How to Pick the Right Paralegal Program Near Bay Minette Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Bay Minette AL and begin your journey that will lead to a gratifying profession in legal services. However, it's crucial that you find the right school so that you will get the extensive training that you need to achieve success. As you probably understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more academic choices are being offered, both at school and online. But with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one start? A number of prospective students start by searching for schools within commuting range of their Bay Minette residences. Of those choices, they look for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are very important considerations when picking a college, they are not the only factors you need to take into consideration. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the program need to be taken into account as well. 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 before making your decision. But first, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the instructional alternatives 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 the same job positions and responsibilities, only with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and are part of a separate job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Bay Minette AL lawyers with a diverse array of job duties, 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. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm may assist with trial logistics or transferring files to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is usually billed hourly as are the attorney's. And just like lawyers, they must carry out their duties with a high level of professionalism and abide by a strict code of professional ethics. As noted, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they work, but some of their daily tasks might involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on pertinent laws and cases
- Preparing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting attorneys prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal files, documents and other records
With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be complex and rather demanding. On the other hand, what they are not legally permitted to do is offer legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not confined to clerical or administrative tasks more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys have the ability to take on a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the academic prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The quickest means to launch your career as a paralegal in Bay Minette AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can involve just 6 months to accomplish. Most entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more expansive education and can be obtained at many community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are an option as well. When you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you might choose to continue and get a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help increase your career opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. A few of the highly respected certifying organizations 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 guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Certificates and Degrees
Online paralegal or legal assistant schools have become more common and can be an excellent option for individuals looking for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online schools can be especially attractive to Bay Minette AL students who continue to work while earning a certificate or degree. As an added benefit, online schools can often be less costly than on campus options. Even ancillary 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 address in more detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the education you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the school and program you are looking into are accredited by a respected organization, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less supervised and formal setting, then earning your degree or certificate online may be the right option for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Schools
Once you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what academic choices are offered, you can start the undertaking of evaluating schools. But considering that there are numerous programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Bay Minette AL area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you need to know what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is particularly true if you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. If you are like many prospective students, you will begin by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other important factors to think about also, for instance the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's take a look at a few of the questions you should be asking the schools you are researching so that you can effectively vet each one and make your final selection.
Is the Paralegal School and Program Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you choose should be accredited by a respected accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it may also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets online or distance learning. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will receive will be of the highest standard, but it will demonstrate to potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Many Bay Minette AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited school. Finally, financial aid and student loans are usually offered only for accredited programs.
What's the School's Reputation? Research what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant programs you are considering. This is of special importance if you are new to the field with no previous work history, since employers will need to rely on the caliber of your education exclusively. Verifying that the program you choose is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating services, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call several Bay Minette AL law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask what schools they recommend. Keep in mind that even though a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the Program Sponsor Internships? Internship programs offer students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal operation while still in school. They can also provide a pathway for students to begin creating contacts within the Bay Minette AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal programs you are assessing provide internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will undoubtedly wish to secure employment quickly after graduation, but getting that first job in a new field can be challenging without support. Find out if the paralegal programs you are interviewing have job placement programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good sign that the schools have sizable networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their graduates are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the School Located? Considering that laws differ from state to state, it might be a good idea to choose a paralegal school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you wish to work after graduation. Also, it will be important to develop relationships in the area legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is even more reason to acquire your education in the area where you choose to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many require an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may wish to initially look at those colleges that are within the Bay Minette AL area.
How Much is the Total Expense? Paralegal programs can differ in cost based on the credential earned and the amount of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only cost for your training. Remember to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid might be accessible to help reduce some of the cost, so be sure to contact the school's financial aid department to see what is offered in Bay Minette AL. Naturally if you decide to attend an online program, some of these supplementary expenses, for instance for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Fit your Schedule? Numerous legal students continue working while receiving their training and need flexibility to schedule classes. If you can just attend weekend or evening classes near Bay Minette AL, verify classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make certain that the program you choose provides that option. Finally, inquire what the procedure is for making-up missed classes because of work, illness or family obligations.
Enroll in the Right Bay Minette Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Enrolling in the best paralegal studies training school is an important first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have addressed in this article, you have the option of attending classes at school or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Bay Minette home. Paralegal training programs are offered in many lengths and formats. Various kinds of private and public institutions make available paralegal training, including junior and community colleges, four year colleges and universities, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a pronounced impact on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Since there is a wide range in the quality of programs, choose carefully. Give yourself the greatest possible chance to be successful in this rewarding profession. But regardless of how you choose to obtain your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have presented you will be able to assess each program and make your final decision. And with the right training you can achieve your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Bay Minette Alabama.