How to Enroll in the Right Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program Near Sylacauga Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Sylacauga AL and begin your journey that will result in a rewarding profession in legal services. However, it's essential that you locate the ideal 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 alternatives are becoming available, both at school and online. But with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Many potential students begin by trying to find schools within driving distance of their Sylacauga residences. Of those alternatives, they try to find the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are necessary considerations when picking a school, they are not the only qualifiers you must take into consideration. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the program need to be considered as well. Later on in this post we will cover a list of concerns that you should ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare each one before making your decision. But before we do, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the instructional choices that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants essentially both hold the same job positions and responsibilities, only with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and belong to a different job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Sylacauga AL attorneys with a wide range of job duties, such as maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job duties are relevant to the type of practice where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice could help with trial logistics or transporting files to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is normally billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And just like lawyers, they must conduct themselves with a high degree of professionalism and comply with a strict standard of professional ethics. As stated, their responsibilities can be diverse in support of the firms where they work, but some of their everyday activities might include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching relevant cases and laws
- Preparing correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting attorneys prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal documents, files and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be involved and very challenging. However, what they are not legally authorized to do is offer legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not limited to clerical or administrative tasks more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the main support systems for lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys have the ability to manage a much larger number of clients or cases than they could alone.
Paralegal Certificates and Degrees and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the educational requirements and job prospects will be the same. The quickest means to launch your career as a legal assistant in Sylacauga AL is by earning a certificate, which can involve just 6 months to accomplish. A large number of entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which offer a more extensive education and may be obtained at numerous community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are an option as well. Once you have earned either a degree or a certificate, you might choose to proceed and obtain a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help improve your job opportunities, but help establish you as a professional as well. A few 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 degree or certificate from an accredited program (we will address the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two crucial first steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Courses
Legal assistant and paralegal online schools have become more available and may be a good option for individuals searching for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online programs can be especially attractive to Sylacauga AL students who continue to work while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an added benefit, online schools can often be less expensive than more traditional options. Even secondary expenses for such items as commuting or study materials can be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will discuss in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the education you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the school and program you are looking into are accredited by a respected agency, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less structured and formal environment, then obtaining your certificate or degree online may be the right choice for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Since you now you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what training options are offered, you can begin the undertaking of assessing schools. But because there are numerous programs offered at community and junior colleges in the Sylacauga AL area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you need to know what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is especially true when you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like the majority of prospective students, you will start by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other significant factors to think about also, including the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's take a look at some of the questions you should be asking the schools you are considering so that you can properly vet each one and make your final choice.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you select need to be accredited by a recognized organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it might also receive 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 get will be of the highest standard, but it will establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. A number of Sylacauga AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited school. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are typically available only for accredited schools.
What's the Program's Reputation? Find out what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal programs you are contemplating. This is of specific importance if you are new to the field with no prior work history, since employers will need to make a decision based on the quality of your education exclusively. Checking that the program you pick is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating services, 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 contact a few Sylacauga AL law practices that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask which schools they recommend. Bear in mind that even if a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs offer students an opportunity to experience working in a law office or other legal enterprise while remaining in school. They can also offer a means for students to begin establishing contacts within the Sylacauga AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal programs you are assessing offer internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance provided? You will undoubtedly want to hit the ground running after graduation, but getting that initial job in a new profession can be difficult without assistance. Find out if the paralegal programs you are considering have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good sign that the schools have sizable networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their graduates are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the School's Location? Considering that laws vary among states, it might be advantageous to enroll in a paralegal school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you want to practice after graduating. In addition, it will be necessary to cultivate relationships in the area legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is all the more reason to receive your education in the area where you desire to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many charge a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may wish to first consider those colleges that are within the Sylacauga AL area.
What is the Entire Cost? Paralegal programs can vary in price based on the credential earned and the amount of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expense for your education. Don't forget to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid might be obtainable to help reduce part of the expense, so don't forget to contact the school's financial aid department to see what is offered in Sylacauga AL. Of course if you decide to attend an online school, some of these added costs, for instance for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? A number of paralegal students keep working while getting their training and need flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend night or weekend classes near Sylacauga AL, make certain classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make sure that the program you enroll in makes available that option. Last, inquire what the procedure is for making-up missed classes as a result of work, illness or family obligations.
Enroll in the Right Sylacauga Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Enrolling in the ideal paralegal training 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 choice of attending classes on campus or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Sylacauga home. Paralegal academic programs are provided in various formats and lengths. Several kinds of private and public institutions provide paralegal education, including community colleges, four year colleges and universities, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a profound impact on your opportunities for success in your new career. Since there is a broad range in the quality of schools, pick carefully. Afford yourself the greatest possible opportunity to succeed in this fascinating profession. But regardless of how you decide to acquire your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have presented you will have the ability to examine each school and make your final decision. And with the right training you can achieve your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Sylacauga Alabama.