How to Choose the Right Paralegal Training Program Near Madison Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Madison AL and begin your journey that will result in a satisfying profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's crucial that you find the best school so that you will receive the extensive training that you require to succeed. As you probably know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of educational options are becoming available, both on campus and online. However with so many options to choose from, where does one start? Many prospective students start by trying to find schools within commuting distance of their Madison residences. Of those choices, they look for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are important considerations when choosing a college, they are not the only factors you should take into consideration. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the program need to be considered too. Later on in this article we will review a list of concerns that you need to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare every one before making your decision. But before we do, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the instructional choices that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants for the most part both fill the same job positions and functions, only with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and belong to a separate job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals help Madison AL attorneys with a diverse array of job duties, such as maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific 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 the logistics of a trial or transferring documents to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is typically billed hourly as are the attorney's. And the same as lawyers, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and abide by a strict code of professional ethics. As noted, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they are employed, but a few of their daily activities may include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on pertinent cases and laws
- Drafting correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping attorneys prepare for trial and keep 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. On the other hand, what they are not legally authorized to do is provide legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not confined to administrative or clerical duties more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants 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 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 requirements and opportunities will be the same. The quickest way to begin your career as a legal assistant in Madison AL is by earning a certificate, which may require just six months to accomplish. A large number of entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more comprehensive education and can be obtained at numerous community colleges in 2 years. For an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are available as well. Once you have earned either a certificate or degree, you may choose to continue and receive a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help maximize your job opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. 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 program (we will address the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two essential initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Courses
Legal assistant and paralegal online programs have become more available and can be an excellent option for those looking for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online schools can be particularly appealing to Madison AL students who keep working while earning a certificate or degree. As an additional benefit, online programs can sometimes be less costly than more traditional options. Even secondary expenses for such things as study materials or commuting may be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all online schools are accredited, which we will discuss in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the education you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the school and program you are reviewing are accredited by a highly regarded organization, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less structured and formal setting, then obtaining your certificate or degree online might be the right option for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Schools
Since you now you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what academic options are offered, you can begin the process of assessing schools. But considering that there are so many programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Madison AL area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you need to find out what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is especially true if you add all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like most prospective students, you will start by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other crucial issues to think about 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 investigating so that you can properly vet each one and make your final choice.
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 get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online learning. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will obtain will be of the highest standard, but it will show future employers that you are a qualified professional also. A number of Madison AL law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited school. Also, financial aid and student loans are typically available only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Research what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant programs you are looking at. This is of particular importance if you are new to the profession with no previous work history, since employers will need to make a decision based on the quality of your training exclusively. Confirming that the school you choose is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating services, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call several Madison AL law offices that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask what schools they recommend. Keep in mind that even if a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the Program Sponsor Internships? Internship programs offer students a chance to experience working in a law firm or other legal establishment while remaining in school. They can also present an avenue for students to start creating contacts within the Madison AL legal field. Ask if the paralegal programs you are considering provide internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help provided? You will probably wish to hit the ground running after graduating, but getting that initial job in a new field can be difficult without support. Find out if the paralegal programs you are reviewing have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good sign that the schools have substantial networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their students are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the School Located? Because laws vary among states, it may be advantageous to select a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you plan to practice after graduating. Also, it will be valuable to develop relationships in the area legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is even more reason to obtain your education in the community where you desire to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many charge a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may need to first look at those colleges that are within the Madison AL area.
How Much is the Total Cost? Paralegal programs can vary in price depending on the credential received and the amount of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your education. Remember to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance may be obtainable to help reduce part of the cost, so make sure to check with the school's financial aid department to find out what is offered in Madison AL. Needless to say that if you opt to attend an online school, some of these added expenses, for instance for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Fit your Schedule? Many legal students continue working while obtaining their training and require flexibility in class scheduling. If you can only attend night or weekend classes near Madison AL, verify classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, confirm that the program you enroll in makes available that option. Finally, inquire what the process is for making up missed classes as a result of sickness, work or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Best Madison Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Choosing the ideal paralegal training program is a vital first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have covered in this article, you have the option of attending classes at school or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Madison residence. Paralegal academic programs are provided in numerous lengths and formats. Several types of private and public institutions make available paralegal education, including junior and community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a profound influence on your opportunities for success in your new career. Since there is a broad range in the quality of schools, pick wisely. Afford yourself the greatest possible opportunity to succeed in this fascinating profession. But irrespective of how you decide to obtain your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will be able to review each school and make your ultimate selection. And with the right training you can realize your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Madison Alabama.