How to Pick the Best Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program Near Pelham Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Pelham AL and begin your journey that will result in a gratifying profession in legal services. However, it's essential that you locate the ideal school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you require to succeed. As you probably understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more academic options are being offered, both on campus and online. But with numerous options to choose from, where does one start? Some potential students begin by looking for schools within traveling range of their Pelham homes. Of those options, they search for the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are prime considerations when choosing a school, they are not the only qualifiers you ought to take into consideration. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the program need to be taken into consideration as well. Later in this post we will cover a list of questions that you must ask potential paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare each one before making your choice. But before we do, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the educational options that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants 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 classification. Both legal assistants and paralegals help Pelham AL lawyers with a wide variety of job duties, including legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job functions are based upon the type of legal firm where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice might help with the logistics of a trial or transporting files to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is typically billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And just like attorneys, they must carry out their duties with a high level of professionalism and adhere to a strict code of professional ethics. As noted, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they work, but a few of their everyday activities can include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching pertinent cases and laws
- Drafting correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting attorneys prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal documents, files and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be involved and quite challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally allowed to do is give legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not confined to clerical or administrative functions more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the main support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers have the ability to take on 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 perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The quickest means to start your career as a paralegal in Pelham AL is by earning a certificate, which can involve as little as 6 months to complete. A large number of entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which offer a more comprehensive education and can be earned at many community colleges in 2 years. For an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are an option as well. When you have earned either a certificate or degree, you may choose to proceed and receive a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help maximize your employment opportunities, but help establish you as a professional as well. Some of the highly respected 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 degree or certificate from an accredited program (we will discuss the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 crucial first steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Training
Online legal assistant or paralegal schools have become more prevalent and may be a good alternative for individuals searching for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be especially attractive to Pelham AL students who continue to work while obtaining a degree. As an added advantage, online schools can sometimes be less expensive than on campus options. Even supplementary expenditures for such things as study materials or commuting can be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet programs 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 quality. So check to make sure that the program and school you are looking into are accredited by a respected agency, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less supervised and conventional setting, then earning your degree or certificate online could be the right option for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Certificate or Degree Programs
Since you now you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what educational options are available, you can start the process of assessing schools. But considering that there are numerous programs offered at community and junior colleges in the Pelham AL area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you must know what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is particularly true when you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like the majority of potential students, you will begin by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other crucial issues 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 schools you are investigating so that you can effectively vet each one and make your final selection.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you choose need to be accredited by a highly regarded 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 targets online or distance education. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will receive will be of the highest quality, 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 paralegals that are graduates of an accredited school. Also, financial aid and student loans are usually accessible only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the School? Learn what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant schools you are looking at. This is of special importance if you are entering the field with no previous experience, since employers will need to make a decision based on the caliber of your training exclusively. Checking that the program you pick is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating reports, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call several Pelham AL law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask what schools they suggest. Remember that even when a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the Program Sponsor Internships? Internship programs give students an opportunity to experience working in a law office or other legal establishment while still in school. They can also present an avenue for students to start establishing contacts within the Pelham AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal schools you are evaluating offer internship programs, specifically 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 graduating, but finding that first job in a new profession can be challenging without support. Ask if the paralegal programs you are reviewing have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have sizable 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's Location? Considering that laws differ from state to state, it may be advantageous to enroll in a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you wish to practice after graduation. In addition, it will be necessary to cultivate relationships in the area legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is even more justification to obtain your education in the community where you wish to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many charge an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may need to initially investigate those schools that are within the Pelham AL area.
How Much is the Entire Expense? Paralegal schools can vary in price depending on the credential obtained and the length of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your training. Remember to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid might be obtainable to help minimize part of the expense, so don't forget to talk to the school's financial aid office to find out what is available in Pelham AL. Needless to say that if you opt to attend an online program, some of these supplementary expenses, for instance for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Match your Schedule? Numerous legal students keep working while receiving their training and require flexibility in class scheduling. If you can only attend night or weekend classes near Pelham AL, verify classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make certain that the program you enroll in provides that option. Last, inquire what the procedure is for making up classes missed due to sickness, work or family obligations.
Enroll in the Right Pelham Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Choosing the best paralegal certificate program is an important first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have addressed in this article, you have the option of attending classes on-campus or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Pelham residence. Paralegal training programs are provided in various lengths and formats. Several types of public and private institutions offer paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four-year colleges and universities, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a pronounced influence on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Since there is a broad range in the quality of schools, pick carefully. Afford yourself the greatest possible opportunity to be successful in this exciting profession. But regardless of how you decide to receive your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have presented you will be able to evaluate each program and make your ultimate selection. And with the ideal education you can realize your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Pelham Alabama.