How to Choose the Right Paralegal Studies Certificate or Degree Program Near Helena Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Helena AL and start your journey that will lead to a rewarding profession in legal services. However, it's essential that you find the best school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you require to achieve success. As you probably know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of academic alternatives are being offered, both at school and online. However with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? A number of prospective students start by searching for schools within driving distance of their Helena residences. Of those options, they search for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are important considerations when choosing a college, they are not the only factors you should consider. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the school ought to be taken into account also. Later in this article we will cover a list of questions that you should ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare every one prior to making your decision. But first, let's take a look at what a paralegal does and the educational options that are available 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 roles and responsibilities, just with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and belong to a separate job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Helena 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 duties are relevant to the type of legal firm where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm may assist with the logistics of a trial or transporting documents to court. In private firms, 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 degree of professionalism and abide by a strict code of professional ethics. As mentioned, their responsibilities can be diverse in support of the firms where they are employed, but a few of their daily tasks can involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching relevant cases and laws
- Composing correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping attorneys prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be involved and rather challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally allowed to do is give legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not restricted to clerical or administrative functions more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers have the ability to handle a much larger number of clients or cases than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the academic requirements and opportunities will be the same. The quickest way to begin your career as a paralegal in Helena AL is by earning a certificate, which can require just six months to accomplish. A large number of entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which offer a more expansive education and can be obtained at many community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are an option also. Once you have acquired either a degree or a certificate, you might want to proceed and get a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help increase your employment opportunities, but help establish you as a professional as well. Some of the highly respected certifying agencies in the profession 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 discuss the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 important first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Courses
Online paralegal or legal assistant schools have become more common and can be an excellent alternative for students searching for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online schools can be especially appealing to Helena AL students who continue to work while obtaining a degree. As an added benefit, online programs can in some cases be less expensive than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenditures for such things as study materials or commuting 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 ensure 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 agency, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less structured and conventional environment, then earning your degree or certificate online could be the right choice for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Certificate or Degree Programs
Once you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what academic choices are offered, you can start the process of assessing schools. But because there are numerous programs accessible at community and junior colleges in the Helena AL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you must find out what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is especially 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 searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other significant factors to consider as well, including accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at several of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are investigating so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your ultimate decision.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you choose should be accredited by a reputable 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 targets online or distance training. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will receive will be of the highest standard, but it will show potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Many Helena AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited program. Also, financial assistance and student loans are typically accessible only for accredited schools.
What's the School's Reputation? Learn what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant schools you are considering. This is of specific importance if you are entering the field with no previous experience, since employers will have to make a decision based on the quality of your training exclusively. Checking that the program you pick is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating services, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact several Helena AL law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask what schools they recommend. Remember that even when a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs offer students a chance to experience working in a law practice or other legal establishment while attending school. They can also present an avenue for students to start creating contacts within the Helena AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal programs you are evaluating offer internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help offered? You will undoubtedly wish to secure employment quickly after graduation, but getting that initial job in a new field can be difficult without support. Find out if the paralegal programs you are assessing have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have sizable networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their students are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the School's Location? Since laws differ from one state to another, it might be a good idea to choose a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you wish to work after graduation. In addition, it will be valuable to build relationships in the area legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is all the more reason to receive your education in the area where you choose to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most require a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might wish to initially investigate those schools that are within the Helena AL area.
What is the Complete Expense? Paralegal programs can vary in price depending on the credential received and the amount of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only expense for your training. Don't forget to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial assistance may be available to help offset some of the expense, so don't forget to check with the school's financial aid office to see what is offered in Helena AL. Needless to say that if you choose to attend an online school, a portion these additional costs, such as for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Fit your Schedule? Numerous paralegal students keep working while receiving their training and need flexibility in class scheduling. If you can just attend night or weekend classes near Helena AL, make sure classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, confirm that the school you choose makes available that option. Last, inquire what the protocol is for making-up classes missed as a result of work, illness or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Best Helena Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Choosing the ideal 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 choice of attending classes on-campus or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Helena residence. Paralegal academic programs are offered in many formats and lengths. Various types of private and public institutions provide paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four-year colleges and universities, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a profound influence on your opportunities for success in your new career. Given that there is a wide range in the quality of schools, pick wisely. Give yourself the best possible opportunity to succeed in this rewarding profession. But no matter how you decide to acquire your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will have the ability to evaluate each program and make your final selection. And with the ideal training you can accomplish your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Helena Alabama.