How to Select a Paralegal Certificate Program near Decatur Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Decatur AL and begin your journey that will result in a fulfilling profession in legal services. However, it’s essential that you find the right school so that you will get the extensive training that you need to be successful. 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 on campus and online. However with numerous options to choose from, where does one begin? Some potential students begin by looking for schools within commuting range of their Decatur residences. Of those choices, they try to find the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are very important considerations when choosing a school, they are not the only factors you need to take into consideration. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the school must be taken into account also. Later on in this post we will cover a list of questions that you must ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare each one prior to making your decision. But before we do, let’s have a look at what a paralegal does and the educational alternatives that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals essentially both hold the same job roles and responsibilities, only with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and belong to a different job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Decatur AL attorneys with a wide variety of job duties, including legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job functions are relevant to the type of legal firm where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice might assist with the logistics of a trial or delivering documents to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is usually billed hourly as are the attorney’s. And the same as lawyers, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and adhere to a strict code of professional ethics. As stated, their duties can be diverse in support of the firms where they are employed, but a few of their daily tasks may involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching pertinent cases and laws
- Preparing correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting lawyers prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal documents, files and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be complex and very demanding. On the other hand, what they are not legally permitted to do is offer legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not confined to administrative or clerical duties more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys are able to take on a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Programs 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 educational prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The quickest means to begin your career as a legal assistant in Decatur AL is by obtaining a certificate, which may involve as little as 6 months to complete. Many entry level positions do call for an Associate’s Degree, which furnish a more expansive education and may be earned at numerous community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor’s Degrees are an option as well. Once you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you may choose to proceed and get a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help maximize your job opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. A few of the highly regarded 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 degree or certificate from an accredited program (we will discuss the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two essential first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Things to Ask Paralegal Programs
Since you now you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what educational choices are offered, you can start the process of assessing schools. But considering that there are numerous programs offered at community and junior colleges in the Decatur AL area, in addition to vocational and trade 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 as well. If you are like most potential students, you will start by searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other critical issues to think about as well, including accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let’s take a look at a few of the questions you should be asking the programs you are investigating so that you can effectively vet each one and make your ultimate decision.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you enroll in need to be accredited by a respected organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it might also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance learning. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will receive will be of the highest quality, but it will establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Numerous Decatur AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited school. Finally, financial aid and student loans are usually available only for accredited schools.
What’s the School’s Reputation? Investigate what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal programs you are contemplating. This is of special importance if you are new to the field with no prior work history, since employers will have to rely on the caliber of your training exclusively. Checking that the school you choose is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating services, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact several Decatur AL law practices that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask what schools they recommend. Remember that even when a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an excellent reputation.
Does the School Sponsor Internships? Internship programs provide students an opportunity to experience working in a law office or other legal enterprise while remaining in school. They can also provide an avenue for students to start developing contacts within the Decatur AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal schools you are reviewing offer internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will probably wish to hit the ground running after graduation, but finding that initial job in a new profession can be difficult without support. Ask if the paralegal programs you are reviewing have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent indication 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 Campus Located? Considering that laws differ from state to state, it may be a good idea to select a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you plan to work after graduating. In addition, it will be valuable to build relationships in the area legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is even more reason to obtain your education in the area where you desire to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most require a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might need to first consider those schools that are within the Decatur AL region.
What is the Complete Cost? Paralegal programs can differ in cost depending on the credential obtained and the amount of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only cost for your education. Don’t forget to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid may be available to help offset some of the expense, so make sure to contact the school’s financial aid department to see what is offered in Decatur AL. Naturally if you opt to attend an online program, a portion these added expenses, for instance for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Match your Schedule? A number of legal students keep working while obtaining their training and must have flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend weekend or evening classes near Decatur AL, verify classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, confirm that the program you choose offers that option. Last, ask what the protocol is for making-up missed classes because of sickness, work or family obligations.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Degrees
Online paralegal or legal assistant programs have become more common and can be an excellent option for those searching for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online programs can be particularly attractive to those who keep working while earning a certificate or degree. As an additional advantage, online programs can in some cases be less costly than on campus options. Even supplementary expenditures for such items as commuting or study materials may be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will cover in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the training you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the school and program you are reviewing are accredited by a respected agency, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less structured and conventional environment, then obtaining your certificate or degree online might be the ideal option for you.
Will You Attend Paralegal School near Decatur AL?
If you live near Decatur 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.
Decatur is a city in Morgan and Limestone counties in the State of Alabama. The city, nicknamed "The River City", is located in Northern Alabama on the banks of Wheeler Lake, along the Tennessee River. It is the largest city and county seat of Morgan County. The population in 2010 was 55,683.
Decatur is also the core city of the two-county large Decatur, Alabama metropolitan area which had an estimated population of 153,374 in 2013. Combined with the Huntsville Metropolitan Area, the two create the Huntsville-Decatur Combined Statistical Area, of which Decatur is the second-largest city.
Like many southern cities in the early 19th century, Decatur's early success was based upon its location along a river. Railroad routes and boating traffic pushed the city to the front of North Alabama's economic atmosphere. The city rapidly grew into a large economic center within the Tennessee Valley and was a hub for travelers and cargo between Nashville and Mobile, as well as Chattanooga and New Orleans. Throughout the 20th century, the city experienced steady growth, but was eclipsed as the regional economic center by the fast-growing Huntsville during the space race. The city now finds its economy heavily based on manufacturing, mining, cargo transit, chemical, and high-tech companies such as Vulcan Materials,Daikin,Toray,United Launch Alliance.
Find the Right Legal Assistant School near Decatur AL
Selecting the ideal paralegal degree program is a vital first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have discussed in this post, you have the choice of attending classes at school or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Decatur home. Paralegal training programs are offered in numerous formats and lengths. Different types of public and private institutions provide paralegal education, including community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a pronounced influence on your prospects for success in your new profession. Considering that there is a wide range in the quality of programs, pick wisely. Give yourself the best possible opportunity to be successful in this fascinating profession. But regardless of how you decide to receive your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to examine each school and make your final selection. And with the right training you can accomplish your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Decatur AL.
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