How to Enroll in the Best Paralegal Course Near Madison Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Madison AL and start your journey that will result in a gratifying profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's crucial that you find the ideal school so that you will receive the extensive training that you need to be successful. As you probably know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more educational choices are being offered, both on campus and online. But with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one start? A number of prospective students start by searching for schools within driving distance of their Madison residences. Of those choices, they try to find the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are very important considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only qualifiers you ought to consider. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the school need to be taken into consideration too. Later on in this post we will review a list of questions that you need to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare every one before making your choice. But before we do, let's take a look at what a paralegal does and the educational choices that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants for the most part both hold the same job roles and responsibilities, only with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and belong to a separate job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Madison AL lawyers with a wide variety of job duties, such as legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job duties are relevant to the type of practice where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm could help with trial logistics or transporting files to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is normally billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And the same as lawyers, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and comply with a strict standard of professional ethics. As stated, their duties can be diverse in support of the practices where they work, but a few of their regular activities can include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching pertinent cases and laws
- Composing correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping attorneys prepare for trial and keep 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 complex and rather demanding. However, what they are not legally authorized to do is give legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not limited to clerical or administrative tasks more apropos 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 preparation and ground work, lawyers have the ability to handle a much larger number of clients or cases than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are basically 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 means to start your career as a paralegal in Madison AL is by obtaining a certificate, which may involve just 6 months to complete. Many entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which provide a more extensive education and may be obtained at many community colleges in 2 years. For an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are offered also. Once you have earned either a certificate or degree, you may choose to proceed and receive a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help increase your job opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. Some of the highly respected certifying organizations 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 school (we will discuss 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.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Certificates and Degrees
Paralegal and legal assistant online schools have become more available and may be a good alternative for those searching for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be particularly appealing to Madison AL students who continue to work while obtaining a degree. As an additional advantage, online schools can sometimes be less costly than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenses for such things as commuting or study materials can be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all online schools are accredited, which we will address in more detail later. But at a minimum 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 considering are accredited by a highly regarded agency, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less structured and conventional environment, then earning your certificate or degree online may be the right choice for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Degree or Certificate Programs
Once you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what academic choices are available, you can begin the undertaking of evaluating schools. But considering that there are so many programs available at junior and community colleges in the Madison AL area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you need to know what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is particularly 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 looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other significant aspects to think about as well, for instance accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at several of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are researching 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 pick should be accredited by a highly regarded accrediting agency 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 targets online or distance education. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will obtain will be of the highest quality, but it will demonstrate to future employers that you are a qualified professional also. A number of Madison AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited program. Also, financial assistance and student loans are typically available only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the School? Learn what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant programs you are looking at. This is of special importance if you are new to the field with no prior experience, since employers will have to make a decision based on the quality of your training exclusively. Verifying that the school you choose is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating services, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also call some Madison AL law offices that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask which schools they suggest. Keep in mind that even though a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the School Sponsor Internships? Internship programs provide students an opportunity to experience working in a law firm or other legal enterprise while attending school. They can also provide a means for students to start establishing contacts within the Madison AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal programs you are evaluating offer internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will undoubtedly wish to secure employment quickly after graduation, but finding that first job in a new field can be difficult without help. Find out if the paralegal schools you are interviewing have job placement programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good indication that the schools have large networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their graduates are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the School's Location? Because laws vary from state to state, it might be advantageous to enroll in a paralegal school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you plan 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 even more reason to acquire your education in the area where you choose to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many require a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might need to initially consider those colleges that are within the Madison AL area.
What is the Total Expense? Paralegal programs can vary in cost depending on the credential earned and the amount of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only expense for your education. Remember to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial assistance may be available to help reduce part of the expense, so be sure to contact the school's financial aid office to find out what is available in Madison AL. Naturally if you choose to attend an online program, some of these supplementary costs, such as for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? A number of paralegal students keep working while receiving their training and must have flexibility in class scheduling. If you can only attend night or weekend classes near Madison AL, make sure classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make sure that the school you choose makes available that option. Last, find out what the protocol is for making-up missed classes due to work, illness or family emergencies.
Choose the Right Madison Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Selecting the right legal assistant training program is a vital first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have addressed in this post, you have the choice of attending classes at school or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Madison home. Paralegal education programs are provided in various formats and lengths. Several kinds of private and public institutions make available paralegal education, including junior and community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a profound impact on your prospects for success in your new career. Considering that there is a broad range in the quality of programs, choose carefully. Give yourself the greatest possible opportunity to be successful in this fascinating profession. But regardless of how you decide to receive your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to review each program and make your final selection. And with the ideal education you can achieve your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Madison Alabama.