How to Select the Best Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program Near Wetumpka Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Wetumpka AL and begin your journey that will lead to a rewarding career in legal services. However, it's important that you find the right school so that you will receive the extensive training that you need to achieve success. As you most likely understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more academic alternatives are becoming available, both at school and online. However with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Some potential students begin by looking for schools within traveling distance of their Wetumpka homes. Of those alternatives, they look for the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are very important considerations when choosing a college, they are not the only qualifiers you should take into consideration. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the program ought to be taken into account also. Later in this post we will cover a list of questions that you ought to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare each one prior to making your decision. But before we do, let's take a look at what a paralegal does and the educational alternatives that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals basically both fill comparable job roles and functions, just 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 legal assistants and paralegals assist Wetumpka AL attorneys with a wide range of job functions, including maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job functions are relevant to the type of practice where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice might assist with the logistics of a trial or transferring files to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is usually billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And the same as lawyers, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and abide by a strict standard of professional ethics. As mentioned, their duties can be varied in support of the practices where they work, but a few of their daily tasks might involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on applicable laws and cases
- Preparing correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping attorneys prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be involved and rather demanding. However, what they are not legally authorized to do is offer legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not restricted to administrative or clerical functions more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the main support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys have the ability to handle a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could alone.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the educational prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The fastest means to start your career as a legal assistant in Wetumpka AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can take as little as 6 months to complete. Most entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which offer a more comprehensive education and can be obtained 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. After you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you might choose to proceed and earn a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help improve your employment opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. A few of the highly respected 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 certificate or degree from an accredited program (we will address the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 important initial steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Classes
Legal assistant and paralegal online schools have become more available and can be an excellent option for individuals searching for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online programs can be especially appealing to Wetumpka AL students who keep working while earning a certificate or degree. As an added benefit, online programs can in some cases be less costly than on campus options. Even ancillary expenses for such things as commuting or study materials may be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all online schools are accredited, which we will address in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the education you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the program and school you are reviewing are accredited by a reputable agency, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less structured and formal environment, then earning your certificate or degree online might be the right choice for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Programs
Now that you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what educational choices are available, you can start the undertaking of evaluating schools. But considering that there are numerous programs offered at community and junior colleges in the Wetumpka AL area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you need to find out what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is especially true when you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like many prospective students, you will begin by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other critical factors to research also, for instance accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's go over a few of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are investigating so that you can effectively vet each one and make your final decision.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you enroll in should be accredited by a respected 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 focuses on online or distance training. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will receive will be of the highest quality, but it will demonstrate to potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. Numerous Wetumpka AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited program. Finally, financial aid and student loans are usually offered 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 special importance if you are new to the profession with no prior work history, since employers will have to rely on the caliber of your education exclusively. Checking that the program you choose is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating reports, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also call a few Wetumpka AL law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask what schools they suggest. Remember that even if a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the Program Provide Internships? Internship programs offer students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal establishment while attending school. They can also provide an avenue for students to begin developing contacts within the Wetumpka AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal schools you are considering offer internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help offered? You will most likely wish to secure employment quickly after graduation, but finding that initial job in a new profession can be challenging without assistance. Find out if the paralegal schools you are reviewing have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good sign that the schools have sizable networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their students are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the School's Location? Considering that laws differ from state to state, it might be advantageous to enroll in a paralegal school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you plan to practice after graduation. In addition, it will be necessary to create 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 community where you wish to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most require a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might want to first look at those colleges that are within the Wetumpka AL area.
How Much is the Entire Expense? Paralegal programs can differ in price based on the credential obtained and the length of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only expense for your education. Don't forget to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid might be accessible to help minimize part of the cost, so don't forget to talk to the school's financial aid office to see what is available in Wetumpka AL. Of course if you decide to attend an online program, some of these added expenses, for instance for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? A number of paralegal students continue working while obtaining their training and require flexibility in class scheduling. If you can just attend night or weekend classes near Wetumpka AL, make sure classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make certain that the school you choose offers that option. Last, ask what the protocol is for making up classes missed as a result of sickness, work or family obligations.
Choose the Best Wetumpka Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Selecting the ideal paralegal studies certificate school is a crucial first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have discussed in this article, you have the option of attending classes on campus or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Wetumpka residence. Paralegal education programs are offered in many lengths and formats. Various types of private and public institutions offer paralegal training, including community colleges, four year colleges and universities, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a profound influence on your prospects for success in your new profession. Since there is a wide range in the quality of schools, choose wisely. Afford yourself the greatest possible chance to be successful in this exciting profession. But no matter how you elect to receive your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will be able to evaluate each program and make your ultimate decision. And with the appropriate education you can accomplish your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Wetumpka Alabama.