How to Choose the Best Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program Near Hoover Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Hoover AL and begin your journey that will result in a gratifying career in legal services. Nevertheless, it's essential that you locate the best school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you require to be successful. As you probably understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of educational options are becoming available, both at school and online. However with so many options to choose from, where does one start? Many potential students begin by looking for schools within commuting range of their Hoover residences. Of those alternatives, they try to find the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are necessary considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only qualifiers you must consider. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the school ought to be taken into consideration as well. Later on in this article we will review a list of questions that you need to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare every one prior to making your decision. But first, let's take a look at what a paralegal does and the academic alternatives that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants essentially both fill the same job roles and functions, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and are part of a different job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Hoover AL lawyers with a wide variety of job duties, including legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job duties are based upon the type of legal firm where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm could assist with trial logistics or delivering documents to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is normally billed hourly as are the attorney's. And just like lawyers, they must perform with a high level of professionalism and abide by a strict code of professional ethics. As mentioned, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they work, but some of their daily activities may include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on pertinent cases and laws
- Drafting correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping attorneys prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be complex and quite challenging. However, what they are not legally allowed 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 functions more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys are able to take on a much larger number of clients or cases than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Certificates and Degrees and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the academic prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The quickest means to begin your career as a paralegal in Hoover AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can take as little as six months to complete. A large number of entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which offer a more extensive education and can be obtained at numerous community colleges in two years. For an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are available also. Once you have earned either a certificate or degree, you may want to continue and get a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help improve your career opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. Some 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 certificate or degree from an accredited school (we will address the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two essential initial steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Courses
Legal assistant and paralegal online schools have become more popular and may be an excellent alternative for students looking for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online programs can be especially appealing to Hoover AL students who keep working while earning a certificate or degree. As an additional advantage, online programs can often be less costly than on campus options. Even supplementary 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 cover in more detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the education you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the school and program you are looking into are accredited by a reputable organization, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less structured and formal setting, then obtaining your certificate or degree online could be the right option for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Schools
Now that you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what educational choices are offered, you can start the undertaking of assessing schools. But since there are so many programs accessible at community and junior colleges in the Hoover AL area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you must know what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is particularly true if 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 driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other critical aspects to research also, including the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's go over some of the questions you should be asking the schools you are researching so that you can properly vet each one and make your final choice.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you enroll in need to be accredited by a recognized accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it can also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online training. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will receive will be of the highest standard, but it will establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. Many Hoover AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited program. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are typically offered only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the School? Research what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant schools you are contemplating. This is of particular importance if you are entering the field with no prior experience, since employers will have to rely on the caliber of your training exclusively. Checking that the program you select is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating services, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact several Hoover AL law practices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask which schools they recommend. Remember that even when a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the Program Provide Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal establishment while attending school. They can also offer a means for students to start creating contacts within the Hoover AL legal field. Ask if the paralegal programs you are assessing provide internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help available? You will most likely want to secure employment quickly after graduation, but finding that initial job in a new field can be difficult without help. Find out if the paralegal programs you are reviewing have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good indication 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 Located? Since laws differ from state to state, it may be a good idea to select a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you wish to practice after graduating. Also, it will be important to develop relationships in the local legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is all the more justification to acquire your education in the area where you choose to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many require an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may wish to initially investigate those colleges that are within the Hoover AL area.
How Much is the Complete Expense? Paralegal programs can vary in cost depending on the credential received and the length of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only cost for your education. 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 reduce part of the cost, so make sure to check with the school's financial aid department to find out what is offered in Hoover AL. Needless to say that if you choose to attend an online school, a portion these added costs, for instance for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Accommodate your Schedule? Many legal students continue working while getting their training and need flexibility to schedule classes. If you can just attend weekend or evening classes near Hoover AL, verify classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make sure that the program you select provides that option. Finally, ask what the protocol is for making up missed classes because of work, illness or family obligations.
Enroll in the Right Hoover Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Enrolling in the best paralegal certificate program is an essential first step toward your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have discussed in this post, you have the option of attending classes at school or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Hoover residence. Paralegal education programs are offered in various formats and lengths. Various kinds of private and public institutions make available paralegal training, including community and junior colleges, four-year universities and colleges, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a pronounced impact on your opportunities for success in your new career. Given that there is a broad range in the quality of programs, choose carefully. Afford yourself the best possible opportunity to be successful in this exciting profession. But irrespective of how you choose to acquire your training 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 ultimate selection. And with the ideal training you can achieve your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Hoover Alabama.