How to Enroll in the Right Paralegal Studies School Near Alabaster Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Alabaster AL and start your journey that will result in a gratifying profession in legal services. However, it's essential that you locate the best school so that you will receive the extensive training that you need to succeed. As you probably know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of educational choices are being offered, both at school and online. But with numerous options to choose from, where does one start? A number of prospective students start by looking for schools within commuting range of their Alabaster residences. Of those alternatives, they search for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are important considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only factors you should consider. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the program must be considered also. Later on in this article we will cover a list of concerns that you must ask potential paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare every one prior to making your choice. But first, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the instructional choices that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals for the most part both hold comparable job roles 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 help Alabaster AL lawyers with a wide range of job duties, such as legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job duties are based upon the type of practice where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm may help with trial logistics or transferring documents to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is usually billed by the hour as are the lawyer's. And the same as 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 are employed, but a few of their routine activities may include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on related laws and cases
- Composing correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting lawyers get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be involved and very demanding. However, what they are not legally authorized to do is offer legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not restricted to administrative or clerical tasks more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the main support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers are able to take on a much larger number of cases or clients than they could alone.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the educational prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The quickest means to begin your career as a legal assistant in Alabaster AL is by earning a certificate, which can involve as little as six months to complete. Many entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more expansive education and may be earned at numerous community colleges in 2 years. For an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are an option also. After you have acquired either a degree or a certificate, you might choose to continue and receive a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help maximize your employment opportunities, but help establish you as a professional as well. A few of the highly respected 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 degree or certificate from an accredited program (we will cover the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 important first steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Classes
Online legal assistant or paralegal programs have become more common and can be a good alternative for those looking for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be particularly attractive to Alabaster AL students who keep working while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an additional benefit, online classes can sometimes be less costly than more traditional options. Even supplementary expenses for such things as study materials or commuting may be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all online programs are accredited, which we will address in more detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee 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 highly regarded agency, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to attend classes in a less supervised and formal setting, then obtaining your degree or certificate online might be the ideal option for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Certificate or Degree Programs
Once you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what training choices are available, you can start the undertaking of assessing schools. But because there are numerous programs accessible at community and junior colleges in the Alabaster AL area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you must learn what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is especially true when you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like many potential 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 important factors 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 ultimate decision.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you choose need to be accredited by a respected accrediting agency 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 online or distance training. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will receive will be of the highest quality, but it will establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Numerous Alabaster AL law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited school. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are typically obtainable only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the School? Investigate what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal schools you are looking at. This is of special importance if you are entering the profession with no prior experience, since employers will have to rely on the quality of your education exclusively. Checking that the program you choose 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 quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact several Alabaster AL law firms that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask which schools they recommend. Remember that even if a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an excellent reputation.
Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law firm or other legal establishment while still in school. They can also present an avenue for students to start creating contacts within the Alabaster AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal programs you are evaluating offer internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will most likely wish to hit the ground running after graduation, but finding that initial job in a new profession can be difficult without assistance. Find out if the paralegal programs you are reviewing have job placement programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have large networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their graduates are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the School Located? Considering that laws differ from one state to another, it may be advantageous to enroll in a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you plan to work after graduation. Also, it will be important to build relationships in the local legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is all the more reason to receive your education in the community where you want to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most charge an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might want to first investigate those colleges that are within the Alabaster AL region.
How Much is the Total Expense? Paralegal schools can vary in price based on the credential received and the amount of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expense for your training. Don't forget to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid may be obtainable to help minimize part of the expense, so make sure 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 school, a portion these additional expenses, such as for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? A number of paralegal students keep working while obtaining their training and must have flexibility in class scheduling. If you can only attend weekend or evening classes near Alabaster AL, verify classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make sure that the school you enroll in offers that option. Finally, inquire what the protocol is for making up classes missed due to work, illness or family obligations.
Enroll in the Right Alabaster Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Selecting the ideal paralegal certificate school is an important first step toward your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have covered in this post, you have the choice of attending classes at school or you can attend them online in the comfort and privacy of your Alabaster residence. Paralegal education programs are provided in many formats and lengths. Several kinds of public and private institutions make available paralegal training, including junior and community colleges, four-year universities and colleges, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a profound influence on your prospects for success in your new profession. Since there is a wide range in the quality of programs, pick carefully. Afford yourself the greatest possible opportunity to succeed in this rewarding profession. But no matter how you decide to obtain your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to evaluate each school and make your final decision. And with the appropriate training you can achieve your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Alabaster Alabama.