How to Find a Paralegal Certificate Program near Columbia Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Columbia AL and start your journey that will lead to a satisfying career in legal services. However, it’s essential that you locate the right school so that you will get the extensive training that you need to achieve success. As you probably understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more academic choices are becoming available, both at school and online. But with so many options to choose from, where does one begin? Many potential students start by searching for schools within traveling range of their Columbia residences. Of those choices, they look for the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are very important considerations when choosing a school, they are not the only qualifiers you should consider. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the school ought to be taken into account as well. Later in this article we will cover a list of questions that you need to 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 exactly what a paralegal does and the instructional options that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals essentially both fill the same job positions 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 legal assistants and paralegals assist Columbia AL lawyers with a wide variety of job functions, such as maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job duties are based upon the type of legal firm where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice may help with trial logistics or delivering files to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is usually billed hourly as are the lawyer’s. And the same as attorneys, they must carry out their duties with a high level of professionalism and adhere to a strict standard of professional ethics. As stated, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they are employed, but some of their routine activities may include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching relevant cases and laws
- Composing correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping lawyers prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal files, documents and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be complicated and quite challenging. However, what they are not legally authorized to do is provide legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not confined to clerical or administrative tasks more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys are able to manage a much larger number of clients or cases than they could alone.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the academic requirements and opportunities will be the same. The fastest means to begin your career as a legal assistant in Columbia AL is by earning a certificate, which can involve as little as six months to accomplish. A large number of entry level positions do require an Associate’s Degree, which furnish a more comprehensive education and may be obtained at many community colleges in two years. For an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor’s Degrees are available as well. Once you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you might choose to proceed and receive a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help boost your employment opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. Some of the highly regarded 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 school (we will discuss the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two essential first steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Things to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Once you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what training choices are available, you can start the undertaking of evaluating schools. But considering that there are numerous programs accessible at community and junior colleges in the Columbia AL area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you need to find out what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is especially true if 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 crucial factors to research as well, 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 properly vet each one and make your ultimate choice.
Is the Paralegal School and Program Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you choose should be accredited by a respected accrediting agency 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 training. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will obtain will be of the highest standard, but it will establish with future employers that you are a qualified professional also. A number of Columbia AL law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited school. Finally, financial aid and student loans are typically obtainable only for accredited programs.
What’s the Reputation of the Program? Find out what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant programs you are looking at. This is of particular importance if you are new to the profession with no previous experience, since employers will have to rely on the quality of your training exclusively. Checking that the school you choose is accredited is a good first step. Checking 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 contact a few Columbia AL law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask what schools they suggest. Keep in mind that even when a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an excellent reputation.
Does the School Provide Internships? Internship programs offer students a chance 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 creating contacts within the Columbia AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal schools you are evaluating provide internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help available? You will probably wish to secure employment quickly after graduation, but getting that first job in a new profession can be challenging without support. Find out if the paralegal schools you are interviewing have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have large networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their students are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the School’s Location? Because laws differ among states, it may be a good idea to select a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you want to work after graduating. In addition, it will be necessary to cultivate relationships in the local legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is even more reason to obtain your education in the area where you desire to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many require an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might want to initially investigate those schools that are within the Columbia AL area.
How Much is the Entire Expense? Paralegal schools can differ in cost based on the credential received and the length of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your education. Remember to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid might be available to help minimize part of the expense, so make sure to talk to the school’s financial aid office to see what is available in Columbia AL. Naturally if you opt to attend an online school, a portion these additional expenses, for instance for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? Many paralegal students continue working while getting their training and need flexibility in class scheduling. If you can just attend night or weekend classes near Columbia AL, make certain classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make certain that the school you choose provides that option. Last, ask what the process is for making-up missed classes as a result of sickness, work or family obligations.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Degrees
Online legal assistant or paralegal schools have become more available and can be a good alternative for students looking for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be particularly appealing to students who continue to work while earning a degree. As an added benefit, online schools can often be less expensive than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenditures for such items as commuting or study materials can be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will discuss in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the education you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the program and school you are looking into are accredited by a highly regarded organization, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to attend classes in a less structured and formal setting, then obtaining your certificate or degree online may be the ideal choice for you.
Will You Attend Paralegal School near Columbia AL?
If you live near Columbia 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.
At the age of 18 Columbia was hired to assist Bill Sienkiewicz in illustrating Alan Moore's ambitious Big Numbers series. When Sienkiewicz withdrew from the series in 1990 after the release of the first two issues, Moore and his backers at Tundra Publishing asked the young Columbia to become its sole artist. In 1992, with no more issues released, Columbia himself left the project under a cloud of rumors and accusations, including claims that he had destroyed his own artwork for Big Numbers #4. Columbia declined to address the subject publicly for several years, writing in a 1998 letter to The Comics Journal that "I could easily launch into a tirade about the extensive horror of my Tundra experience, but I much prefer the very entertaining and conflicting accounts already in circulation." In later statements he confirmed that he destroyed his artwork but disputed other claims by the principal figures in the fiasco.
In a 2011 article reflecting on his Big Numbers experience, Sienkiewicz wrote that he and Columbia had long since reconciled over the matter, and that he was content to "[c]halk the feud up to the folly of youth."
Columbia's first solo comic book, Doghead, was released by Tundra Publishing in 1992. It contains three short stories, two in black and white and one in full color. Paul Gravett described it as "three dark, stylish tales, indebted to Sienkiewicz and McKean but with hints of [Columbia's] emerging singular identity".
Find the Right Paralegal Certificate Program near Columbia AL
Choosing the ideal paralegal training program is an essential first step toward your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have discussed in this post, you have the choice of attending classes on campus or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Columbia home. Paralegal academic programs are made available in various formats and lengths. Various kinds of public and private institutions provide paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four year universities and colleges, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a profound influence on your prospects for success in your new career. Given that there is a broad range in the quality of programs, choose carefully. Afford yourself the best possible opportunity to be successful in this fascinating profession. But no matter how you choose to obtain your training 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 decision. And with the appropriate training you can realize your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Columbia AL.
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