How to Choose the Right Paralegal Certificate Program Near Midfield Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Midfield AL and begin your journey that will lead to a fulfilling profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's crucial that you locate the ideal school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you need to succeed. As you probably know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more academic alternatives are being offered, both on campus and online. But with numerous options to choose from, where does one start? A number of prospective students start by searching for schools within traveling distance of their Midfield homes. Of those options, they search for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are very important considerations when choosing a college, they are not the only factors you need to take into consideration. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the program ought to be taken into account also. Later in this post we will review a list of questions that you need to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare every one before making your selection. But first, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic alternatives that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals basically both hold comparable job positions and functions, just with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and are part of a different job classification. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Midfield AL attorneys with a wide variety of job duties, such as legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job functions are based upon the type of practice where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm could help with the logistics of a trial or delivering documents to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is typically billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And just like attorneys, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and follow a strict code of professional ethics. As stated, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they work, but a few of their routine tasks might include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching related laws and cases
- Composing correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting attorneys prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal files, documents and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be complicated and quite demanding. However, what they are not legally authorized to do is offer legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not restricted to administrative or clerical duties more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys are able to manage a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational requirements and job prospects will be the same. The fastest means to launch your career as a legal assistant in Midfield AL is by obtaining a certificate, which may involve as little as 6 months to complete. A large number of entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which provide a more extensive education and may be earned at numerous community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are offered also. Once you have earned either a certificate or degree, you may want to proceed 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 job opportunities, but help establish you as a professional as well. A few of the highly respected 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 address the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 important first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Training
Paralegal and legal assistant online schools have become more common and can be a good alternative for individuals looking for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be especially appealing to Midfield AL students who keep working while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an additional benefit, online schools can in some cases be less expensive than on campus options. Even ancillary expenses for such things as commuting or study materials may be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will cover in more 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 program and school you are thinking about are accredited by a respected organization, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to attend classes in a less structured and formal environment, then earning your degree or certificate online may be the ideal choice for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Certificate or Degree Programs
Since you now you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what educational choices are offered, you can start the undertaking of evaluating schools. But because there are so many programs available at community and junior colleges in the Midfield AL area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you need to find out what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is especially true when you add all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. If you are like many prospective students, you will start by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other crucial issues to research also, including accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at a few of the questions you should be asking the schools you are considering so that you can effectively vet each one and make your final choice.
Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you select should be accredited by a respected accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it may also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance learning. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will get will be of the highest quality, but it will demonstrate to potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Many Midfield AL law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited program. Finally, financial aid and student loans are often available only for accredited programs.
What's the Program's Reputation? Investigate what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal schools you are considering. This is of specific importance if you are new to the profession with no prior work history, since employers will have to rely on the quality of your training exclusively. Confirming that the program you pick is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating services, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact a few Midfield AL law firms that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask what schools they recommend. Bear in mind that even if a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the Program Provide Internships? Internship programs offer students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal operation while remaining in school. They can also present a pathway for students to begin developing contacts within the Midfield AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal schools you are reviewing provide internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance provided? You will probably wish to hit the ground running after graduating, but finding that first job in a new field can be challenging without support. Find out if the paralegal schools you are reviewing have job placement programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have sizable networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their graduates are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the School Located? Considering that laws differ from one state to another, it may be beneficial to choose a paralegal school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you want to work after graduation. Also, it will be valuable to develop relationships in the area legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is even more reason to receive your education in the community where you choose to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many require an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might wish to first look at those colleges that are within the Midfield AL area.
How Much is the Entire Expense? Paralegal schools can vary in cost based on the credential received and the length of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expense for your education. Remember to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid might be available to help offset part of the cost, so be sure to consult with the school's financial aid office to find out what is offered in Midfield AL. Of course if you choose to attend an online school, some of these supplementary expenses, such as for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Match your Schedule? Many paralegal students continue working while getting their training and require flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend night or weekend classes near Midfield AL, make certain classes are offered 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. Finally, ask what the procedure is for making-up missed classes because of work, illness or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Right Midfield Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Choosing the right paralegal studies degree program is an important first step toward 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 attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Midfield residence. Paralegal academic programs are provided in various formats and lengths. Several types of private and public institutions make available paralegal training, including junior and community colleges, four year universities and colleges, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a profound influence on your prospects for success in your new profession. Considering that there is a broad range in the quality of schools, choose wisely. Afford yourself the best possible chance to succeed in this fascinating profession. But irrespective of how you choose 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 program and make your ultimate decision. And with the right education you can accomplish your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Midfield Alabama.