How to Find the Best Paralegal Certificate Program Near Huntsville Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Huntsville AL and begin your journey that will lead to a rewarding profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's important that you locate the best school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you require to be successful. As you most likely know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more academic alternatives are becoming available, both on campus and online. However with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one start? Many prospective students begin by trying to find schools within driving distance of their Huntsville homes. Of those alternatives, they look for the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are necessary considerations when choosing a school, they are not the only factors you must take into consideration. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the school should be considered too. Later on in this post we will cover a list of questions that you need to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare each one before making your selection. But first, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the instructional alternatives that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals essentially both fill the same job positions and responsibilities, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and are part of a separate job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Huntsville AL lawyers with a wide variety of job duties, such as maintaining client files, legal research, 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 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 the same as attorneys, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and adhere to a strict code of professional ethics. As mentioned, their duties can be diverse in support of the firms where they are employed, but a few of their daily tasks might involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching related laws and cases
- Drafting correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- 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 job of a paralegal can be involved and very challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally authorized to do is provide legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not restricted to clerical or administrative duties more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers are able to manage a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could alone.
Paralegal Training 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 academic requirements and job prospects will be the same. The fastest means to begin your career as a paralegal in Huntsville AL is by earning a certificate, which may involve just 6 months to accomplish. Many entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which provide a more comprehensive education and may be obtained at numerous community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are an option also. When you have earned either a certificate or degree, you may choose to continue and obtain a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help maximize your employment opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. Some 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 degree or certificate from an accredited program (we will address the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two important initial steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Programs
Paralegal and legal assistant online schools have become more available and can be an excellent alternative for individuals searching for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be particularly attractive to Huntsville AL students who continue to work while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an additional advantage, online programs can in some cases be less expensive than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenditures for such items as study materials or commuting can be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all online schools are accredited, which we will address in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the education you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the program and school you are considering are accredited by a respected organization, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to attend classes in a less supervised and formal environment, then obtaining your certificate or degree online may be the ideal option for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Programs
Once you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what educational options are offered, you can start the process of evaluating schools. But since there are so many programs available at junior and community colleges in the Huntsville AL area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you need to know what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is particularly true when you add all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like the majority of prospective students, you will begin by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other crucial aspects to consider as well, for instance the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's take a look at some of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are researching so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your final decision.
Is the Paralegal Training Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you choose should be accredited by a recognized organization 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 training. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will get will be of the highest standard, but it will establish with future employers that you are a qualified professional also. Numerous Huntsville AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited school. Finally, financial aid and student loans are usually available only for accredited programs.
What's the School's Reputation? Investigate what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant programs you are considering. This is of particular importance if you are entering the profession with no previous work history, since employers will have to make a decision based on the quality of your training exclusively. Confirming that the school you pick is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating reports, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also call some Huntsville AL law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask which schools they suggest. Keep in mind that even when a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the Program Provide Internships? Internship programs provide students an opportunity to experience working in a law office or other legal enterprise while remaining in school. They can also offer a pathway for students to begin establishing contacts within the Huntsville AL legal field. Ask if the paralegal programs you are reviewing provide internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help available? You will probably want to hit the ground running after graduating, but getting that initial job in a new field can be challenging without assistance. Ask if the paralegal programs you are interviewing have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have large networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their students are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the School's Location? Considering that laws vary from state to state, it might be beneficial to choose a paralegal school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you plan to practice after graduating. In addition, it will be valuable to develop relationships in the neighboring legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is even more justification to acquire your education in the area where you want to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most charge an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might need to initially look at those colleges that are within the Huntsville AL region.
How Much is the Total Expense? Paralegal schools can vary in cost based on the credential received and the length of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your education. Don't forget to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance might be obtainable to help offset some of the expense, so be sure to consult with the school's financial aid department to find out what is available in Huntsville AL. Of course if you choose to attend an online school, a portion these supplementary costs, for instance for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? Numerous legal students continue working while receiving their training and require flexibility in class scheduling. If you can just attend night or weekend classes near Huntsville AL, verify classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make certain that the program you enroll in offers that option. Last, ask what the protocol is for making-up classes missed because of work, illness or family obligations.
Enroll in the Right Huntsville Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Enrolling in the right paralegal studies certificate school is a crucial first step toward your success in the rewarding 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 privacy and comfort of your Huntsville home. Paralegal education programs are provided in numerous formats and lengths. Different types of private and public institutions provide paralegal education, including junior and community colleges, four year colleges and universities, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a pronounced influence on your opportunities for success in your new career. Since there is a broad range in the quality of programs, choose wisely. Give yourself the greatest possible chance to succeed in this exciting profession. But irrespective of how you decide to obtain your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will have the ability to review 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.