How to Choose the Right Paralegal Training Program Near Meridianville Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Meridianville AL and begin your journey that will lead to a rewarding profession in legal services. However, it's crucial that you locate the right school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you need to succeed. As you most likely know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more educational options are being offered, both on campus and online. However with numerous options to choose from, where does one begin? A number of prospective students start by searching for schools within traveling range of their Meridianville homes. Of those alternatives, they look for the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are prime considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only qualifiers you must take into consideration. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the school should be taken into consideration also. Later in this article we will cover a list of questions that you should ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare each one prior to making your choice. But before we do, let's take a look at what a paralegal does and the instructional choices that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals for the most part both fill comparable job roles and functions, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and are part of a separate job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals help Meridianville AL attorneys with a wide range of job duties, such as legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job functions are relevant to the type of practice where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm could assist with trial logistics or delivering files to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is typically billed hourly as are the attorney's. And just like lawyers, they must conduct themselves with a high degree of professionalism and abide by a strict standard of professional ethics. As mentioned, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they are employed, but a few of their everyday tasks can include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on applicable laws and cases
- Composing correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting lawyers get ready for trial and stay 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 complicated and quite challenging. However, 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 restricted to clerical or administrative functions more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the main support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys are able 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 requirements and opportunities will be the same. The fastest means to start your career as a legal assistant in Meridianville AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can take as little as 6 months to accomplish. A large number of entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which provide a more expansive education and may be obtained at numerous community colleges in 2 years. For an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are an option as well. After you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you might choose to continue and get a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help improve your career opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. Some of the highly regarded certifying organizations 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 school (we will discuss the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 crucial initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Schools
Online legal assistant or paralegal programs have become more popular and can be an excellent option for individuals searching for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be particularly appealing to Meridianville AL students who continue to work while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an additional advantage, online programs can often be less costly than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenses for such things as commuting or study materials can be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all online programs are accredited, which we will address in greater 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 looking into are accredited by a highly regarded agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less structured and conventional environment, then obtaining your certificate or degree online could be the right option for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Studies Programs
Since you now you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what educational options are offered, you can start the process of evaluating schools. But considering that there are numerous programs available at junior and community colleges in the Meridianville 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 particularly true when you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like many potential students, you will begin by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other important aspects to think about as well, for instance the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's go over some of the questions you should be asking the programs you are investigating so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your ultimate choice.
Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you pick need to 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 education. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will receive will be of the highest standard, but it will establish with future employers that you are a qualified professional also. Many Meridianville AL law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited school. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are often obtainable only for accredited programs.
What's the Program's Reputation? Find out what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal programs you are considering. This is of particular importance if you are entering the field with no previous work history, since employers will have to make a decision based on the quality of your education exclusively. Confirming that the school you choose is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating reports, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call several Meridianville AL law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask what schools they recommend. Remember that even when a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the School Provide Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law practice or other legal establishment while attending school. They can also present a pathway for students to begin creating contacts within the Meridianville AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal programs you are assessing offer internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will undoubtedly want to secure employment quickly after graduating, but getting that initial job in a new field can be challenging without assistance. Find out if the paralegal programs you are reviewing have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good indication that the schools have sizable networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their graduates are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the School Located? Considering that laws vary from one state to another, it might be a good idea to choose a paralegal school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you want to work after graduation. Also, it will be valuable to create relationships in the local legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is all the more justification to obtain your education in the area where you choose to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most require a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may want to initially investigate those schools that are within the Meridianville AL area.
How Much is the Total Expense? Paralegal programs can vary in cost based on the credential obtained and the length of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only expense for your training. Remember to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid might be obtainable to help reduce some of the cost, so don't forget to talk to the school's financial aid office to see what is offered in Meridianville AL. Of course if you decide to attend an online school, a portion these additional costs, such as for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Fit your Schedule? Many legal students keep working while getting their training and need flexibility to schedule classes. If you can solely attend night or weekend classes near Meridianville AL, verify classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, confirm that the program you select offers that option. Last, inquire what the process is for making-up missed classes because of sickness, work or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Right Meridianville Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Selecting the ideal legal assistant training school is a crucial first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have covered in this post, you have the option of attending classes on campus or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Meridianville home. Paralegal education programs are made available in numerous lengths and formats. Various kinds of public and private institutions make available paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four year colleges and universities, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a pronounced impact on your opportunities for success in your new career. Given that there is a broad range in the quality of programs, pick carefully. Afford yourself the greatest possible chance to be successful in this rewarding profession. But regardless of how you elect to obtain your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to evaluate each school and make your final decision. And with the appropriate training you can realize your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Meridianville Alabama.