How to Find the Best Paralegal Certificate Program Near Alabaster Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Alabaster AL and start your journey that will lead to a fulfilling career in legal services. However, it's essential that you find the right school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you need to achieve success. As you most likely understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of academic alternatives are being offered, both at school and online. But with so many options to choose from, where does one begin? Many prospective students begin by searching for schools within driving distance of their Alabaster homes. Of those options, they try to find the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are very important considerations when selecting a college, they are not the only factors you ought to take into consideration. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the program ought to be considered too. Later in this post we will review a list of concerns that you must ask potential paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare each one prior to making your choice. But first, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the instructional alternatives that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants basically both fill the same job positions and functions, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and are part of a different job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Alabaster AL lawyers with a diverse array of job functions, such as maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job functions are relevant to the type of practice where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm may assist with trial logistics or transporting documents to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is typically billed hourly as are the attorney's. And the same as lawyers, they must carry out their duties with a high degree of professionalism and follow a strict code of professional ethics. As noted, their responsibilities can be diverse in support of the firms where they are employed, but a few of their day-to-day tasks can involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on related laws and cases
- Drafting correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting attorneys prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be complicated and rather challenging. However, what they are not legally permitted to do is provide legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not restricted to administrative or clerical duties more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really 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 manage a much larger number of clients or cases than they could on their own.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the academic prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The fastest means to begin your career as a legal assistant in Alabaster AL is by earning a certificate, which can take just six months to accomplish. Many 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, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are available also. After you have acquired either a certificate or degree, you may want to proceed and obtain a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help maximize your job opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. A few of the highly regarded certifying agencies 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 certificate or degree 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 ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Courses
Online paralegal or legal assistant programs have become more prevalent and can be a good alternative for individuals searching for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online programs can be particularly attractive to Alabaster AL students who continue to work while earning a degree. As an additional benefit, online schools can sometimes be less costly than more traditional options. Even supplementary expenditures for such items as commuting or study materials can be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will cover 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 sure that the school and program you are reviewing are accredited by a respected organization, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less structured and conventional setting, then earning your certificate or degree online might be the ideal option for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Once you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what academic options are available, you can begin the process of evaluating schools. But considering that there are so many programs accessible at community and junior colleges in the Alabaster AL area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you must learn 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 looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other significant aspects to research as well, for instance the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's go over several of the questions you should be asking the schools you are investigating so that you can properly vet each one and make your final choice.
Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you select should be accredited by a reputable organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it can also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance training. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will receive will be of the highest quality, but it will demonstrate to future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. A number of Alabaster AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited program. Also, financial assistance and student loans are often accessible only for accredited programs.
What's the School's Reputation? Investigate what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant programs you are looking at. This is of particular importance if you are new to the field with no prior experience, since employers will need to rely on the caliber of your training exclusively. Confirming that the program you pick is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating reports, 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 some Alabaster 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 may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the Program Offer 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 present an avenue for students to begin establishing contacts within the Alabaster AL legal field. Ask if the paralegal schools you are assessing provide internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help provided? You will most likely wish to secure employment quickly after graduation, but getting that initial job in a new field can be difficult without assistance. Find out if the paralegal programs you are assessing have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have substantial networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their graduates are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the School's Location? Considering that laws vary among states, it might be a good idea to choose a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you plan to practice after graduating. Also, it will be important to establish relationships in the neighboring legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is all the more reason to receive your education in the area where you choose to work. 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 wish to first investigate those colleges that are within the Alabaster AL area.
What is the Complete Expense? Paralegal programs can differ in cost depending on the credential obtained and the length of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your education. Remember 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 cost, so be sure to consult with the school's financial aid department to find out what is available in Alabaster AL. Naturally if you opt to attend an online school, some of these added expenses, such as for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Fit your Schedule? Numerous legal students keep working while getting their training and must have flexibility in class scheduling. If you can only attend weekend or evening classes near Alabaster 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 makes available that option. Finally, find out what the procedure is for making-up classes missed due to work, illness or family emergencies.
Choose the Right Alabaster Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Choosing the best paralegal degree school is a crucial first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. 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 Alabaster residence. Paralegal education programs are made available in many lengths and formats. Various types of private and public institutions make available paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four-year colleges and universities, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a pronounced impact on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Considering that there is a wide range in the quality of schools, choose wisely. Give yourself the greatest possible opportunity to be successful in this rewarding profession. But regardless of how you decide to receive your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have presented you will be able to evaluate each school and make your final decision. And with the ideal education you can accomplish your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Alabaster Alabama.