How to Find the Right Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program Near Pike Road Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Pike Road AL and begin your journey that will lead to a satisfying career in legal services. However, it's important that you locate the best school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you need to succeed. 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. However with so many options to choose from, where does one start? A number of prospective students begin by trying to find schools within traveling distance of their Pike Road homes. Of those alternatives, they look for the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are prime considerations when picking a college, they are not the only factors you ought to take into consideration. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the program ought to be taken into consideration also. Later in this post we will review a list of concerns that you need to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare each one prior to making your choice. But before we do, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the educational choices that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants essentially both fill the same job positions and functions, just with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and are part of a different job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Pike Road AL attorneys with a wide variety of job functions, 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 work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice could help with trial logistics or transporting files to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is normally billed by the hour as are the lawyer's. And the same as attorneys, they must carry out their duties with a high degree of professionalism and comply with a strict standard of professional ethics. As stated, their responsibilities can be varied in support of the practices where they work, but some of their regular tasks may involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching applicable laws and cases
- Drafting correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping lawyers prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be complicated and rather challenging. However, what they are not legally allowed 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 tasks more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers are able to manage a much larger number of clients or cases than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the academic requirements and opportunities will be the same. The fastest way to launch your career as a legal assistant in Pike Road AL is by earning a certificate, which can take as little as six months to accomplish. Most entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which offer a more comprehensive education and may be obtained at many community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are an option also. After you have acquired either a certificate or degree, you might want to proceed and earn a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help increase your career opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. A few 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 degree or certificate from an accredited school (we will address the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two important first steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Programs
Online paralegal or legal assistant programs have become more popular and may be a good alternative for students looking for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online schools can be particularly attractive to Pike Road AL students who continue to work while earning a certificate or degree. As an additional benefit, online classes can sometimes be less costly than on campus options. Even supplementary expenses for such things as study materials or commuting can be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all online programs are accredited, which we will discuss in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the training you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the program and school you are thinking about are accredited by a respected organization, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less supervised and formal setting, then earning your certificate or degree online might be the ideal choice for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Certificate or Degree Programs
Now that you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what training options are available, you can start the process of evaluating schools. But because there are so many programs accessible at junior and community colleges in the Pike Road AL area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you need to learn what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is especially true when you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree 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 critical aspects to think about 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 researching so that you can properly vet each one and make your ultimate decision.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you choose need to be accredited by a respected organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it can also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance learning. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will receive will be of the highest quality, but it will demonstrate to future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. A number of Pike Road AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited school. Finally, financial aid and student loans are often available only for accredited programs.
What's the School's Reputation? Learn what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal schools you are considering. This is of special importance if you are new to the profession with no prior work history, since employers will need to make a decision based on the caliber of your training exclusively. Confirming that the school you pick is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating services, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call several Pike Road AL law firms that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask what schools they suggest. Remember that even when a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the Program Offer Internships? Internship programs provide students a chance to experience working in a law firm or other legal establishment while attending school. They can also provide a pathway for students to begin establishing contacts within the Pike Road AL legal field. Ask if the paralegal schools you are reviewing offer internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will undoubtedly want to secure employment quickly after graduating, but getting that initial job in a new field can be difficult without assistance. Ask if the paralegal programs you are interviewing have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have large networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their graduates are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the School Located? Considering that laws vary from one state to another, it may be beneficial to choose a paralegal school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you plan to practice after graduating. Also, it will be valuable to develop relationships in the local legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is even more justification to receive your education in the community where you desire to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most require a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might want to first investigate those colleges that are within the Pike Road AL region.
How Much is the Complete Cost? Paralegal programs can vary in cost depending on the credential earned and the amount of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your training. Remember to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid may be obtainable to help reduce some of the cost, so make sure to check with the school's financial aid office to find out what is available in Pike Road AL. Of course if you decide to attend an online program, a portion these additional costs, for instance for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? A number of legal students keep working while receiving their training and need flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend weekend or evening classes near Pike Road AL, make sure classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make certain that the program you select provides that option. Last, ask what the protocol is for making up missed classes because of work, illness or family obligations.
Enroll in the Best Pike Road Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Selecting the best paralegal studies training school is a crucial 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 Pike Road residence. Paralegal academic programs are offered in various formats and lengths. Different kinds of public and private institutions provide paralegal education, including junior and community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a pronounced influence on your prospects for success in your new profession. Considering that there is a wide range in the quality of schools, pick wisely. Afford yourself the best possible opportunity to be successful in this rewarding profession. But irrespective of how you decide to obtain your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to evaluate each program and make your final decision. And with the ideal training you can achieve your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Pike Road Alabama.