How to Enroll in the Right Paralegal Degree Program Near Alabaster Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Alabaster AL and begin your journey that will lead to a rewarding career in legal services. However, it's crucial that you find the ideal school so that you will get the extensive training that you need to be successful. As you probably understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more educational options are being offered, both on campus and online. But with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one start? Some prospective students begin by looking for schools within driving range of their Alabaster residences. Of those alternatives, they search for the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are important considerations when choosing a college, they are not the only qualifiers you must take into consideration. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the program should be considered too. Later in this article we will review a list of questions that you should ask potential paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare every one prior to making your selection. But before we do, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic choices that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants essentially both fill the same job roles and responsibilities, only with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and are part of a separate job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Alabaster AL lawyers with a wide range of job duties, including maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job functions are relevant to the type of legal firm where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice might assist with the logistics of a trial or transferring documents to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is usually billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And just like attorneys, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and follow a strict code of professional ethics. As stated, their duties can be varied in support of the practices where they are employed, but some of their everyday activities can include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on related cases and laws
- Preparing correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping lawyers get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be complicated and rather challenging. However, what they are not legally authorized to do is offer legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not restricted to administrative or clerical tasks more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers are able to handle a much larger number of clients or cases than they could alone.
Paralegal Certificates and Degrees and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the academic requirements and job prospects 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 6 months to complete. Many entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more comprehensive education and can be acquired at numerous community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are offered also. Once you have earned either a certificate or degree, you might want to proceed and get a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help maximize your career opportunities, but help substantiate 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 school (we will address the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 crucial first steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Courses
Online legal assistant or paralegal schools have become more common and may be a good option for students searching for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online schools can be particularly appealing to Alabaster AL students who keep working while obtaining a degree. As an additional advantage, online schools can often be less costly than on campus options. Even secondary expenses for such items as study materials or commuting can be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will cover in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the training you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the program and school you are reviewing are accredited by a respected agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less structured and conventional environment, then obtaining your certificate or degree online might be the right choice for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Degree or Certificate Programs
Once you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what training options are available, you can start the undertaking of evaluating schools. But since there are so many programs accessible at junior and community colleges in the Alabaster AL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you need to find out what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is particularly true when you add all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like most potential students, you will begin by searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other critical factors to research as well, including the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's go over some of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are investigating so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your final decision.
Is the Paralegal School and Program Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you choose should be accredited by a respected organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it can also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online education. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will obtain will be of the highest quality, but it will show future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Numerous Alabaster AL law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited program. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are typically offered only for accredited programs.
What's the Program's Reputation? Find out what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal programs you are looking at. This is of particular importance if you are entering the field with no prior experience, since employers will have to rely on the quality of your training exclusively. Confirming that the school you choose is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating reports, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call some Alabaster AL law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask which schools they suggest. Keep in mind that even though a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the School Provide Internships? Internship programs offer students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal enterprise while remaining in school. They can also provide an avenue for students to begin establishing contacts within the Alabaster AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal programs you are considering provide internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will most likely want to secure employment quickly after graduating, but getting that initial job in a new field can be difficult without support. Find out if the paralegal programs you are assessing have job placement programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good sign that the schools have large networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their students are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the School's Location? Considering that laws differ from state to state, it might be beneficial to choose a paralegal school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you plan to work after graduation. Also, it will be valuable to cultivate relationships in the area legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is all the more justification to acquire your education in the area where you choose to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many require a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might need to first look at those schools that are within the Alabaster AL area.
How Much is the Entire Expense? Paralegal schools can vary in price based on the credential obtained and the amount of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only cost for your training. Remember to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance might be accessible to help minimize some of the cost, so don't forget to consult with the school's financial aid office to find out what is available in Alabaster AL. Needless to say that if you decide to attend an online program, some of these additional costs, such as for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Fit your Schedule? A number of paralegal students keep working while getting their training and require flexibility to schedule classes. If you can solely attend weekend or evening classes near Alabaster AL, verify classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make sure that the program you enroll in makes available that option. Last, inquire what the procedure is for making-up classes missed as a result of work, illness or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Best Alabaster Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Enrolling in the best legal assistant training program is a vital first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have discussed in this article, you have the option of attending classes on campus or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Alabaster residence. Paralegal academic programs are provided in many lengths and formats. Different kinds of public and private institutions offer paralegal education, including community colleges, four-year universities and colleges, 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 profession. Given that there is a wide range in the quality of schools, choose carefully. Afford yourself the best possible opportunity to succeed in this exciting profession. But no matter how you elect to receive your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have provided you will have the ability to examine each school and make your ultimate selection. And with the right training you can realize your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Alabaster Alabama.