How to Find the Right Paralegal Studies Certificate Program Near Huntsville Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Huntsville AL and start your journey that will lead to a satisfying profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's important that you find the ideal school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you require to succeed. As you most likely know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more educational choices are becoming available, both at school and online. But with so many options to choose from, where does one start? Many potential students start by trying to find schools within driving range of their Huntsville homes. Of those alternatives, they look for the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are very important considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only factors you should take into consideration. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the school ought to be taken into account as well. Later on in this post we will review a list of concerns that you ought to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare each one before making your selection. But first, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic alternatives that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants for the most part both fill comparable job roles and functions, only with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and belong to a different job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Huntsville AL attorneys with a diverse array of job functions, including maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job duties are relevant to the type of practice where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice could assist with the logistics of a trial or transporting documents to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is usually billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And just like lawyers, they must carry out their duties with a high degree of professionalism and follow a strict standard of professional ethics. As stated, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they are employed, but a few of their everyday activities may involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on applicable cases and laws
- Composing correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping lawyers prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal documents, files and other records
With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be complex and very demanding. On the other hand, what they are not legally authorized to do is give legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not restricted to administrative or clerical tasks more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the main support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys are able to take on a much larger number of cases or clients than they could on their own.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the academic prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The fastest way to start your career as a paralegal in Huntsville AL is by earning a certificate, which may involve as little as six months to complete. Most entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which furnish 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 available as well. Once you have acquired either a degree or a certificate, you might want to proceed and receive a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help improve your job opportunities, but help establish you as a professional as well. A few 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 degree or certificate from an accredited program (we will address the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two essential initial steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Classes
Online legal assistant or paralegal programs have become more popular and can be a good alternative for individuals searching for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be particularly appealing to Huntsville AL students who keep working while earning a certificate or degree. As an additional advantage, online programs can in some cases be less costly than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenses for such items as study materials or commuting can be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will address in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the education you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the program and school you are considering are accredited by a highly regarded agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less supervised and conventional environment, then obtaining your certificate or degree online could be the ideal choice for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Certificate or Degree Programs
Now that you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what training choices are available, you can start the undertaking of evaluating schools. But since there are so many programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Huntsville AL area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you need to find out what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is especially true if you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. If you are like most potential 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 critical aspects to think about as well, for instance the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's go over a few of the questions you should be asking the programs you are considering so that you can effectively vet each one and make your ultimate decision.
Is the Paralegal School and Program Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you pick need to be accredited by a respected accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it might also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets online or distance training. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will obtain will be of the highest standard, but it will establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. A number of Huntsville AL law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited program. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are often offered only for accredited schools.
What's the School's Reputation? Find out what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal programs you are looking at. This is of specific importance if you are entering the profession with no prior experience, since employers will have to make a decision based on the quality of your training exclusively. Checking that the program you pick is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing 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 some Huntsville AL law practices that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask which schools they suggest. Bear in mind that even if a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the Program Provide Internships? Internship programs provide students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal operation while attending school. They can also present a pathway for students to begin developing contacts within the Huntsville AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal schools you are evaluating offer internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will most likely wish to hit the ground running after graduation, but finding that first job in a new profession can be challenging without assistance. Ask if the paralegal programs you are interviewing have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have sizable networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their students are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the School's Location? Considering that laws differ among states, it may be beneficial to choose a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you plan to work after graduating. Also, it will be valuable to establish relationships in the neighboring legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is even more justification to acquire your education in the community where you wish to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many charge an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may need to first consider those schools that are within the Huntsville AL area.
How Much is the Total Expense? Paralegal schools can vary in cost depending on the credential earned and the length of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only cost for your training. Remember to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid might be accessible to help offset some of the expense, so be sure to talk to the school's financial aid department to find out what is available in Huntsville AL. Needless to say that if you choose to attend an online program, a portion these added costs, for instance for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Fit your Schedule? Numerous legal students continue working while receiving their training and require flexibility in class scheduling. If you can solely attend night or weekend classes near Huntsville AL, verify classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make sure that the school you choose offers that option. Last, find out what the procedure is for making-up classes missed as a result of work, illness or family obligations.
Enroll in the Right Huntsville Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Enrolling in the right paralegal training school is a vital first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have addressed in this article, you have the option of attending classes at school or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Huntsville residence. Paralegal academic programs are made available in various formats and lengths. Several types of public and private institutions provide paralegal training, including community and junior colleges, four year universities and colleges, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a profound influence on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Since there is a wide range in the quality of programs, choose carefully. Give yourself the best possible opportunity to succeed in this fascinating profession. But no matter how you decide to acquire your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to assess each school and make your ultimate decision. And with the right education you can achieve your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Huntsville Alabama.