How to Enroll in the Right Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program Near Pelham Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Pelham AL and start your journey that will result in a fulfilling profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's essential that you locate the best school so that you will receive the comprehensive 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 more and more academic alternatives are becoming available, both on campus and online. However with numerous options to choose from, where does one start? A number of potential students start by searching for schools within commuting range of their Pelham homes. Of those options, they search for the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are important considerations when choosing a school, they are not the only factors you ought to take into consideration. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the program should be taken into consideration too. Later in this article we will cover a list of questions that you ought to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare each one prior to making your decision. But first, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the instructional alternatives that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals for the most part both hold comparable job positions and responsibilities, only with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and belong to a separate job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Pelham AL attorneys with a wide range of job duties, such as 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. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm may help with trial logistics or transferring files to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is typically billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And just like attorneys, they must carry out their duties with a high degree of professionalism and follow a strict standard of professional ethics. As stated, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they are employed, but a few of their routine activities can include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on related laws and cases
- Composing correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping lawyers prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be complex and rather challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally allowed to do is provide legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not restricted to clerical or administrative tasks more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the main support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys are able to manage a much larger number of clients or cases than they could alone.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational requirements and job prospects will be the same. The fastest way to begin your career as a paralegal in Pelham AL is by obtaining a certificate, which may involve just six months to complete. Many entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which offer a more comprehensive education and can be obtained at many community colleges in 2 years. For an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are offered also. Once you have acquired either a degree or a certificate, you may choose to continue and obtain a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help improve your job opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. Some of the highly regarded certifying agencies 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 school (we will discuss the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two crucial first steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Courses
Legal assistant and paralegal online schools have become more prevalent and may be an excellent alternative for those searching for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be especially attractive to Pelham AL students who continue to work while earning a degree. As an added benefit, online programs can sometimes be less expensive than more traditional options. Even secondary expenses for such things as commuting or study materials may be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all online schools are accredited, which we will address in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the education you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the program and school you are looking into are accredited by a highly regarded organization, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less structured and conventional setting, then earning your degree or certificate online might be the ideal option for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Programs
Once you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what training options are available, you can start the undertaking of assessing schools. But considering that there are so many programs accessible at community and junior colleges in the Pelham AL area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you need to find out what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is especially true if you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like many prospective students, you will begin by searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other important factors to think about also, for instance the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's take a look at a few of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are researching so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your final choice.
Is the Paralegal Training Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you choose need to be accredited by a reputable accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it might also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance training. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will obtain will be of the highest standard, but it will demonstrate to potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Many Pelham AL law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited school. Also, financial assistance and student loans are usually accessible only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Research what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant schools you are contemplating. This is of specific importance if you are entering the field with no prior experience, since employers will need to rely on the caliber of your training exclusively. Verifying that the program you pick is accredited is a good first step. Checking 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 call several Pelham AL law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask which schools they recommend. Keep in mind that even when a school is not 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 practice or other legal enterprise while remaining in school. They can also present a means for students to start creating contacts within the Pelham AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal programs you are evaluating provide internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance offered? You will probably want to hit the ground running after graduation, but getting that initial job in a new field can be challenging without support. Ask if the paralegal programs you are considering have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have substantial networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their graduates are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the School Located? Because laws differ among states, it might be advantageous to select a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you want to practice after graduation. Also, it will be valuable to cultivate 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 area where you wish to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many require an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may want to first consider those colleges that are within the Pelham AL region.
How Much is the Entire Expense? Paralegal schools can vary in cost depending on the credential earned and the length of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only expense for your education. Remember to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid may be obtainable to help offset part of the cost, so don't forget to contact the school's financial aid office to see what is offered in Pelham AL. Naturally if you decide to attend an online program, some of these additional expenses, for instance for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? Numerous paralegal students keep working while receiving their training and must have flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend night or weekend classes near Pelham 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 select provides that option. Last, inquire what the procedure is for making up classes missed due to work, illness or family emergencies.
Choose the Right Pelham Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Selecting the right legal assistant degree program is an essential first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have discussed in this article, you have the option of attending classes on campus or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Pelham home. Paralegal training programs are made available in various lengths and formats. Several types of public and private institutions make available paralegal training, including community and junior colleges, four year colleges and universities, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a pronounced influence on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Given that there is a wide range in the quality of programs, pick wisely. Give yourself the best possible chance to be successful in this rewarding profession. But regardless of how you elect to acquire your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will be able to review each school and make your ultimate decision. And with the ideal training you can achieve your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Pelham Alabama.