How to Select a Paralegal Program near Madison Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Madison AL and begin your journey that will lead to a fulfilling career in legal services. However, it’s essential that you locate the right school so that you will get the extensive training that you require to succeed. As you most likely understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of educational alternatives are becoming available, both at school and online. But with numerous options to choose from, where does one begin? Some prospective students begin by looking for schools within traveling distance of their Madison residences. Of those choices, they search for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are important considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only qualifiers you must consider. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the program ought to be taken into account also. Later in this article we will review a list of concerns that you should ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare each one prior to making your choice. But first, let’s take a look at what a paralegal does and the academic alternatives that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants for the most part both fill the same job roles and functions, just with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and belong to a separate job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Madison AL lawyers with a wide variety of job duties, such as legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. 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 assist with trial logistics or transporting files to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is usually billed by the hour as are the lawyer’s. And just like lawyers, they must perform with a high level of professionalism and follow a strict standard of professional ethics. As noted, their responsibilities can be varied in support of the firms where they are employed, but some of their routine tasks may include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching related laws and cases
- Drafting correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping lawyers prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal documents, files and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be involved and quite challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally permitted to do is provide legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not restricted to administrative or clerical functions more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys have the ability to take on a much larger number of cases or clients than they could alone.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the educational requirements and opportunities will be the same. The fastest means to begin your career as a legal assistant in Madison AL is by earning a certificate, which can involve as little as 6 months to complete. Most entry level positions do require an Associate’s Degree, which provide a more comprehensive education and may be earned at many community colleges in 2 years. For an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor’s Degrees are offered as well. After you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you may choose to continue and obtain a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help boost your job opportunities, but help establish 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 degree or certificate from an accredited school (we will discuss the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two important first steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Points to Ask Paralegal Schools
Now that you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what educational choices are available, you can start the undertaking of evaluating schools. But considering that there are so many programs accessible at community and junior colleges in the Madison AL area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you must learn what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is especially true when you add all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like many prospective students, you will begin by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other critical factors to think about as well, including accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let’s go over some of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are considering so that you can effectively vet each one and make your ultimate decision.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you select should be accredited by a reputable accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it may also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online training. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will get will be of the highest standard, but it will demonstrate to potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Numerous Madison AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited program. Also, financial aid and student loans are usually accessible only for accredited programs.
What’s the Reputation of the School? Learn what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal schools you are looking at. This is of particular importance if you are new to the field with no previous experience, since employers will need to rely on the caliber of your education exclusively. Checking that the school you choose is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating services, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also call a few Madison AL law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask what schools they suggest. Remember that even though a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the School Sponsor Internships? Internship programs give students an opportunity to experience working in a law firm or other legal operation while still in school. They can also provide a pathway for students to start establishing contacts within the Madison AL legal field. Ask if the paralegal schools you are assessing offer internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance offered? You will probably wish to secure employment quickly after graduating, but getting that first job in a new field can be difficult without assistance. Ask if the paralegal schools you are assessing have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good sign that the schools have large networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their graduates are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the School’s Location? Considering that laws differ from state to state, it may be beneficial to choose a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you plan to practice after graduating. Also, it will be important to create relationships in the area legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is all the more justification to obtain your education in the area where you want to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most charge a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might need to first investigate those colleges that are within the Madison AL region.
How Much is the Total Cost? Paralegal schools can differ in cost depending on the credential obtained and the length of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only cost for your training. Don’t forget to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid may be obtainable to help offset part of the expense, so be sure to check with the school’s financial aid office to find out what is offered in Madison AL. Naturally if you choose to attend an online school, a portion these added expenses, such as for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? Numerous legal students continue working while obtaining their training and need flexibility to schedule classes. If you can just attend night or weekend classes near Madison AL, verify classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make sure that the school you select offers that option. Finally, find out what the protocol is for making-up missed classes as a result of work, illness or family emergencies.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Degrees
Legal assistant and paralegal online programs have become more available and can be an excellent alternative for students looking for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be especially appealing to individuals who continue to work while obtaining a degree. As an added benefit, online programs can often be less costly than more traditional options. Even secondary expenditures for such things as study materials or commuting can be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all online programs are accredited, which we will address in more detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the education you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the program and school you are reviewing are accredited by a highly regarded 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 degree or certificate online may be the right option for you.
Will You Attend Paralegal School near Madison AL?
If you live near Madison 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.
Madison County, Alabama
Madison County is a county of the U.S. state of Alabama. As of the 2010 Census, the population was 334,811, making it the third-most populous county in Alabama. Its county seat is Huntsville. The county is named in honor of James Madison, fourth President of the United States and the first President to visit the state of Alabama. Madison County covers parts of the former Decatur County.
Madison County was established on December 13, 1808 by the governor of the Mississippi Territory. It is recognized as the "birthplace" of Alabama, which was founded there on December 14, 1819. For much of the county's history, the economy revolved mainly around agriculture. Madison County was one of the largest cotton-producing counties in the state, and textile mills operated around the county.
This changed when a group of German rocket scientists, led by Wernher von Braun, came to Redstone Arsenal in 1950. They developed, among others, the Redstone rocket, which was modified to launch the first two Americans into space. Tens of thousands of jobs came to the area as a result of the Space Race, and the population of Madison County rose from 72,903 in 1950 to an estimated 2015 population of 353,089.
Find the Best Legal Assistant College near Madison AL
Selecting the ideal paralegal educational program is an important 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 attend them online in the comfort and privacy of your Madison residence. Paralegal training programs are provided in numerous lengths and formats. Various kinds of private and public institutions provide paralegal education, including junior and community colleges, four year colleges and universities, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a pronounced impact on your opportunities for success in your new career. Given that there is a broad range in the quality of programs, pick carefully. Afford yourself the greatest possible chance to be successful in this exciting profession. But no matter how you decide to acquire your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to assess each program and make your ultimate selection. And with the ideal education you can achieve your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Madison AL.
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