How to Choose the Right Paralegal Studies Certificate Program Near Leeds Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Leeds AL and begin your journey that will lead to a gratifying career in legal services. Nevertheless, it's essential that you locate the ideal school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you need to achieve success. As you probably know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more educational alternatives are being offered, both at school and online. But with so many options to choose from, where does one start? Many prospective students begin by trying to find schools within commuting range of their Leeds homes. Of those choices, they look for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are necessary considerations when picking a college, they are not the only factors you ought to take into consideration. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the program should be taken into consideration also. Later in this post we will review a list of concerns that you should ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare each one before making your selection. But before we do, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the educational options that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals essentially both fill comparable job roles and functions, only with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and are part of a different job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Leeds AL attorneys with a wide variety of job duties, including 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 practice could assist with trial logistics or delivering files to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is normally billed hourly as are the attorney's. And the same as lawyers, they must conduct themselves with a high degree of professionalism and comply with a strict standard of professional ethics. As noted, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they work, but a few of their day-to-day tasks may involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching related cases and laws
- Preparing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting lawyers prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal documents, files and other records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be complex and very challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally allowed to do is offer legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not confined to clerical or administrative duties more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the main support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys are able to handle a much larger number of clients or cases than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Education 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 prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The quickest way to begin your career as a paralegal in Leeds AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can take as little as six months to accomplish. Many entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which provide a more extensive education and may be obtained at numerous community colleges in 2 years. For an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are offered as well. When you have acquired either a degree or a certificate, you might want to continue and earn a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help boost your career 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 benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 essential first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Training
Legal assistant and paralegal online schools have become more popular and can be a good alternative for those looking for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online programs can be especially attractive to Leeds AL students who continue to work while obtaining a degree. As an additional benefit, online schools can in some cases be less costly than more traditional options. Even supplementary 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 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 school and program you are thinking about are accredited by a respected agency, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less structured and conventional environment, then earning your certificate or degree online might be the ideal option for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Certificate or Degree Programs
Once you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what academic options are available, you can begin the process of evaluating schools. But because there are numerous programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Leeds AL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you need to learn what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is particularly true if you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like many prospective students, you will begin by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other important aspects to think about as well, including accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at several of the questions you should be asking the programs you are researching so that you can properly vet each one and make your ultimate decision.
Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you select should be accredited by a highly regarded organization 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 targets distance or online training. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will receive will be of the highest quality, but it will establish with future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. A number of Leeds AL law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited school. Also, financial assistance and student loans are often accessible only for accredited schools.
What's the School's Reputation? Investigate what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant schools you are considering. This is of special importance if you are entering the profession with no prior experience, since employers will need to make a decision based on the quality of your training exclusively. Verifying that the school you select is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating services, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact some Leeds AL law practices that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask what schools they suggest. Remember that even if a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law firm or other legal operation while still in school. They can also provide an avenue for students to start creating contacts within the Leeds AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal programs you are considering offer internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will undoubtedly 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 programs you are considering have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good indication that the schools have sizable networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their students are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the Campus Located? Because laws differ among states, it may be a good idea to select a paralegal school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you want to practice after graduating. Also, it will be valuable to establish relationships in the local legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is all the more justification to obtain your education in the community where you choose to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many require an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may want to initially investigate those colleges that are within the Leeds AL region.
What is the Entire Cost? Paralegal programs can vary in cost based on the credential earned and the amount of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your education. Don't forget to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid may be accessible to help minimize part of the expense, so make sure to contact the school's financial aid office to see what is available in Leeds AL. Of course if you decide to attend an online school, some of these additional expenses, such as for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Match your Schedule? A number of paralegal students keep working while getting their training and must have flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend weekend or evening classes near Leeds AL, make certain classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, confirm that the school you select makes available that option. Finally, ask what the process is for making-up missed classes as a result of sickness, work or family obligations.
Choose the Right Leeds Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Selecting the best paralegal degree school is an essential first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have covered in this article, you have the choice of attending classes at school or you can attend them online in the comfort and privacy of your Leeds home. Paralegal education programs are offered in numerous lengths and formats. Various types of private and public institutions provide paralegal training, including community colleges, four-year universities and colleges, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a pronounced influence on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Considering that there is a broad range in the quality of schools, pick wisely. Afford yourself the greatest possible chance to be successful in this fascinating profession. But no matter how you choose to acquire your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have provided you will have the ability to review each program and make your final selection. And with the appropriate training you can achieve your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Leeds Alabama.