much is the Entire Cost? Paralegal schools can differ in price depending on the credential received and the amount of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expense for your training. Remember to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial assistance may be obtainable to help minimize some of the expense, so make sure to talk to the school's financial aid office to find out what is available in Harvest AL. Needless to say that if you opt to attend an online program, some of these supplementary expenses, for instance for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Fit your Schedule? Many paralegal students continue working while obtaining their training and need flexibility to schedule classes. If you can solely attend weekend or evening classes near Harvest AL, verify classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make certain that the school you choose offers that option. Finally, find out what the protocol is for making up classes missed due to sickness, work or family emergencies.
Choose the Right Harvest Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Selecting the right paralegal training school is an essential first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have discussed in this post, you have the option of attending classes at school or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Harvest residence. Paralegal academic programs are provided in many formats and lengths. Different types of private and public institutions provide paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four year universities and colleges, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a profound impact on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Since there is a wide range in the quality of programs, choose carefully. Give yourself the greatest possible opportunity to be successful in this rewarding profession. But no matter how you elect to receive your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to review each school and make your final decision. And with the right training you can realize your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Harvest Alabama.