How to Enroll in the Right Paralegal Training Program Near Huntsville Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Huntsville AL and start your journey that will lead to a gratifying career in legal services. However, it's important that you locate the best school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you need to be successful. As you most likely understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more educational choices are being offered, both at school and online. But with so many options to choose from, where does one begin? A number of prospective students start by searching for schools within commuting distance of their Huntsville residences. Of those alternatives, they look for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are very important considerations when picking a school, they are not the only factors you must take into consideration. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the school ought to be taken into consideration as well. Later in this post we will review a list of questions that you must ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare each one prior to making your selection. But first, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the educational choices that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants basically both hold comparable job positions and functions, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and are part of a different job classification. Both legal assistants and paralegals help Huntsville AL attorneys with a wide variety of job functions, including maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job duties are relevant to the type of legal firm where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm may assist with trial logistics or transporting files to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is usually billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And the same as attorneys, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and adhere to a strict code of professional ethics. As mentioned, their duties can be diverse in support of the practices where they are employed, but some of their routine activities may include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching relevant laws and cases
- Preparing correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping attorneys prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal files, documents and other records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be involved and rather challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally permitted to do is give legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not confined to clerical or administrative tasks more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the main support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys are able to manage a much larger number of cases or clients than they could on their own.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The quickest way to start your career as a paralegal in Huntsville AL is by obtaining a certificate, which may 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 acquired at numerous community colleges in 2 years. For an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are offered as well. Once you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you might choose to continue and receive a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help maximize your career opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. Some of the highly regarded certifying organizations 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 cover the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 important initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Training
Online legal assistant or paralegal schools have become more available and may be a good alternative for individuals looking for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online schools can be especially attractive to Huntsville AL students who continue to work while earning a degree. As an additional benefit, online programs can sometimes be less costly than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenditures for such things as study materials or commuting may be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all online schools are accredited, which we will discuss in more detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the training you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the school and program you are looking into are accredited by a highly regarded agency, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less supervised and formal environment, then obtaining your certificate or degree online might be the ideal option for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Schools
Once you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what educational options are available, you can start the undertaking of evaluating schools. But since there are numerous programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Huntsville AL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you must find out what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is especially true if you add all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like many prospective students, you will start by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other crucial factors to consider also, including accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at a few of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are investigating so that you can properly vet each one and make your final selection.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you choose should be accredited by a reputable accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it can also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online education. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will obtain will be of the highest standard, but it will demonstrate to potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Many Huntsville AL law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited program. Also, financial aid and student loans are often accessible only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Investigate what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant schools you are contemplating. This is of special importance if you are new to the field with no prior experience, since employers will have to make a decision based on the caliber of your training exclusively. Checking that the school you choose is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating services, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact some Huntsville AL law firms that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask what schools they recommend. Bear in mind that even though a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs give students an opportunity to experience working in a law practice or other legal operation while still in school. They can also provide a means for students to begin establishing contacts within the Huntsville AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal schools you are reviewing provide internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance provided? You will probably want to hit the ground running after graduating, but getting that initial job in a new field can be difficult without support. Ask if the paralegal schools you are interviewing have job placement programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid 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 highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the School's Location? Since laws vary from one state to another, it might be a good idea to choose a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you want to work after graduating. In addition, it will be valuable to create relationships in the neighboring legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is even more reason to obtain your education in the area where you wish to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most charge an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might want to initially consider those colleges that are within the Huntsville AL area.
What is the Complete Expense? Paralegal schools can vary in price depending on the credential obtained and the length of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your training. Don't forget to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid might be obtainable to help reduce some of the cost, so make sure to contact the school's financial aid department to see what is available in Huntsville AL. Naturally if you opt to attend an online school, some of these additional costs, such as for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Fit your Schedule? Many legal students keep working while receiving their training and must have flexibility in class scheduling. If you can just attend night or weekend classes near Huntsville AL, make sure classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, confirm that the school you enroll in provides that option. Last, ask what the procedure is for making-up missed classes because of sickness, work or family obligations.
Enroll in the Right Huntsville Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Selecting the right paralegal degree program 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 option of attending classes on-campus or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Huntsville residence. Paralegal education programs are offered in many formats and lengths. Various types of private and public institutions offer paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four-year colleges and universities, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a profound influence on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Considering that there is a broad range in the quality of schools, pick carefully. Afford yourself the greatest possible chance to be successful in this fascinating profession. But irrespective of how you decide to acquire your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have presented you will be able to evaluate each school and make your final selection. And with the ideal training you can realize your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Huntsville Alabama.