How to Choose the Best Paralegal Studies 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 career in legal services. However, it's crucial that you find the right school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you need to be successful. As you probably know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of academic choices are becoming available, both at school and online. But with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one start? A number of prospective students begin by looking for schools within driving distance of their Helena residences. Of those options, they search for the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are prime considerations when picking a college, they are not the only qualifiers you ought to take into consideration. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the school must be taken into consideration as well. Later in this article we will cover a list of questions that you ought to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare every one prior to making your choice. But before we do, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic choices that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants essentially both hold the same job positions and functions, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and belong to a separate job classification. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Helena AL lawyers with a wide variety of job functions, including legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job functions are based upon the type of practice where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm might assist with trial logistics or delivering files to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is normally billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And the same as attorneys, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and adhere to a strict standard of professional ethics. As noted, their duties can be diverse in support of the firms where they work, but some of their daily activities may involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching pertinent laws and cases
- Drafting correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping attorneys get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be involved and rather challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally permitted to do is offer legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not limited to administrative or clerical tasks more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the right hand support systems for attorneys. And since they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys have the ability to handle a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could alone.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we previously covered, 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 prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The fastest means to launch your career as a paralegal in Helena AL is by earning a certificate, which can require as little as six months to complete. Most entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more extensive education and may be obtained at numerous community colleges in 2 years. For an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are available as well. When you have acquired either a certificate or degree, you may want to proceed and earn a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help improve your career opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. A few 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 certificate or degree from an accredited school (we will address 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.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Classes
Legal assistant and paralegal online programs have become more popular and may be an excellent alternative for students searching for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online programs can be particularly appealing to Helena AL students who continue to work while earning a degree. As an additional advantage, online schools can often be less expensive than more traditional options. Even secondary expenses for such things as study materials or commuting may be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will address in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the training you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the program and school you are considering are accredited by a highly regarded organization, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to attend classes in a less supervised and formal environment, then earning your degree or certificate online may be the right choice for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Certificate or Degree Programs
Now that you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what educational options are available, you can start the process of assessing schools. But since there are so many programs offered at community and junior colleges in the Helena AL area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you must learn what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is particularly true when you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. If you are like many prospective students, you will begin by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other significant issues to think about as well, for instance accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's go over a few of the questions you should be asking the programs you are researching so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your final decision.
Is the Paralegal School and Program Accredited? The paralegal program and school 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 targets distance or online learning. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will get will be of the highest quality, but it will demonstrate to potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. Numerous Helena AL law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited program. Finally, financial aid and student loans are often obtainable only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Learn what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal schools you are considering. This is of particular importance if you are new to the field with no previous work history, since employers will need to make a decision based on the quality of your training exclusively. Verifying that the program you select is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking 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 a few Helena AL law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask which schools they suggest. Bear in mind that even when a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the Program Offer Internships? Internship programs provide students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal establishment while attending school. They can also present an avenue for students to begin establishing contacts within the Helena AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal programs you are considering provide internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will probably want to secure employment quickly after graduating, but getting that initial job in a new profession can be challenging without assistance. Ask if the paralegal programs you are interviewing have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good indication that the schools have sizable networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their graduates are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the School Located? Since laws differ from one state to another, it may be advantageous to choose a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you plan to work after graduating. Also, it will be necessary to cultivate relationships in the area legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is even more reason to receive your education in the community where you desire to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many charge a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may need to initially investigate those schools that are within the Helena AL area.
How Much is the Complete Cost? Paralegal schools can vary in cost depending on the credential received and the length of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only expense for your education. Don't forget to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance might be obtainable to help reduce some of the cost, so make sure to talk to the school's financial aid department to see what is available in Helena AL. Of course if you choose to attend an online school, some of these added expenses, for instance for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? A number of paralegal students continue working while receiving their training and require flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend night or weekend classes near Helena AL, verify classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make sure that the school you choose offers that option. Finally, find out what the process is for making up missed classes due to work, illness or family emergencies.
Choose the Best Helena Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Selecting the right paralegal studies 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 option of attending classes on-campus or you can attend them online in the comfort and privacy of your Helena home. Paralegal academic programs are made available in various formats and lengths. Various types of public and private institutions provide paralegal education, including junior and community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a pronounced influence on your prospects for success in your new profession. Given that there is a broad range in the quality of programs, choose carefully. Afford yourself the greatest possible chance to be successful in this rewarding profession. But no matter how you decide to obtain your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have provided you will have the ability to assess each school and make your final decision. And with the appropriate training you can achieve your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Helena Alabama.