How to Pick the Right Paralegal Studies Training 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 career in legal services. Nevertheless, it's important that you find the right school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you need to succeed. As you most likely know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more educational choices are becoming available, both at school and online. But with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Many prospective students begin by trying to find schools within driving distance of their Helena homes. Of those options, they search for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are prime considerations when choosing a school, they are not the only factors you ought to take into consideration. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the school need to be considered too. Later on in this post we will review a list of questions that you need to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare each one before making your selection. But before we do, let's take a look at what a paralegal does and the instructional alternatives that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals for the most part both fill comparable job positions and functions, only with different titles. On the other hand, 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 Helena AL lawyers with a wide range of job functions, such as maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job functions are based upon the type of legal firm where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice could help with the logistics of a trial or delivering documents to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is usually billed hourly as are the attorney's. And the same as attorneys, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and follow a strict standard of professional ethics. As mentioned, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they are employed, but some of their routine activities might include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on relevant laws and cases
- Drafting correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping lawyers get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal documents, files and other records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be complicated and rather challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally authorized to do is give legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not limited to clerical or administrative functions more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the main support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers have the ability to manage a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational requirements and opportunities will be the same. The fastest way to begin your career as a legal assistant in Helena AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can involve as little as 6 months to accomplish. A large number of entry level positions do require 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 an option as well. Once you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you may want to continue and earn a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help improve your job opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. A few of the highly respected 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 benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two important initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Courses
Online legal assistant or paralegal programs have become more common and can be an excellent option for those searching for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online schools can be particularly appealing to Helena AL students who continue to work while earning a certificate or degree. As an added benefit, online classes can in some cases be less expensive than more traditional options. Even supplementary expenses for such things as study materials or commuting 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 ensure that the training you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the program and school you are considering are accredited by a reputable agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less structured and conventional setting, then obtaining your degree or certificate online could be the ideal choice for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Programs
Since you now you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what training options are offered, you can start the undertaking of evaluating schools. But considering that there are so many programs accessible 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 especially true if you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like many potential students, you will start by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other critical aspects 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 schools you are investigating so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your final selection.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you enroll in should be accredited by a respected 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 help guarantee that the training you will obtain will be of the highest quality, but it will establish with future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Many Helena AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited school. Also, financial aid and student loans are usually obtainable only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the School? Learn what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant programs you are contemplating. This is of particular importance if you are entering the profession with no previous work history, since employers will need to make a decision based on the quality of your education exclusively. Checking that the school you pick is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating reports, such as those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call a few Helena AL law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask what schools they recommend. Remember that even when a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the School Sponsor Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal operation while attending school. They can also offer a pathway for students to begin creating contacts within the Helena AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal schools you are considering provide internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance provided? You will undoubtedly wish to secure employment quickly after graduating, but getting that first job in a new field can be challenging without assistance. Ask if the paralegal programs you are assessing have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good sign that the schools have sizable networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their students are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the School's Location? Since laws vary from state to state, it might be advantageous to enroll in a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you plan to work after graduation. In addition, it will be necessary to build relationships in the local legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is all the more justification to receive your education in the area where you wish to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many charge an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might want to first consider those schools that are within the Helena AL area.
How Much is the Complete Expense? Paralegal schools can vary in price depending on the credential obtained and the length of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expense for your education. Don't forget to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance may be available to help offset part of the cost, so make sure to contact the school's financial aid office to see what is available in Helena AL. Needless to say that if you opt to attend an online program, a portion these additional expenses, such as for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? A number of paralegal students continue working while receiving their training and require flexibility in class scheduling. If you can solely 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 program you enroll in offers that option. Finally, ask what the procedure is for making up classes missed due to sickness, work or family emergencies.
Choose the Best Helena Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Enrolling in the ideal paralegal studies degree school is an essential first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have discussed in this post, you have the choice of attending classes at school or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Helena home. Paralegal academic programs are made available in various lengths and formats. Several kinds of private and public institutions offer paralegal training, including community and junior colleges, four year colleges and universities, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a profound influence on your prospects for success in your new career. Considering that there is a broad range in the quality of schools, choose carefully. Afford yourself the greatest possible opportunity to be successful in this fascinating profession. But regardless of how you choose to acquire your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will have the ability to examine each program and make your ultimate selection. And with the appropriate training you can accomplish your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Helena Alabama.