How to Pick a Paralegal Certificate Program near Helena Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Helena AL and start your journey that will result in a rewarding profession in legal services. However, it’s crucial that you locate the right school so that you will get the extensive training that you require to succeed. As you probably understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more educational options are being offered, both at school and online. But with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one start? Some potential students start by trying to find schools within driving range of their Helena homes. Of those alternatives, they search for the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are very important considerations when selecting a college, they are not the only qualifiers you need to take into consideration. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the program should be considered too. Later on in this article we will cover a list of concerns that you should ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare each one before making your choice. But before we do, let’s have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the instructional alternatives that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants basically both hold the same job positions and functions, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and belong to a different job classification. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Helena AL lawyers with a wide variety of job functions, including legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job functions are relevant to the type of legal firm where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm might assist with the logistics of a trial or delivering documents to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is typically billed hourly as are the lawyer’s. And the same as lawyers, they must carry out their duties with a high level of professionalism and comply with a strict code of professional ethics. As noted, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they work, but a few of their everyday tasks may include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching pertinent laws and cases
- Drafting correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping attorneys get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be complicated and rather challenging. However, what they are not legally authorized to do is give legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not restricted to clerical or administrative tasks more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the right hand support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys are able to manage a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the academic requirements and job prospects will be the same. The quickest way to start your career as a legal assistant in Helena AL is by earning a certificate, which can involve just 6 months to complete. Most entry level positions do require an Associate’s Degree, which furnish a more extensive education and can be obtained at numerous community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor’s Degrees are available as well. Once you have acquired either a degree or a certificate, you may want to proceed and get a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help boost your employment 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 cover the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two crucial initial steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
What to Ask Paralegal Studies Programs
Now that you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what academic options are offered, you can start the process of evaluating schools. But since there are numerous programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Helena AL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you must learn what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is especially true if you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like many potential students, you will begin by searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other significant issues to think about as well, including the reputation and accreditation 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 effectively vet each one and make your final decision.
Is the Paralegal School and Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you pick should be accredited by a respected organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it might also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets online or distance training. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will receive will be of the highest standard, but it will demonstrate to future employers that you are a qualified professional also. Numerous Helena AL law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited program. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are usually obtainable only for accredited schools.
What’s the Reputation of the Program? Learn what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant programs you are considering. This is of particular importance if you are entering the field with no prior work history, since employers will have to rely on the quality of your education exclusively. Confirming that the school you choose is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating services, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact several Helena AL law practices that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask what 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 outstanding reputation.
Does the Program Sponsor Internships? Internship programs provide students an opportunity to experience working in a law office or other legal operation while still in school. They can also offer a pathway for students to start developing contacts within the Helena AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal programs you are reviewing offer internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help provided? You will probably want 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 success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good indication that the schools have sizable networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their graduates are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the School Located? Since laws differ from one state to another, it might be beneficial to choose a paralegal school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you want to work after graduation. Also, it will be valuable to establish 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 want to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many charge an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may wish to first investigate those colleges that are within the Helena AL region.
What is the Complete Expense? Paralegal programs can vary in cost depending on the credential earned and the length of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expense for your training. Don’t forget to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid might be obtainable to help minimize part of the cost, so don’t forget to talk to the school’s financial aid office to find out what is offered in Helena AL. Of course if you decide to attend an online program, some of these added expenses, for instance for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? Many paralegal students continue working while receiving their training and require flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend weekend or evening classes near Helena AL, make sure classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make certain that the program you select provides that option. Finally, find out what the protocol is for making up classes missed because of sickness, work or family obligations.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Schools
Paralegal and legal assistant online programs have become more popular and can be a good option for individuals searching for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be especially appealing to students who keep working while obtaining a degree. As an added advantage, online programs can sometimes be less expensive than on campus options. Even secondary expenditures for such things as commuting or study materials can be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all online schools are accredited, which we will discuss in more detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the training you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the school and program you are reviewing are accredited by a highly regarded agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less supervised and conventional environment, then earning your degree or certificate online could be the ideal choice for you.
Will You Attend Paralegal School near Helena AL?
If you live near Helena AL or perhaps you are considering attending classes in that area, following is some interesting and useful information regarding the location of your new school campus.
Helena (pronunciation hel-LE-nah) is a city in Jefferson and Shelby Counties in the state of Alabama. Helena is considered a suburb of Birmingham and part of the Birmingham-Hoover Metropolitan Area. As of the 2010 census, the population was 16,793. Helena is highly regarded as a place to live and raise children; Business Week named Helena the 13th "Best Place to Raise Your Kids" in 2007. It has the eighth-lowest crime rate per population in the U.S., and the city was ranked in Money magazine's 2007 list of "Best Places to Live: Top 100" in the U.S., placing at number 91. The Alabama League of Municipalities awarded Helena the 2008 Municipal Achievement Award (population 10,001 to 20,000).
Helena initially incorporated in 1877, but reincorporated in 1917 after errors were discovered in the initial incorporation papers. It did not first appear on the U.S. Census until 1920, giving credence to the later date of incorporation.
The initial settlers to Helena, initially named Cove, were veterans of the final campaigns of the War of 1812. Members of Andrew Jackson's army who cut through the brush were attracted to the quiet, peaceful valleys and streams after the Battle of Horseshoe Bend. These first settlers were reported to arrive in 1849 and were predated by the Creek Indian tribes who these settlers had battled. By 1856, the Cove post office opened. Shortly thereafter, the settlers changed the name of the town to Hillsboro.
Select the Best Legal Assistant Degree Program near Helena AL
Selecting the ideal paralegal educational program is a crucial first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have discussed in this post, you have the option of attending classes at school or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Helena residence. Paralegal academic programs are made available in various lengths and formats. Several kinds of public and private institutions provide paralegal training, including community and junior colleges, four year colleges and universities, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a pronounced 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 opportunity to succeed in this rewarding profession. But irrespective of how you decide to acquire your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will be able to assess each program and make your ultimate decision. And with the ideal training you can accomplish your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Helena AL.
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