How to Find a Paralegal Studies Program near Decatur Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Decatur AL and start your journey that will lead to a rewarding profession in legal services. However, it’s essential that you locate the best school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you need to succeed. As you most likely know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more academic options are becoming available, both at school and online. But with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one start? Many potential students begin by trying to find paralegal schools within traveling distance of their Decatur residences. Of those options, they look for the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are necessary considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only factors you must take into consideration. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the school need to be considered as well. Later in this article we will review a list of questions that you should ask potential paralegal certificate schools so that you can examine and compare every one prior to making your choice. But first, let’s take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic options that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
What is a Paralegal and What Do They Do?
Paralegals and legal assistants basically both fill the same job positions and functions, only with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and are part of a different job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants help lawyers in Decatur AL with a wide range of job functions, including legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job duties are based upon the type of legal firm where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice could assist with trial logistics or delivering files to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is typically billed hourly as are the lawyer’s. And just like attorneys, they must perform with a high level of professionalism and abide by a strict code of professional ethics. As mentioned, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they work, but some of their day-to-day tasks may involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching applicable laws and cases
- Drafting correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting lawyers prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their duties, the job of a Decatur AL paralegal can be complicated and quite challenging. However, what they are not legally allowed to do is offer legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not restricted to clerical or administrative functions more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the main support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys have the ability to manage a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could on their own.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The quickest way to launch your career in Decatur AL as a paralegal is by obtaining a certificate, which can require as little as 6 months to complete. Many entry level positions do require an Associate’s Degree, which furnish a more expansive education and may be obtained at many community colleges in 2 years. For an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor’s Degrees are an option also. After you have acquired 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 work as a paralegal, certification may not only help maximize your career opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. A few 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 degree or certificate from an accredited program (we will discuss the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two crucial first steps that will help ensure your success as a paralegal in Decatur AL.
Online Paralegal Schools
Paralegal online programs have become more prevalent and can be a good option for students in Decatur AL looking for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be especially attractive to students who continue to work while earning a certificate or degree. As an added benefit, online classes can in some cases be less costly than more traditional options. Even supplementary expenses for such items as study materials or commuting may be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all online schools are accredited, which we will discuss in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the training you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the school and program you are considering are accredited by a reputable agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less supervised and conventional setting, then earning your certificate or degree online might be the ideal option for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Since you now you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what academic choices are offered, you can start the undertaking of assessing Decatur AL area schools. But since there are numerous programs accessible at junior and community colleges, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you need to know what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is particularly true when you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like many prospective students, you will begin by searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other significant issues to consider also, such as the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let’s take a look at some of the questions you should be asking the schools you are researching so that you can properly vet each one and make your ultimate decision.
Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you select should be accredited by a respected organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it might also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance learning. Accreditation will not only help guarantee 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 as well. A number of Decatur AL law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited program. Finally, financial aid and student loans are often available only for accredited schools.
What’s the Program’s Reputation? Find out what the reputations and rankings are for the Decatur AL paralegal schools you are considering. This is of particular importance if you are new to the field with no prior experience, since employers will have to rely on the caliber of your education exclusively. Confirming that the program you pick is accredited is a good 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 some law practices that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask what schools they suggest. Bear in mind that even when a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs provide students an opportunity to experience working in a law practice or other legal enterprise while attending school. They can also provide a means for students to start developing contacts within the Decatur AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal schools you are considering provide internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help offered? You will most likely wish to hit the ground running after graduation, but getting that initial job in a new field can be challenging without support. Ask if the paralegal schools you are reviewing have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high 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 graduates are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the School’s Location? Considering that laws differ from state to state, it might be a good idea to select a paralegal school domiciled in the state where you plan to practice after graduating. In addition, it will be valuable to cultivate relationships in the neighboring legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is all the more justification to acquire your education in the community where you choose to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many charge an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might want to initially investigate those colleges that are within your Decatur AL local region.
How Much is the Complete Expense? Paralegal programs can differ in price based on the credential earned and the length of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only cost for your education. Remember to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid may be obtainable to help minimize part of the expense, so don’t forget to consult with the school’s financial aid office to find out what is offered in Decatur AL. Needless to say that if you choose to attend an online program, some of these added costs, for instance for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Match your Schedule? Many paralegal students keep working while obtaining their training and require flexibility in class scheduling. If you can only attend weekend or evening classes near Decatur AL, make sure classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make sure that the school you select makes available that option. Last, inquire what the protocol is for making-up classes missed because of sickness, work or family obligations.
Considering Paralegal School in Decatur AL?
Decatur is a city in Morgan and Limestone counties in the State of Alabama. The city, affectionately known as "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, cargo transit, and hi-tech industries such as General Electric, and the United Launch Alliance.
Initially the area was known as "Rhodes Ferry Landing", named for Dr. Henry W. Rhodes, an early landowner who operated a ferry that crossed the Tennessee River in the 1810s at the present-day location of Rhodes Ferry Park. The city was incorporated as Decatur in 1821. It was named in honor of Stephen Decatur; after he was killed in a duel in 1820, President Monroe directed that the Alabama town be named for him.
Enroll in the Right Paralegal Training near Decatur AL
Choosing the best paralegal educational program is an essential first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have discussed in this article, you have the option of attending classes at school or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Decatur home. Paralegal training programs are made available in many lengths and formats. Several kinds of public and private institutions offer paralegal education, including community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, as well as 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 schools, pick carefully. Afford yourself the best possible opportunity to be successful in this fascinating profession. But no matter how you choose to obtain your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will have the ability to examine each program and make your final selection. And with the right education you can accomplish your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Decatur AL.
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