How to Select the Right Paralegal Studies Certificate Program near Helena Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Helena AL and start your journey that will lead to a fulfilling profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it’s essential that you find the best school so that you will get the extensive training that you require to succeed. As you most likely know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more educational alternatives are becoming available, both on campus and online. But with so many options to choose from, where does one start? Many potential students start by trying to find schools within commuting distance of their Helena homes. Of those options, they search for the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are prime considerations when choosing a college, they are not the only factors you need to consider. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the program should be considered too. Later on in this article we will review a list of questions that you should ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare every one prior to making your decision. But first, let’s take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic alternatives that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals for the most part both hold comparable job positions and responsibilities, only with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and are part of a different job classification. Both legal assistants and paralegals help Helena AL attorneys with a wide range of job functions, such as 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. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice may help with trial logistics or transporting files to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is typically billed by the hour as are the lawyer’s. And just like lawyers, they must perform with a high level of professionalism and adhere to a strict code of professional ethics. As noted, their duties can be diverse in support of the practices where they are employed, but some of their routine tasks may include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on applicable laws and cases
- Composing correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping attorneys prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal documents, files and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be complex and very challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally permitted to do is offer legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not restricted to clerical or administrative duties more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the right hand support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys are able to take on a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could otherwise.
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. In any case, for either position the educational requirements and opportunities will be the same. The fastest way to launch your career as a paralegal in Helena AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can take just six months to accomplish. Most entry level positions do call for an Associate’s Degree, which provide a more comprehensive education and may be acquired at numerous community colleges in 2 years. For an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor’s Degrees are offered as well. Once you have acquired either a degree or a certificate, you might want to continue and get a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help improve your career opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. Some 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 certificate or degree from an accredited program (we will cover the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two important first steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Points to Ask Paralegal Schools
Once you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what educational options are available, you can start the undertaking of evaluating schools. But because there are so many programs offered at community and junior colleges in the Helena AL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you need to know what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is particularly true if you add all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. If you are like most prospective students, you will start by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other significant aspects to consider as well, for instance accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let’s go over several of the questions you should be asking the schools you are researching so that you can effectively vet each one and make your final choice.
Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you choose should be accredited by a recognized accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it might also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online training. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will receive will be of the highest quality, but it will demonstrate to potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. Many Helena AL law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited program. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are often available only for accredited schools.
What’s the Reputation of the School? Research what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant schools you are looking at. This is of particular importance if you are entering the profession with no prior work history, since employers will have to make a decision based on the caliber of your training exclusively. Verifying that the program you choose is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating reports, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call some Helena AL law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask which schools they suggest. Keep in mind that even though a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the Program Provide Internships? Internship programs provide students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal enterprise while attending school. They can also provide an avenue for students to start developing contacts within the Helena AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal schools you are assessing offer internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance offered? You will probably want to hit the ground running after graduating, but finding that initial job in a new field can be challenging without support. Ask if the paralegal programs you are reviewing have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good sign that the schools have large networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their graduates are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the School Located? Considering that laws vary among states, it might be a good idea to choose a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you plan to work after graduation. In addition, it will be important to create relationships in the neighboring legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is even more reason to receive your education in the community where you desire to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many require a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may need to initially consider those schools that are within the Helena AL area.
How Much is the Total Expense? Paralegal schools can vary in price depending on the credential obtained and the amount of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your training. Don’t forget to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance might be obtainable to help offset part of the expense, so don’t forget to contact the school’s financial aid office to see what is available in Helena AL. Of course if you choose to attend an online school, a portion these additional expenses, for instance for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Accommodate your Schedule? Numerous legal students keep working while getting 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. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make certain that the school you choose offers that option. Last, find out what the procedure is for making-up classes missed because of work, illness or family emergencies.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Programs
Legal assistant and paralegal online programs have become more popular and can be an excellent option for individuals looking for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online schools can be particularly attractive to those who continue to work while earning a degree. As an additional benefit, online programs can often be less costly than on campus options. Even ancillary expenditures for such items as study materials or commuting may be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet programs 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 caliber. So check to make certain that the program and school you are considering are accredited by a reputable organization, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less structured and conventional environment, then earning your degree or certificate online may be the ideal choice for you.
Attending a Paralegal School near Helena AL?
If you live near Helena Alabama or perhaps 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.
Paralegal Studies Certificate Helena AL
Enrolling in the right paralegal studies degree school is an important first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. You originally came to this website because you had an interest in getting more information about Paralegal Studies Certificate. But as we have addressed in this article, you have the choice of attending classes on campus or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Helena home. Paralegal education programs are provided in numerous formats and lengths. Various 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 selection of a paralegal school will have a pronounced influence on your prospects for success in your new profession. Since there is a wide range in the quality of programs, pick wisely. Give yourself the best possible chance to succeed in this exciting profession. But irrespective of how you elect to receive your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have provided you will have the ability to examine each school and make your final decision. And with the appropriate training you can realize your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Helena AL.
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