How to Choose the Right Paralegal School Near Madison Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Madison AL and start your journey that will result in a fulfilling career in legal services. However, it's important that you locate the best school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you need to succeed. As you probably 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 numerous options to choose from, where does one begin? Some potential students begin by looking for schools within traveling distance of their Madison residences. Of those alternatives, they look for the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are prime considerations when picking a school, they are not the only factors you need to consider. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the program ought to be taken into account also. Later in this article we will cover a list of questions that you must ask potential paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare every one prior to making your decision. But before we do, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic choices that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants basically both fill comparable job positions and responsibilities, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and belong to a separate job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals help Madison AL attorneys with a wide variety of job duties, such as legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job functions are based upon the type of legal firm where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice might help with trial logistics or transporting files to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is usually billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And just like lawyers, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and follow a strict code of professional ethics. As mentioned, their responsibilities can be varied in support of the firms where they work, but some of their everyday activities might include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on applicable laws and cases
- Drafting correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping lawyers prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal documents, files and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be complex and rather challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally permitted to do is give legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not restricted to administrative or clerical functions more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the main support systems for attorneys. And since they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers have the ability to manage a much larger number of cases or clients than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the educational prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The fastest way to start your career as a legal assistant in Madison AL is by earning a certificate, which may involve just six months to complete. Most entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which offer a more extensive education and may be acquired at many community colleges in two years. For an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are available also. Once you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you might want to continue and get a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help maximize your career opportunities, but help establish 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 certificate or degree from an accredited program (we will cover the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 essential first steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Training
Legal assistant and paralegal online programs have become more available and may be a good option for those searching for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be particularly appealing to Madison AL students who continue to work while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an additional advantage, online schools can sometimes be less expensive than more traditional options. Even supplementary expenses for such things as study materials or commuting can be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will address in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee 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 reputable agency, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less supervised and formal setting, then obtaining your certificate or degree online might be the ideal choice for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Programs
Now that you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what academic options are available, you can begin the undertaking of assessing schools. But considering that there are numerous programs available at community and junior colleges in the Madison AL area, in addition to trade and vocational 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 many potential students, you will start by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other crucial factors to consider as well, 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 programs you are considering so that you can effectively vet each one and make your ultimate selection.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you enroll in should be accredited by a recognized accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it may 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 show future employers that you are a qualified professional also. Many Madison AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited school. Finally, financial aid and student loans are usually accessible only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the School? Find out what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal programs you are considering. This is of specific importance if you are entering the field with no prior work history, since employers will have to rely on the caliber of your training exclusively. Verifying that the school you choose is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating reports, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also call a few Madison AL law firms that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask which schools they suggest. Remember that even when a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the Program Provide Internships? Internship programs provide students a chance to experience working in a law firm or other legal enterprise while still in school. They can also present a pathway for students to begin establishing contacts within the Madison AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal programs you are assessing provide internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will probably want to secure employment quickly after graduation, but getting that initial job in a new field can be difficult without help. Ask if the paralegal programs you are interviewing have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good indication that the schools have large networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their graduates are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the Campus Located? Because laws vary from state to state, it may be a good idea to select a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you wish to work after graduating. In addition, it will be valuable to create relationships in the local legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is all the more reason to receive your education in the community where you desire to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most charge a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may wish to initially investigate those colleges that are within the Madison AL area.
What is the Total Expense? Paralegal schools can differ in price based on the credential obtained and the amount of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only expense for your training. Don't forget to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid may be accessible to help offset some of the expense, so don't forget to talk to the school's financial aid department to see what is offered in Madison AL. Naturally if you opt to attend an online school, a portion these added expenses, such as for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? A number of paralegal students keep working while getting their training and must have flexibility to schedule classes. If you can just attend weekend or evening classes near Madison AL, make certain classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make sure that the program you enroll in offers that option. Last, ask what the protocol is for making-up classes missed because of sickness, work or family obligations.
Enroll in the Right Madison Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Enrolling in the right paralegal studies certificate school is a crucial first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have discussed in this article, you have the choice of attending classes on campus or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Madison home. Paralegal education programs are provided in many lengths and formats. Different types of private and public institutions provide paralegal training, including community colleges, four-year universities and colleges, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a pronounced impact on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Since there is a wide range in the quality of programs, pick carefully. Give yourself the best possible opportunity to be successful in this fascinating profession. But no matter how you choose to acquire your training 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 ultimate selection. And with the appropriate training you can realize your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Madison Alabama.