How to Choose the Right Paralegal Studies Degree Program Near Helena Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Helena AL and begin your journey that will lead to a rewarding profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's important that you locate the right school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you require to achieve success. As you most likely understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of educational choices are becoming available, both at school and online. However with numerous options to choose from, where does one begin? Some prospective students start by searching for schools within commuting range of their Helena homes. Of those alternatives, they search for the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are important considerations when selecting a college, they are not the only factors you must consider. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the school should be taken into account too. Later on in this post we will cover a list of questions that you ought to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare each one prior to making your choice. But before we do, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic options that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants for the most part both fill the same job roles and responsibilities, only with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and belong to a different job classification. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Helena AL lawyers with a wide variety of job duties, including maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job functions are relevant to the type of practice where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm could assist with trial logistics or transferring files to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is typically billed by the hour as are the lawyer's. And the same as lawyers, they must perform with a high level of professionalism and follow a strict standard of professional ethics. As stated, their responsibilities can be varied in support of the practices where they are employed, but a few of their daily tasks might include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on applicable laws and cases
- Composing correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping attorneys get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be involved and quite demanding. However, what they are not legally permitted to do is offer legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not restricted to administrative or clerical functions more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers are able to manage a much larger number of clients or cases than they could on their own.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the academic requirements and job prospects will be the same. The fastest way to launch your career as a legal assistant in Helena AL is by earning a certificate, which may take as little as six months to complete. A large number of entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which provide a more extensive education and can be acquired at numerous community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are available as well. Once you have earned either a certificate or degree, you might want to proceed and obtain a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help maximize your career opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. 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 degree or certificate from an accredited school (we will discuss the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two important first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Certificates and Degrees
Online paralegal or legal assistant schools have become more available and may be an excellent option for those looking for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online schools can be especially attractive to Helena AL students who continue to work while earning a degree. As an added benefit, online schools can in some cases be less expensive than more traditional options. Even secondary expenditures for such things as commuting or study materials may be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will cover in more detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the education you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the school and program you are reviewing are accredited by a reputable organization, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less supervised and formal setting, then obtaining your degree or certificate online might be the ideal option for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Once you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what training choices are offered, you can begin the undertaking of evaluating schools. But since there are numerous programs accessible at junior and community colleges in the Helena AL area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you must find out what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is especially 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 begin by searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other important issues to think about also, including accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at several of the questions you should be asking the programs you are investigating so that you can effectively vet each one and make your final decision.
Is the Paralegal Training Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you pick need to be accredited by a respected accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it may also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets distance or online learning. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will get will be of the highest standard, but it will demonstrate to potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. Many Helena AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited school. Finally, financial aid and student loans are often accessible only for accredited programs.
What's the Program's Reputation? Learn what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal schools you are looking at. This is of special importance if you are entering the profession with no previous work history, since employers will need to rely on the quality of your training exclusively. Checking that the school you pick is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating services, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact a few Helena AL law practices that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask which schools they recommend. Bear in mind that even if a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the Program Provide Internships? Internship programs give students an opportunity to experience working in a law practice or other legal enterprise while remaining in school. They can also provide an avenue for students to begin establishing contacts within the Helena AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal programs you are assessing provide internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help available? You will probably want to hit the ground running after graduation, but finding that initial job in a new field can be challenging without support. Ask if the paralegal schools you are assessing have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have large networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their graduates are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the School's Location? Considering that laws differ from state to state, it might be a good idea to choose a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you plan to work after graduating. In addition, it will be necessary to build relationships in the area legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is even more justification to receive your education in the area where you desire to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many charge a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may want to initially look at those colleges that are within the Helena AL area.
What is the Entire Cost? Paralegal programs can vary in cost based on the credential received and the amount of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only cost for your training. Don't forget to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid may be accessible to help offset some of the cost, so make sure to check with the school's financial aid department to find out what is offered in Helena AL. Needless to say that if you choose to attend an online program, some of these additional costs, for instance for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Match your Schedule? Numerous legal students continue working while obtaining their training and need flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend night or weekend classes near Helena AL, make certain classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, confirm that the program you choose offers that option. Last, inquire what the process is for making up missed classes due to work, illness or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Right Helena Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Selecting the right paralegal certificate school is an important first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have addressed in this article, you have the choice of attending classes at school or you can attend them online in the comfort and privacy of your Helena residence. Paralegal training programs are offered in various formats and lengths. Different kinds of public and private institutions make available paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four year universities and colleges, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a pronounced impact on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Since there is a broad range in the quality of schools, pick carefully. Give yourself the best possible opportunity to succeed in this fascinating profession. But regardless of how you elect to obtain your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will have the ability to assess each program and make your final selection. And with the appropriate training you can achieve your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Helena Alabama.