How to Select the Right Paralegal Studies Degree Program Near Bay Minette Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Bay Minette AL and start your journey that will lead to a rewarding career in legal services. However, it's essential that you find the best school so that you will receive the extensive training that you need to succeed. As you probably understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of academic alternatives are being offered, both on campus and online. However with so many options to choose from, where does one start? Many prospective students begin by searching for schools within commuting distance of their Bay Minette residences. Of those choices, they search for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are prime considerations when picking a school, they are not the only qualifiers you ought to take into consideration. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the program should be taken into consideration as well. Later in this post we will cover a list of questions that you need to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare every one prior to making your decision. But first, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the educational choices that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants for the most part both fill comparable job roles and responsibilities, just 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 Bay Minette AL lawyers with a wide range of job duties, including legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job functions are based upon the type of practice where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm could help with trial logistics or delivering files to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is typically billed hourly as are the attorney's. And just like attorneys, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and abide by a strict code of professional ethics. As noted, their duties can be diverse in support of the practices where they work, but some of their routine tasks can include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on applicable cases and laws
- Drafting correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting attorneys get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be involved and quite challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally allowed to do is give legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not limited to clerical or administrative tasks more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the right hand support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers have the ability to take on a much larger number of clients or cases than they could on their own.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably 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 start your career as a paralegal in Bay Minette AL is by earning a certificate, which can involve just six months to complete. A large number of entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more expansive education and can be acquired at many community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are an option as well. After you have obtained 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 work as a paralegal, certification can not only help improve your career opportunities, but help establish you as a professional as well. A few of the highly respected certifying agencies in the field 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 cover the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two crucial first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Classes
Legal assistant and paralegal online programs have become more available and can be an excellent option for students looking for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online programs can be especially attractive to Bay Minette AL students who keep working while earning a certificate or degree. As an added advantage, online classes can in some cases be less expensive than on campus options. Even supplementary expenses for such things as commuting or study materials can be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will cover in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the education you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the program and school you are considering are accredited by a highly regarded agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less supervised and formal setting, then obtaining your certificate or degree online might be the ideal option for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Studies Programs
Now that you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what academic options are available, you can begin the undertaking of assessing schools. But considering that there are so many programs accessible at junior and community colleges in the Bay Minette AL area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you need to learn what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is especially true if you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like many potential students, you will start by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other important aspects to think about as well, for instance accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at some of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are researching so that you can effectively vet each one and make your ultimate selection.
Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you enroll in need to be accredited by a reputable organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it can also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online education. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will get will be of the highest standard, but it will demonstrate to future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. A number of Bay Minette AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited program. Also, financial assistance and student loans are typically available only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the School? Learn what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant programs you are contemplating. This is of specific importance if you are new to the field with no previous work history, since employers will need to make a decision based on the caliber of your training exclusively. Checking that the school you select is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating services, such as those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact a few Bay Minette AL law offices that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask which schools they recommend. Remember that even though a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an excellent reputation.
Does the School Sponsor Internships? Internship programs offer students an opportunity to experience working in a law practice or other legal operation while remaining in school. They can also provide an avenue for students to start creating contacts within the Bay Minette AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal schools you are considering offer internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance offered? You will undoubtedly want to secure employment quickly after graduation, but finding that initial job in a new profession can be difficult without help. Ask if the paralegal schools you are reviewing 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 corroborates that their students are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the Campus Located? Because laws differ from one state to another, it may be advantageous to choose a paralegal school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you plan to practice after graduation. Also, it will be necessary to establish relationships in the local legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is all the more reason to obtain your education in the community where you wish to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most require an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may wish to first consider those schools that are within the Bay Minette AL region.
What is the Total Expense? Paralegal programs can differ in cost based on the credential obtained and the amount of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only expense for your education. Don't forget to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid may be accessible to help offset part of the cost, so make sure to consult with the school's financial aid office to see what is available in Bay Minette AL. Naturally if you decide to attend an online program, a portion these additional costs, for instance for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Match your Schedule? Many paralegal students continue working while obtaining their training and require flexibility in class scheduling. If you can only attend weekend or evening classes near Bay Minette 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 makes available that option. Finally, inquire what the protocol is for making up classes missed because of work, illness or family obligations.
Enroll in the Right Bay Minette Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Selecting the right paralegal degree school is an essential first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have covered in this article, you have the option of attending classes on campus or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Bay Minette residence. Paralegal training programs are provided in numerous lengths and formats. Various kinds of private and public institutions provide paralegal training, including community colleges, four year universities and colleges, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a pronounced influence on your prospects for success in your new career. Considering that there is a wide range in the quality of schools, choose carefully. Give yourself the best possible opportunity to be successful in this rewarding profession. But no matter how you choose to receive your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will be able to evaluate each school and make your final selection. And with the appropriate training you can realize your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Bay Minette Alabama.