How to Select the Best Paralegal Studies Certificate or Degree Program Near Helena Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Helena AL and start your journey that will lead to a satisfying career in legal services. However, it's crucial that you find the ideal school so that you will receive the extensive training that you need to achieve success. As you probably understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more educational options are becoming available, both on campus and online. But with so many options to choose from, where does one begin? Many potential students begin by searching for schools within traveling range of their Helena homes. Of those choices, they search for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are prime considerations when picking a school, they are not the only factors you need to consider. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the program should be considered too. Later on in this post we will review a list of questions that you should ask potential paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare each one before making your choice. But before we do, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the instructional options that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals essentially both hold comparable job roles and functions, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and belong to a different job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Helena AL attorneys with a diverse array of job functions, such as maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job functions are based upon the type of legal firm where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice might assist with the logistics of a trial or transferring files to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is usually billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And just like lawyers, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and comply with a strict standard of professional ethics. As mentioned, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they work, but a few of their day-to-day activities can include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching applicable laws and cases
- Drafting correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting attorneys prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be involved and rather challenging. However, what they are not legally authorized to do is provide legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not confined to administrative or clerical tasks more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the main support systems for lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys are able to handle a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could alone.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the academic prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The quickest means to begin your career as a paralegal in Helena AL is by earning a certificate, which can involve as little as six months to accomplish. Many entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which provide a more extensive education and can be acquired at many community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are offered as well. Once you have acquired either a degree or a certificate, you may choose to proceed and earn a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help increase your career opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. Some of the highly regarded 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 degree or certificate from an accredited program (we will address the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two important first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Courses
Paralegal and legal assistant online programs have become more available and can be a good option for individuals searching for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be particularly attractive to Helena AL students who keep working while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an additional benefit, online programs can sometimes be less costly than on campus options. Even secondary expenditures for such items as commuting or study materials may be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will discuss in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the education you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the program and school you are thinking about are accredited by a reputable agency, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to attend classes in a less supervised and formal setting, then obtaining your certificate or degree online may be the ideal option for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Certificate or Degree Programs
Since you now you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what training options are available, you can start the undertaking of assessing schools. But because there are numerous programs available at junior and community 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 particularly true when 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 driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other important factors to think about as well, for instance the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's take a look at a few 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 and School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you enroll in need to be accredited by a highly regarded organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it may also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets distance or online training. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will get will be of the highest quality, but it will establish with future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Numerous Helena AL law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited program. Also, financial assistance and student loans are usually available only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Investigate what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant schools you are looking at. This is of specific importance if you are entering the profession with no previous work history, since employers will have to make a decision based on the caliber of your education exclusively. Verifying that the school you select is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating services, such as those provided 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 offices that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask which schools they recommend. Remember that even if a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the Program Sponsor Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law practice or other legal enterprise while attending school. They can also present a means for students to begin developing contacts within the Helena AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal programs you are considering offer internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will undoubtedly wish to secure employment quickly after graduation, but finding that initial job in a new profession can be challenging without support. Ask 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 sign that the schools have large networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their graduates are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the School's Location? Because laws vary from state to state, it might be advantageous to select a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you want to practice after graduation. In addition, it will be necessary to establish relationships in the area legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is even more justification to obtain your education in the community where you want to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many charge a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might want to first look at those colleges that are within the Helena AL area.
How Much is the Complete Expense? Paralegal schools can vary in cost depending on the credential obtained and the length of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only expense for your education. Remember to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial assistance may be available to help reduce some of the expense, so don't forget to consult with the school's financial aid department to see what is offered in Helena AL. Of course if you decide to attend an online school, a portion these supplementary expenses, for instance for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? A number of legal students keep working while obtaining their training and must have flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend weekend or evening classes near Helena AL, verify classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make sure that the program you select offers that option. Last, find out what the protocol is for making up missed classes due to work, illness or family obligations.
Choose the Right Helena Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Enrolling in the right legal assistant certificate school is a vital first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have discussed in this article, you have the choice of attending classes on campus or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Helena residence. Paralegal academic programs are offered in numerous lengths and formats. Several kinds of private and public institutions offer paralegal training, including community and junior colleges, four year universities and colleges, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a pronounced impact on your prospects for success in your new profession. Since there is a wide range in the quality of programs, pick carefully. Afford yourself the greatest possible chance to be successful in this exciting profession. But no matter how you elect to obtain your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have presented you will have the ability to assess each program and make your ultimate decision. And with the ideal education you can accomplish your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Helena Alabama.