How to Select the Right Paralegal Certificate Program Near Pinson Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Pinson AL and start your journey that will lead to a fulfilling profession 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 achieve success. As you probably understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of educational alternatives are being offered, both on campus and online. But with so many options to choose from, where does one begin? Many potential students begin by looking for schools within traveling range of their Pinson homes. Of those options, they try to find the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are important considerations when selecting a college, they are not the only factors you need to consider. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the program ought to be taken into account as well. Later in this article we will review a list of questions that you ought to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare each one before making your choice. But first, let's take a look at what a paralegal does and the instructional 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 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 are part of a separate job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Pinson AL attorneys with a diverse array of job functions, such as maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job duties are relevant to the type of legal firm where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm could help with the logistics of a trial or delivering files to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is typically billed by the hour as are the lawyer's. And just like lawyers, they must conduct themselves 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 are employed, but a few of their regular activities can involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on related laws and cases
- Composing correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping lawyers prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be complex and very demanding. On the other hand, what they are not legally authorized to do is give legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not confined to administrative or clerical functions more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers are able to take on a much larger number of cases or clients than they could on their own.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The quickest way to launch your career as a paralegal in Pinson AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can require as little as 6 months to complete. A large number of entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more comprehensive education and can be obtained at many community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are available as well. When you have acquired either a certificate or degree, you might choose to continue and receive a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help boost your job opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. Some of the highly respected certifying organizations 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 cover the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two important initial steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Programs
Online paralegal or legal assistant schools have become more common and may be a good option for students looking for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online programs can be especially attractive to Pinson AL students who keep working while earning a certificate or degree. As an additional advantage, online schools can in some cases be less costly than more traditional options. Even secondary expenses for such things as commuting or study materials can be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will cover in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the training you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the school and program you are looking into are accredited by a reputable agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to attend classes in a less structured and conventional environment, then earning your degree or certificate online may be the right choice for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Programs
Since you now you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what training options are offered, you can start the undertaking of assessing schools. But since there are numerous programs available at community and junior colleges in the Pinson AL area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you need to find out what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is particularly true if you add all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. If you are like the majority of prospective students, you will begin by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other important aspects to think about as well, such as accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at some of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are researching so that you can effectively vet each one and make your ultimate choice.
Is the Paralegal School and Program Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you pick need to be accredited by a reputable organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it can also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets online or distance learning. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will get will be of the highest standard, but it will establish with future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Many Pinson AL law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited school. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are usually available only for accredited programs.
What's the School's Reputation? Research what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal schools you are considering. This is of specific importance if you are new to the profession with no prior experience, since employers will have to make a decision based on the quality of your training exclusively. Confirming that the program you select 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 quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact several Pinson AL law practices that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask what schools they recommend. Remember that even though a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an excellent reputation.
Does the School Provide Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law firm or other legal establishment while attending school. They can also present an avenue for students to begin developing contacts within the Pinson AL legal field. Ask if the paralegal programs you are reviewing provide internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help provided? You will most likely wish to hit the ground running after graduation, but getting that initial job in a new profession can be challenging without assistance. Ask if the paralegal schools you are considering have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid 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 students are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the Campus Located? Because laws differ among states, it might be beneficial to choose a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you want to work after graduating. In addition, it will be valuable to establish relationships in the neighboring legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is all the more reason to receive your education in the area where you wish to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many charge a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may need to first consider those schools that are within the Pinson AL region.
What is the Total Cost? Paralegal schools can vary in cost based on the credential earned and the amount of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your education. Don't forget to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance might be accessible to help minimize some of the expense, so make sure to contact the school's financial aid office to see what is offered in Pinson AL. Of course if you opt to attend an online school, a portion these additional costs, for instance for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Accommodate your Schedule? A number of paralegal students keep working while getting their training and require flexibility in class scheduling. If you can solely attend weekend or evening classes near Pinson AL, verify classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make certain that the program you select makes available that option. Finally, find out what the process is for making-up missed classes due to work, illness or family obligations.
Choose the Right Pinson Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Choosing the best paralegal studies degree school is an important first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have covered 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 Pinson home. Paralegal academic programs are made available in many lengths and formats. Various types of public and private institutions offer paralegal training, including community colleges, four year universities and colleges, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a profound influence on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Considering that there is a broad range in the quality of programs, choose wisely. Afford yourself the greatest possible opportunity to succeed in this exciting profession. But no matter 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 evaluate each program and make your ultimate selection. And with the appropriate education you can realize your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Pinson Alabama.