How to Pick the Right Paralegal Program Near Madison Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Madison AL and start your journey that will lead to a satisfying career in legal services. However, it's crucial that you find the ideal school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you need to achieve success. As you most likely understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more educational options are being offered, both on campus and online. But with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Many potential students begin by trying to find schools within driving range of their Madison homes. Of those options, they search for the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are necessary considerations when picking a college, they are not the only qualifiers you need to consider. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the program ought to be taken into account too. Later in this post we will cover a list of questions that you should ask potential paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare every one before making your decision. But before we do, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the academic options that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants basically 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 category. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Madison AL attorneys with a diverse array of job duties, including legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job duties are relevant to the type of legal firm where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm might help with the logistics of a trial or transferring documents to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is typically billed by the hour as are the lawyer's. And just like lawyers, they must carry out their duties with a high degree of professionalism and comply with a strict standard of professional ethics. As noted, their duties can be diverse in support of the firms where they are employed, but some of their daily tasks might include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on applicable cases and laws
- Preparing correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping attorneys prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be complicated and rather demanding. However, what they are not legally allowed to do is give legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not limited to administrative or clerical functions more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the main support systems for attorneys. And because 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 otherwise.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the educational prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The quickest way to start your career as a paralegal in Madison AL is by earning a certificate, which can involve just 6 months to accomplish. A large number of entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which offer a more expansive education and may be earned at many community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are offered also. After you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you might choose to continue and get a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help maximize your job opportunities, but help establish you as a professional as well. A few 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 degree or certificate from an accredited school (we will address the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two important initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Schools
Legal assistant and paralegal online schools have become more common and can be an excellent option for students searching for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online programs can be particularly appealing to Madison AL students who continue to work while obtaining a degree. As an additional advantage, online programs can sometimes be less costly than on campus options. Even ancillary expenses for such items as commuting or study materials can be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all online programs are accredited, which we will discuss in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the education you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the program and school you are considering are accredited by a highly regarded organization, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to attend classes in a less structured and conventional environment, then earning your certificate or degree online could be the ideal option for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Studies Programs
Now that you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what training options are available, you can start the undertaking of evaluating schools. But because there are numerous programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Madison AL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you must know what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is especially true if you add all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. 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 previously covered, there are other important aspects to consider as well, for instance accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at a few of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are investigating so that you can effectively vet each one and make your ultimate decision.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you select need to be accredited by a reputable accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it might also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets distance or online training. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will obtain will be of the highest quality, but it will establish with future employers that you are a qualified professional also. Numerous Madison AL law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited program. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are often available only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the School? Find out what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant schools you are contemplating. 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. Verifying that the program you choose is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating reports, such as 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 Madison AL law firms that you may have an interest in working for after graduating 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 outstanding reputation.
Does the Program Offer Internships? Internship programs give students an opportunity to experience working in a law practice or other legal operation while still in school. They can also present a pathway for students to start developing contacts within the Madison AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal programs you are assessing provide internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help provided? You will undoubtedly wish to secure employment quickly after graduation, but finding that first job in a new field can be challenging without support. Find out if the paralegal schools you are reviewing have job placement programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have sizable networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their students are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the Campus Located? Because laws differ among states, it may be advantageous to enroll in a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you plan to practice after graduation. In addition, it will be important to cultivate relationships in the neighboring legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is even more reason to obtain your education in the community where you wish to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most require a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might wish to first investigate those schools that are within the Madison AL region.
How Much is the Entire Cost? Paralegal schools can differ in price based on the credential earned and the length of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only cost for your education. Remember to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid might be available to help reduce some of the cost, so make sure to check with the school's financial aid office to find out what is offered in Madison AL. Naturally if you choose to attend an online program, a portion these supplementary costs, such as for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Match your Schedule? Many paralegal students keep working while getting their training and must have flexibility to schedule classes. If you can solely attend weekend or evening classes near Madison AL, make certain classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, confirm that the program you select provides that option. Last, find out what the procedure is for making up missed classes as a result of sickness, work or family obligations.
Enroll in the Best Madison Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Selecting the best paralegal studies certificate school is an essential first step toward your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have discussed in this post, you have the option of attending classes at school or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Madison home. Paralegal academic programs are offered in various formats and lengths. Different types of private and public institutions provide paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four year colleges and universities, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a profound influence on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Considering that there is a wide range in the quality of schools, pick wisely. Give yourself the best possible chance to succeed in this rewarding profession. But regardless of how you choose to acquire your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have provided you will have the ability to review each school and make your ultimate decision. And with the appropriate training you can realize your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Madison Alabama.