How to Choose the Best Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program Near Meridianville Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Meridianville AL and start your journey that will lead to a satisfying profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's important that you find the right school so that you will get the extensive training that you need to achieve success. As you most likely know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of educational choices are becoming available, both on campus and online. But with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Many potential students begin by searching for schools within traveling range of their Meridianville residences. Of those choices, they look for the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are prime considerations when choosing a school, they are not the only factors you need to consider. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the program need to be taken into account too. Later in this post we will review a list of concerns that you ought to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare each one prior to making your decision. But first, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the educational alternatives that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals basically both hold comparable job roles and responsibilities, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and are part of a separate job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Meridianville AL attorneys with a diverse array of job duties, including legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job duties are relevant to the type of legal firm where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice may assist with trial logistics or transferring documents to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is usually billed by the hour as are the lawyer's. And the same as lawyers, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and follow a strict standard of professional ethics. As mentioned, their duties can be varied in support of the practices where they are employed, but a few of their day-to-day activities may involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on pertinent laws and cases
- Composing correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping lawyers get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal files, documents and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be complex and very challenging. 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 administrative or clerical functions more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the main support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys are able to handle a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could alone.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the educational requirements and opportunities will be the same. The fastest means to start your career as a legal assistant in Meridianville AL is by earning a certificate, which may require as little as six months to accomplish. Many entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which offer a more expansive education and can be obtained at many community colleges in 2 years. For an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are an option as well. Once you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you might want to continue and receive a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help boost your employment opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. 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 essential initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Programs
Online legal assistant or paralegal programs have become more popular and can be a good alternative for individuals looking for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online schools can be particularly appealing to Meridianville AL students who continue to work while obtaining a degree. As an additional benefit, online schools can sometimes be less costly than more traditional options. Even supplementary expenses for such items as study materials or commuting can be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will address in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the education you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the school and program you are looking into are accredited by a respected agency, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less structured and conventional environment, then obtaining your certificate or degree online may be the right option for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Certificate or Degree Programs
Once you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what academic choices are offered, you can begin the process of evaluating schools. But since there are so many programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Meridianville AL area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you need to find out what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is particularly true if you add all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like most potential students, you will begin by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other critical factors to research as well, such as accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at some 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 choice.
Is the Paralegal School and Program Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you choose need to be accredited by a reputable 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 training. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will receive will be of the highest quality, but it will demonstrate to future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Many Meridianville AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited program. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are often accessible only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Find out what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal programs you are contemplating. This is of specific importance if you are new to the profession with no previous experience, since employers will have to rely on the quality of your education exclusively. Checking that the program you choose is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating reports, such as those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact 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 though a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the Program Provide Internships? Internship programs offer students an opportunity to experience working in a law practice or other legal enterprise while still in school. They can also provide a pathway for students to start establishing contacts within the Meridianville AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal schools you are reviewing offer internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help offered? You will undoubtedly want 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 programs you are reviewing have job placement programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have sizable networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their graduates are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the School's Location? Because laws differ from state to state, it might be beneficial to select a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you wish to work after graduation. In addition, it will be important to develop relationships in the neighboring legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is all the more justification to obtain your education in the community where you desire to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many require a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may need to first consider those colleges that are within the Meridianville AL area.
How Much is the Entire Cost? Paralegal programs can differ in price depending on the credential received and the length of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only expense for your education. Don't forget to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid might be available to help reduce some of the cost, so don't forget to talk to the school's financial aid department to find out what is offered in Meridianville AL. Of course if you opt to attend an online program, some of these additional costs, such as for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Match your Schedule? A number of paralegal students continue working while getting their training and must have flexibility to schedule classes. If you can solely attend weekend or evening classes near Meridianville AL, verify classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make sure that the school you enroll in offers that option. Finally, find out what the protocol is for making-up classes missed as a result of work, illness or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Best Meridianville Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Selecting the right paralegal training school is a vital first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have addressed in this post, you have the choice of attending classes at school or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Meridianville residence. Paralegal academic programs are offered in numerous formats and lengths. Several kinds of private and public institutions make available paralegal training, including junior and community colleges, four year colleges and universities, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a pronounced impact on your prospects for success in your new profession. Since there is a broad range in the quality of schools, choose wisely. Afford yourself the greatest possible chance to succeed in this rewarding profession. But no matter how you decide to receive your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have presented you will be able to examine each program and make your ultimate decision. And with the ideal education you can achieve your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Meridianville Alabama.