Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants for the most part both hold comparable job positions and responsibilities, only with different titles. On the other hand, 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 Alabama attorneys with a wide variety of job duties, such as maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job functions are based upon the type of legal firm where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm could help with trial logistics or transferring documents to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is normally billed by the hour as are the lawyer's. And just like lawyers, they must perform with a high level of professionalism and comply with a strict standard of professional ethics. As stated, their duties can be varied in support of the firms where they work, but a few of their routine activities may include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on relevant laws and cases
- Drafting correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping attorneys get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be complicated and very demanding. However, what they are not legally permitted to do is provide legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not confined to administrative or clerical functions more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the right hand support systems for attorneys. And since they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers are able to manage a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could alone.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the educational requirements and job prospects will be the same. The fastest way to start your career as a paralegal in Alabama is by earning a certificate, which can involve as little as six months to accomplish. Many entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which provide a more expansive education and can be earned at numerous community colleges in 2 years. For an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are offered also. After you have obtained either a certificate or degree, 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 can not only help boost your employment opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. Some of the highly respected 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 certificate or degree from an accredited school (we will discuss the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two crucial first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Certificates and Degrees
Legal assistant and paralegal online programs have become more available and may be a good option for individuals searching for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be particularly appealing to Alabama students who continue to work while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an additional benefit, online schools can sometimes be less expensive than on campus options. Even secondary expenses for such items as commuting or study materials may be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all online schools are accredited, which we will address in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the training you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the program and school you are considering 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 formal environment, then earning your certificate or degree online could be the right option for you.