How to Select the Best Paralegal Studies School Near Alabaster Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Alabaster AL and start your journey that will lead to a satisfying career in legal services. However, it's crucial that you find the right school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you require to achieve success. As you most likely know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more academic alternatives are being offered, both on campus and online. But with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Many potential students start by trying to find schools within commuting range of their Alabaster residences. Of those choices, they search for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are important considerations when picking a college, they are not the only qualifiers you ought to consider. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the program must be taken into consideration too. Later on in this article we will review a list of questions that you should ask potential paralegal schools so that you can assess 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 offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals for the most part both hold the same job roles 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 separate job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals help Alabaster AL attorneys with a diverse array 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 work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice may assist with the logistics of a trial or transporting files to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is typically billed by the hour as are the lawyer's. And just like attorneys, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and follow a strict code of professional ethics. As stated, their duties can be diverse in support of the practices where they are employed, but a few of their day-to-day activities can include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching relevant laws and cases
- Drafting correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping lawyers prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be complex and very demanding. On the other hand, what they are not legally authorized to do is provide legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not restricted to administrative or clerical tasks more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the main support systems for lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers are able to take on a much larger number of cases or clients than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the academic requirements and opportunities will be the same. The fastest way to start your career as a paralegal in Alabaster AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can require as little as 6 months to complete. Most entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which provide a more extensive education and may be acquired at many community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are an option as well. When you have earned either a certificate or degree, you may want to proceed 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 employment opportunities, but help establish you as a professional as well. Some 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 school (we will address the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two crucial first steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Courses
Online paralegal or legal assistant programs have become more available and may be a good alternative for individuals looking for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online programs can be particularly attractive to Alabaster AL students who continue to work while obtaining a degree. As an additional benefit, online programs can often be less expensive than more traditional options. Even secondary expenses for such things as study materials or commuting can be minimized 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 guarantee that the training you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the school and program you are looking into are accredited by a respected agency, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to attend classes in a less supervised and formal environment, then earning your certificate or degree online may be the right option for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Certificate or Degree Programs
Once you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what academic options are available, you can begin the process of evaluating schools. But because there are numerous programs offered at community and junior 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 evaluate each one. This is especially true when you add all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. If you are like most potential students, you will begin by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other critical factors to consider as well, including the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's go over several of the questions you should be asking the programs you are considering so that you can effectively vet each one and make your final choice.
Is the Paralegal Training Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you pick should be accredited by a respected accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it might also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance training. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will get will be of the highest quality, but it will establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. A number of Alabaster AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited program. Finally, financial aid and student loans are often obtainable only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Find out 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 work history, since employers will have to rely on the caliber of your training exclusively. Verifying that the school you select is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating reports, such as those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call a few Alabaster AL law firms that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask which schools they recommend. Bear in mind that even when a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an excellent reputation.
Does the Program Offer Internships? Internship programs offer students an opportunity to experience working in a law practice or other legal enterprise while attending school. They can also provide an avenue for students to begin creating contacts within the Alabaster AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal programs you are reviewing offer internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance offered? You will probably wish to hit the ground running after graduation, but getting that initial job in a new field can be difficult without support. Ask if the paralegal schools you are assessing have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good sign that the schools have large networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their students are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the School's Location? Because laws differ from state to state, it may be a good idea to enroll in a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you wish to practice after graduation. In addition, it will be necessary to establish relationships in the area legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is even more reason to acquire your education in the area where you choose to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many charge a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might wish to initially investigate those colleges that are within the Alabaster AL region.
How Much is the Complete Cost? Paralegal programs can differ in cost based on the credential obtained and the length of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only cost for your training. Don't forget to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid may be accessible to help minimize some of the expense, so don't forget to talk to the school's financial aid department to see what is available in Alabaster AL. Of course if you decide to attend an online school, a portion these supplementary expenses, for instance for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Accommodate your Schedule? A number of paralegal students continue working while getting their training and require flexibility to schedule classes. If you can solely attend night or weekend classes near Alabaster AL, verify classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make sure that the school you choose provides that option. Finally, find out what the procedure is for making-up classes missed due to work, illness or family obligations.
Enroll in the Right Alabaster Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Choosing the best paralegal certificate program is a vital first step toward 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 training programs are provided in various formats and lengths. Several types of public and private institutions make available paralegal training, including community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a pronounced influence on your prospects for success in your new career. Considering that there is a broad range in the quality of schools, choose wisely. Afford yourself the greatest possible chance to succeed in this exciting profession. But no matter how you decide to obtain your education 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 final selection. And with the appropriate training you can realize your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Alabaster Alabama.