How to Enroll in the Right Paralegal Certificate Program Near Theodore Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Theodore AL and begin your journey that will lead to a fulfilling career in legal services. However, it's essential that you locate the ideal school so that you will receive the extensive training that you need to be successful. As you most likely know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of educational alternatives are being offered, both at school and online. However with so many options to choose from, where does one start? Many potential students begin by trying to find schools within driving distance of their Theodore homes. Of those options, they search for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are necessary considerations when choosing a college, they are not the only factors you need to consider. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the program should be taken into consideration also. Later on in this post we will cover a list of questions that you must ask potential paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare every one before making your selection. But first, let's have 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
Legal assistants and paralegals for the most part both hold comparable job positions and responsibilities, 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 separate job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Theodore AL attorneys with a diverse array of job duties, including maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job duties are based upon the type of practice where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm may help with trial logistics or transferring documents to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is typically 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 abide by a strict standard of professional ethics. As noted, their duties can be diverse in support of the practices where they work, but some of their daily activities can involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on related cases and laws
- Preparing correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting 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 job of a paralegal can be involved and very challenging. However, what they are not legally allowed to do is give legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not limited to administrative or clerical 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, attorneys have the ability to manage a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Certificates and Degrees and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the educational prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The quickest means to begin your career as a paralegal in Theodore AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can involve as little as 6 months to accomplish. Many entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which offer a more extensive education and can be acquired at many community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are available also. Once you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, 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 may not only help increase your career 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 school (we will cover the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 essential initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Schools
Paralegal and legal assistant online schools have become more available and may be an excellent option for those searching for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online programs can be particularly appealing to Theodore AL students who continue to work while earning a degree. As an added benefit, online classes can often be less costly than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenditures for such things as study materials or commuting can be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will discuss in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the education you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the program and school you are considering are accredited by a reputable agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less supervised and formal environment, then obtaining your certificate or degree online might be the ideal option for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Certificate or Degree Programs
Now that you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what academic options are offered, you can begin the process of evaluating schools. But because there are so many programs accessible at junior and community colleges in the Theodore AL area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you need to know what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is especially true if you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. If you are like most prospective students, you will begin by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other crucial factors to research as well, for instance accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's go over several of the questions you should be asking the schools you are investigating so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your final decision.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you enroll in need to be accredited by a reputable organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it may also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance learning. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will get will be of the highest quality, but it will show potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Many Theodore AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited school. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are often obtainable only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Find out what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal schools you are looking at. This is of particular importance if you are new to the profession with no previous experience, since employers will need to make a decision based on the quality of your training exclusively. Checking that the program you select is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating reports, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also call a few Theodore AL law firms that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask which schools they suggest. Bear in mind that even though a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the Program Sponsor Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law practice or other legal enterprise while remaining in school. They can also provide a means for students to begin creating contacts within the Theodore AL legal field. Ask if the paralegal schools you are considering offer internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help available? You will most likely wish to hit the ground running after graduating, but finding that initial job in a new field can be difficult without assistance. Find out if the paralegal schools you are assessing have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good indication that the schools have substantial networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their students are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the School Located? Since laws vary among states, it might be a good idea to enroll in a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you want to work after graduating. Also, it will be important to cultivate relationships in the area legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is all the more reason to receive your education in the community where you desire to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most charge a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may want to first look at those colleges that are within the Theodore AL region.
What is the Total Expense? Paralegal schools can vary in price depending on the credential obtained and the length of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only cost for your education. Remember to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance may be obtainable to help reduce some of the expense, so be sure to contact the school's financial aid office to see what is offered in Theodore AL. Naturally if you opt to attend an online program, some of these added expenses, such as for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Match your Schedule? Many legal students keep working while obtaining their training and need flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend weekend or evening classes near Theodore AL, make certain classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, confirm that the school you choose offers that option. Last, inquire what the protocol is for making-up classes missed due to sickness, work or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Best Theodore Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Choosing the best paralegal studies certificate program is an essential 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 participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Theodore home. Paralegal training programs are offered in numerous lengths and formats. Several kinds of private and public institutions provide paralegal training, including junior and community colleges, four-year universities and colleges, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a pronounced impact on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Since there is a broad range in the quality of programs, choose carefully. Afford yourself the greatest possible opportunity to succeed in this rewarding profession. But no matter how you decide to acquire your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will be able to assess each program and make your ultimate selection. And with the ideal training you can achieve your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Theodore Alabama.