How to Select the Best Paralegal Training Program Near Wetumpka Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Wetumpka AL and start your journey that will lead to a fulfilling career in legal services. Nevertheless, it's essential that you find the best school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you require to succeed. As you probably understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more educational choices are becoming available, both on campus and online. But with so many options to choose from, where does one start? Many prospective students begin by trying to find schools within traveling distance of their Wetumpka residences. Of those alternatives, they search for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are very important considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only factors you should take into consideration. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the program must be considered too. Later on in this article we will review a list of questions that you should ask potential paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare every one prior to making your choice. But first, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the educational alternatives that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals essentially both fill comparable job positions and functions, only with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and belong to a different job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Wetumpka AL attorneys with a diverse array of job duties, including legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job duties are based upon the type of practice where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm might help with the logistics of a trial or delivering documents to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is typically billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And just like attorneys, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and abide by a strict code of professional ethics. As noted, their responsibilities can be varied in support of the practices where they are employed, but a few of their daily activities may include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching relevant laws and cases
- Drafting correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting attorneys prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal documents, files and other records
With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be complicated 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 proceeding. But paralegals are not confined to clerical or administrative duties more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the main support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers have the ability to take on a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Education 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 opportunities will be the same. The quickest way to start your career as a paralegal in Wetumpka AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can involve as little as six months to accomplish. Most entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which provide a more expansive education and may be earned at many community colleges in two years. For an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are an option as well. After you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you may want to proceed and receive a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help increase your employment opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. Some of the highly regarded 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 discuss the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 important first 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 schools have become more prevalent and can be a good option for students searching for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be particularly attractive to Wetumpka AL students who continue to work while obtaining a degree. As an additional advantage, online schools can sometimes be less expensive than more traditional options. Even secondary expenditures for such items as commuting or study materials can be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all online schools are accredited, which we will address in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the training you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the program and school you are reviewing are accredited by a reputable agency, for example 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 could be the right option for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Once you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what training options are available, you can start the process of evaluating schools. But considering that there are numerous programs accessible at junior and community colleges in the Wetumpka AL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you need to learn what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is particularly true when you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. If you are like many potential students, you will start by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other important aspects to think about as well, such as accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's go over several of the questions you should be asking the programs you are considering so that you can effectively vet each one and make your final decision.
Is the Paralegal Training 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 school, it may also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets online or distance training. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will receive will be of the highest quality, but it will demonstrate to future employers that you are a qualified professional also. Numerous Wetumpka AL law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited school. Also, financial aid and student loans are often available only for accredited programs.
What's the School's Reputation? Learn what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal programs you are contemplating. This is of specific importance if you are entering the profession with no prior experience, since employers will have to make a decision based on the caliber of your education exclusively. Checking that the program you pick is accredited is a good first step. Checking 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 call some Wetumpka AL law practices that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask what schools they suggest. Keep in mind that even when a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the School Provide Internships? Internship programs provide students an opportunity to experience working in a law practice or other legal establishment while still in school. They can also offer an avenue for students to start establishing contacts within the Wetumpka AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal programs you are assessing provide internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help provided? You will probably wish to secure employment quickly after graduating, but getting that first job in a new field can be difficult without support. Find out if the paralegal programs you are assessing have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have sizable networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their students are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the School Located? Considering that laws vary from one state to another, it may be a good idea to select a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you want to practice after graduating. In addition, it will be important to create relationships in the neighboring legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is all the more reason to acquire your education in the community where you desire to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many require an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may need to initially consider those schools that are within the Wetumpka AL area.
What is the Total Cost? Paralegal schools can vary in price based on the credential obtained and the amount of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only expense for your education. Remember to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid might be accessible to help offset some of the cost, so don't forget to consult with the school's financial aid office to find out what is available in Wetumpka AL. Needless to say that if you decide to attend an online program, some of these additional costs, such as for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? Many paralegal students keep working while getting their training and must have flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend weekend or evening classes near Wetumpka AL, make sure classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, confirm that the program you select makes available that option. Finally, inquire what the protocol is for making up missed classes as a result of sickness, work or family emergencies.
Choose the Best Wetumpka Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Selecting the right paralegal certificate program is a vital first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have addressed in this article, you have the option of attending classes at school or you can attend them online in the comfort and privacy of your Wetumpka home. Paralegal academic programs are made available in numerous lengths and formats. Several types of public and private institutions offer paralegal education, including junior and community colleges, four year colleges and universities, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a pronounced impact on your opportunities for success in your new career. Since there is a wide range in the quality of schools, choose wisely. Afford yourself the best possible opportunity to succeed in this exciting profession. But regardless of how you decide to acquire your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have presented you will have the ability to assess each program and make your final selection. And with the right training you can realize your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Wetumpka Alabama.