How to Select the Best Paralegal Studies School Near Madison Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Madison AL and begin your journey that will lead to a gratifying career in legal services. However, it's important that you locate the ideal school so that you will get the extensive training that you need to achieve success. As you most likely understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more academic alternatives are being offered, both on campus and online. However with so many options to choose from, where does one start? Some prospective students begin by searching for schools within commuting range of their Madison residences. Of those options, they try to find the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are prime considerations when choosing a college, they are not the only qualifiers you should take into consideration. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the program ought to be taken into account as well. Later in this post we will cover a list of questions that you should ask potential paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare each one prior to making your choice. But first, let's take a look at what a paralegal does and the instructional alternatives that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals essentially both hold the same job roles and functions, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and belong to a separate job classification. Both legal assistants and paralegals help Madison AL lawyers with a diverse array of job functions, including legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job functions are relevant to the type of legal firm where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice might help with the logistics of a trial or transferring documents to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is typically billed hourly as are the attorney's. And the same as attorneys, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and comply with a strict code of professional ethics. As noted, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they are employed, but some of their everyday tasks can include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on pertinent laws and cases
- Drafting correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting attorneys get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal documents, files and other records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be complicated and very demanding. However, what they are not legally permitted to do is give legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not confined to clerical or administrative tasks more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the right hand support systems for attorneys. And since they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers have the ability to take on a much larger number of cases or clients than they could on their own.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the academic prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The quickest way to launch your career as a paralegal in Madison AL is by earning a certificate, which may involve just 6 months to complete. Many entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which offer a more expansive education and can be obtained at many community colleges in two years. For an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are offered also. When you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you might choose to proceed and get a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help increase your career opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. Some of the highly regarded 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 cover the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two important first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Programs
Paralegal and legal assistant online schools have become more prevalent and may be a good alternative for individuals searching for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be especially attractive to Madison AL students who keep working while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an added advantage, online classes can sometimes be less expensive than more traditional options. Even supplementary expenditures for such things as commuting or study materials can be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will discuss in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the training you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the program and school you are thinking about are accredited by a reputable agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less supervised and formal setting, then earning your certificate or degree online could be the ideal option for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Degree or Certificate Programs
Now that you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what educational choices are offered, you can begin the undertaking of assessing schools. But since there are numerous programs accessible at community and junior colleges in the Madison AL area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you must find out what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is especially true if you add all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. If you are like most prospective students, you will start by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other important factors to consider as well, including the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's take a look at some of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are considering so that you can properly vet each one and make your ultimate choice.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you select should be accredited by a recognized accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it may also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online training. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will receive will be of the highest quality, but it will show future employers that you are a qualified professional also. Numerous Madison AL law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited school. Also, financial assistance and student loans are often offered only for accredited programs.
What's the School's Reputation? Investigate what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal schools you are looking at. This is of special importance if you are entering the field with no previous work history, since employers will have to make a decision based on the caliber of your education exclusively. Checking that the school you pick is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating reports, 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 several Madison AL law practices that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask what schools they suggest. Bear in mind that even if a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the Program Sponsor Internships? Internship programs provide students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal operation while remaining in school. They can also present a means for students to begin creating contacts within the Madison AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal programs you are considering offer internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will most likely wish to secure employment quickly after graduation, but finding that initial job in a new profession can be difficult without assistance. Find out if the paralegal schools you are assessing have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have large networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their graduates are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the Campus Located? Since laws vary from state to state, it may be beneficial to choose a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you plan to practice after graduating. Also, it will be valuable to cultivate relationships in the area legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is all the more reason to acquire your education in the area where you want to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many require a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might need to first look at those colleges that are within the Madison AL region.
What is the Complete Expense? Paralegal programs can vary in cost depending on the credential earned and the amount of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only cost for your training. Remember to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance might be obtainable to help minimize some of the cost, so don't forget to check with the school's financial aid department to find out what is offered in Madison AL. Naturally if you choose to attend an online program, a portion these added expenses, for instance for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Accommodate your Schedule? A number of paralegal students continue working while getting their training and must have flexibility in class scheduling. If you can just attend weekend or evening 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 provides that option. Finally, inquire what the protocol is for making up missed classes as a result of sickness, work or family obligations.
Choose the Right Madison Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Enrolling in the right paralegal studies certificate program is a crucial first step toward your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have addressed in this post, you have the option of attending classes at school or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Madison residence. Paralegal academic programs are made available in numerous lengths and formats. Several kinds of public and private institutions offer paralegal training, including junior and community 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. Since there is a broad range in the quality of schools, choose carefully. Give yourself the greatest possible chance to be successful in this fascinating profession. But no matter how you elect to obtain your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will be able to examine each school and make your final selection. And with the ideal education you can accomplish your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Madison Alabama.