How to Choose the Right Paralegal Studies Certificate 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 satisfying profession in legal services. However, it's crucial that you find the best school so that you will receive the extensive training that you require to achieve success. As you most likely understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of academic choices are being offered, both at school and online. But with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Some potential students start by looking for schools within traveling distance of their Meridianville residences. Of those alternatives, they look for the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are important considerations when choosing a college, they are not the only qualifiers you should take into consideration. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the school should be taken into consideration as well. Later on in this article we will review a list of questions that you must ask potential paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare every one prior to making your choice. But before we do, let's take a look at what a paralegal does and the academic options that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals basically both fill the same job positions 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 paralegals and legal assistants assist Meridianville AL lawyers with a diverse array of job functions, including maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job functions are based upon the type of practice where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice might help with trial logistics or transferring documents to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is normally billed by the hour as are the lawyer's. And the same as lawyers, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and comply with a strict code of professional ethics. As stated, their responsibilities can be varied in support of the firms where they are employed, but a few of their day-to-day tasks may include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching related cases and laws
- Drafting correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping attorneys prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal files, documents and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be involved and very challenging. However, what they are not legally allowed to do is give legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not limited to clerical or administrative duties more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the right hand support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers have the ability to take on a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could alone.
Paralegal Training 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 job prospects will be the same. The quickest way to start your career as a legal assistant in Meridianville AL is by earning a certificate, which may take just 6 months to complete. Most entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which provide a more comprehensive education and may be obtained at many community colleges in two years. For an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are available as well. After you have earned either a degree or a certificate, you may want to continue and obtain a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help improve your job opportunities, but help establish 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 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 first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Certificates and Degrees
Legal assistant and paralegal online schools have become more common and can be an excellent option for individuals searching for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online programs can be particularly attractive to Meridianville AL students who keep working while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an additional advantage, online schools can often be less costly than on campus options. Even secondary expenditures for such things as commuting or study materials can be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all online schools are accredited, which we will address in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the education you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the program and school you are looking into are accredited by a respected agency, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less structured and formal setting, then obtaining your degree or certificate online may be the ideal option for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Schools
Since you now you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what educational options are offered, you can start the undertaking of assessing schools. But since there are numerous programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Meridianville AL area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you need to know 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 as well. If you are like most prospective students, you will start by searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other significant issues to research as well, including accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's go over several of the questions you should be asking the programs you are considering so that you can properly vet each one and make your final decision.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you choose need to be accredited by a respected 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 online or distance training. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will get will be of the highest standard, but it will show future employers that you are a qualified professional also. Many Meridianville AL law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited school. Also, financial assistance and student loans are typically offered only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Learn what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal schools you are looking at. This is of special importance if you are entering the profession with no previous experience, since employers will need to rely on the caliber of your education exclusively. Confirming 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 verify school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact several Meridianville AL law practices that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask which schools they recommend. Keep in mind that even if a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an excellent reputation.
Does the Program Offer Internships? Internship programs offer students an opportunity to experience working in a law office or other legal enterprise while attending school. They can also present a pathway for students to begin creating contacts within the Meridianville AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal schools you are reviewing offer internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help available? You will most likely wish to hit the ground running after graduating, but getting that initial job in a new profession can be challenging without assistance. Find out if the paralegal schools you are interviewing have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have substantial networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their students are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the Campus Located? Because laws differ from state to state, it might be beneficial to select a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you want to practice after graduating. In addition, it will be necessary to develop relationships in the neighboring legal community, possibly 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 an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might need to initially investigate those colleges that are within the Meridianville AL area.
What is the Complete Expense? Paralegal programs can vary in cost based on the credential received and the amount of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only expense for your training. Remember to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance might be available to help offset some of the expense, so be sure to contact the school's financial aid office to see what is offered in Meridianville AL. Of course if you decide to attend an online program, a portion these additional expenses, for instance for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Fit your Schedule? A number of paralegal students keep working while obtaining their training and need flexibility to schedule classes. If you can just attend weekend or evening classes near Meridianville AL, make sure classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make sure that the school you enroll in provides that option. Last, find out what the protocol is for making up missed classes due to work, illness or family obligations.
Choose the Right Meridianville Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Choosing the right paralegal training program is an important first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have discussed in this article, you have the choice of attending classes on-campus or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Meridianville residence. Paralegal training programs are made available in many formats and lengths. Several types of private and public institutions offer paralegal training, including community and junior colleges, four year colleges and universities, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a profound influence on your opportunities for success in your new career. Since there is a broad range in the quality of programs, choose wisely. Afford yourself the greatest possible chance to succeed in this fascinating profession. But regardless of how you decide to acquire your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have presented you will be able to review each school and make your final selection. And with the ideal education you can realize your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Meridianville Alabama.