How to Enroll in the Right Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program Near Pleasant Grove Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Pleasant Grove AL and start your journey that will result in a gratifying career in legal services. Nevertheless, it's important that you find the right school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you need to achieve success. As you most likely know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more educational options are becoming available, both on campus and online. But with so many options to choose from, where does one start? Some prospective students begin by looking for schools within driving range of their Pleasant Grove residences. Of those alternatives, they search for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are very important considerations when picking a college, they are not the only qualifiers you ought to take into consideration. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the program need to be taken into account too. Later on in this post we will cover a list of concerns that you ought to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare every one before making your selection. But before we do, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic choices that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants essentially both hold comparable job positions and functions, only with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and belong to a separate job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Pleasant Grove AL attorneys with a diverse array of job duties, such as maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job functions are based upon the type of legal firm where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice may help with the logistics of a trial or transporting documents to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is normally billed by the hour as are the lawyer's. And the same as attorneys, they must conduct themselves with a high degree of professionalism and comply with a strict standard of professional ethics. As stated, their duties can be diverse in support of the practices where they are employed, but some of their everyday tasks might include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on applicable cases and laws
- Drafting correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping lawyers get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be complex and very demanding. However, what they are not legally allowed to do is provide legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not confined to administrative or clerical tasks more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the main support systems for lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys are able to handle a much larger number of clients or cases than they could alone.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the academic requirements and job prospects will be the same. The quickest means to start your career as a paralegal in Pleasant Grove AL is by earning a certificate, which can involve as little as 6 months to accomplish. Many entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which provide a more expansive education and can be earned at many community colleges in 2 years. For an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are an option also. Once you have earned either a certificate or degree, you may want to continue and get a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help maximize your employment opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. Some of the highly respected certifying organizations 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 discuss the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 crucial initial steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Certificates and Degrees
Paralegal and legal assistant online programs have become more common and can be an excellent alternative for individuals looking for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online programs can be particularly appealing to Pleasant Grove AL students who continue to work while earning a degree. As an additional advantage, online classes can often be less costly than on campus options. Even supplementary expenses for such things as commuting or study materials may be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will cover in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the education you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the program and school you are reviewing are accredited by a highly regarded organization, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less supervised and formal setting, then earning your degree or certificate online may be the ideal choice for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Programs
Now that you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what training options are offered, you can start the process of evaluating schools. But since there are numerous programs available at community and junior colleges in the Pleasant Grove AL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you must 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 also. If you are like many potential students, you will begin by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other crucial issues to think about also, for instance accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at some of the questions you should be asking the schools you are investigating so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your final choice.
Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you select should be accredited by a recognized organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it can also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online education. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will receive will be of the highest quality, but it will show potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. A number of Pleasant Grove AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited school. Finally, financial aid and student loans are usually offered only for accredited schools.
What's the School's Reputation? Find out what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal schools you are contemplating. This is of special importance if you are new to the profession with no prior work history, since employers will need to rely on the caliber of your training exclusively. Confirming that the school you pick is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating services, such as those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also call several Pleasant Grove AL law practices that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask which schools they suggest. Remember that even if a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the Program Sponsor Internships? Internship programs offer students a chance to experience working in a law firm or other legal establishment while remaining in school. They can also provide a means for students to start developing contacts within the Pleasant Grove AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal programs you are considering offer internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help provided? You will probably wish to hit the ground running after graduation, but finding that initial job in a new field can be challenging without assistance. Ask if the paralegal programs you are assessing have job placement programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good indication that the schools have large networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their students are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the Campus Located? Considering that laws differ from state to state, it might be advantageous to select a paralegal school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you want to work after graduating. In addition, it will be valuable to establish relationships in the local legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is all the more reason to receive your education in the area where you desire to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most charge a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may want to first investigate those schools that are within the Pleasant Grove AL area.
How Much is the Entire Cost? Paralegal schools can vary in cost based on the credential earned and the length of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your education. Remember to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid may be available to help minimize part of the cost, so make sure to consult with the school's financial aid department to find out what is available in Pleasant Grove AL. Needless to say that if you choose to attend an online school, some of these additional expenses, such as for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Match your Schedule? Many paralegal students keep working while getting their training and need flexibility to schedule classes. If you can solely attend weekend or evening classes near Pleasant Grove AL, verify classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, confirm that the program you choose makes available that option. Finally, ask what the procedure is for making up missed classes as a result of sickness, work or family obligations.
Choose the Right Pleasant Grove Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Choosing the right legal assistant certificate school is an important first step toward 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 comfort and privacy of your Pleasant Grove home. Paralegal education programs are offered in various formats and lengths. Different kinds of private and public institutions provide paralegal education, including community colleges, four-year universities and colleges, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your choice 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 schools, choose carefully. Afford yourself the best possible chance to succeed in this rewarding profession. But no matter how you decide to receive your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have presented you will be able to assess each school and make your ultimate decision. And with the right education you can accomplish your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Pleasant Grove Alabama.