How to Select the Best Paralegal Studies Degree Program Near Huntsville Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Huntsville AL and start your journey that will result in a fulfilling career in legal services. Nevertheless, it's important 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 increasingly more educational options are being offered, both at school and online. However with so many options to choose from, where does one start? Some prospective students start by searching for schools within traveling distance of their Huntsville homes. Of those options, they look for the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are important considerations when choosing a school, they are not the only factors you should consider. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the school need to be taken into consideration also. Later in this article we will review a list of questions that you ought to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare every one before making your selection. But first, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the educational choices that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals essentially both fill comparable job roles and responsibilities, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and belong to a separate job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Huntsville AL attorneys with a wide variety of job functions, such as legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job functions are relevant to the type of legal firm where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice may assist with trial logistics or delivering files to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is normally billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And the same as attorneys, they must carry out their duties with a high level of professionalism and abide by a strict standard of professional ethics. As stated, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they work, but a few of their day-to-day tasks might involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on pertinent laws and cases
- Composing correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting lawyers prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal files, documents and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be complicated and quite demanding. However, what they are not legally allowed to do is offer legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not confined to clerical or administrative tasks more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the main support systems for lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers have the ability to manage a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could on their own.
Paralegal Certificates and Degrees and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the academic requirements and job prospects will be the same. The quickest way to start your career as a legal assistant in Huntsville AL is by obtaining a certificate, which may require just six months to accomplish. A large number of entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more extensive education and can be obtained at many community colleges in two years. For an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are an option also. Once you have acquired either a degree or a certificate, you may choose to continue and receive a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help maximize your job opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. A few of the highly regarded 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 degree or certificate from an accredited program (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 Training
Online legal assistant or paralegal programs have become more common and can be an excellent option for students looking for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be especially appealing to Huntsville AL students who continue to work while earning a degree. As an additional advantage, online schools can in some cases be less expensive than more traditional options. Even secondary expenditures for such things as study materials or commuting may be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will discuss in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the training you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the school and program you are reviewing are accredited by a highly regarded agency, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less structured and conventional setting, then obtaining your degree or certificate online might be the ideal option for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Certificate or Degree Programs
Once you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what academic options are available, you can start the process of evaluating schools. But considering that there are numerous programs accessible at junior and community colleges in the Huntsville AL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you must know what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is particularly true if you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like most potential students, you will begin by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other significant issues to research also, for instance the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's take a look at a few of the questions you should be asking the schools you are researching so that you can properly vet each one and make your ultimate decision.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you choose need to be accredited by a highly regarded accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it might also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance learning. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will get will be of the highest standard, but it will establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. Many Huntsville AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited school. Also, financial aid 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 specific importance if you are new to the field with no prior experience, since employers will need to make a decision based on the caliber of your training exclusively. Confirming that the program you select is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating services, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact a few Huntsville AL law practices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask which schools they recommend. Remember that even if a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the Program Offer Internships? Internship programs offer students an opportunity to experience working in a law practice or other legal enterprise while attending school. They can also present an avenue for students to start developing contacts within the Huntsville AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal programs you are reviewing provide internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help provided? You will undoubtedly want to secure employment quickly after graduation, but getting that initial job in a new profession can be challenging without support. Find out if the paralegal schools you are reviewing have job placement programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good sign that the schools have sizable networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their graduates are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the School's Location? Considering that laws differ among states, it might be a good idea to enroll in a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you wish to practice after graduation. Also, it will be important to develop relationships in the local legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is even more reason to obtain your education in the area where you desire to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many require a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may wish to initially investigate those colleges that are within the Huntsville AL region.
How Much is the Complete Expense? Paralegal programs can differ in price depending on the credential received and the length of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only cost for your training. Don't forget to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance might be accessible to help minimize part of the expense, so be sure to consult with the school's financial aid office to find out what is available in Huntsville AL. Needless to say that if you opt to attend an online school, some of these added expenses, such as for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Fit your Schedule? Numerous legal students continue working while obtaining their training and need flexibility in class scheduling. If you can just attend weekend or evening 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 program you choose provides that option. Last, inquire what the procedure is for making-up classes missed because of work, illness or family obligations.
Enroll in the Best Huntsville Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Selecting the right paralegal studies certificate program is a vital first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have discussed in this article, you have the option of attending classes on-campus or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Huntsville home. Paralegal training programs are provided in many formats and lengths. Different types of private and public institutions offer paralegal training, including community colleges, four-year universities and colleges, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a pronounced influence on your opportunities for success in your new career. Considering that there is a wide range in the quality of schools, choose carefully. Give yourself the greatest possible chance to be successful in this rewarding profession. But irrespective of how you decide to obtain your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have presented you will be able to evaluate each program and make your final decision. And with the right training you can accomplish your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Huntsville Alabama.