How to Select the Right Paralegal Studies Certificate or Degree Program Near Bay Minette Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Bay Minette AL and begin your journey that will result in a gratifying profession in legal services. However, it's important that you locate the best school so that you will get the extensive training that you need to be successful. As you probably know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of educational alternatives are being offered, both at school and online. But with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? A number of prospective students begin by searching for schools within commuting range of their Bay Minette residences. Of those alternatives, they search for the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are prime considerations when picking a college, they are not the only factors you need to take into consideration. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the school must be taken into account as well. Later in this article we will cover a list of questions that you need to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare each one prior to making your selection. But before we do, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the instructional options that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals for the most part both hold the same job roles and responsibilities, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and are part of a different job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Bay Minette AL attorneys with a wide variety of job functions, including maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job duties are relevant to the type of legal firm where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice might help 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 attorney's. And the same as 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 diverse in support of the firms where they work, but some of their everyday tasks may include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching relevant laws and cases
- Drafting correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping lawyers get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be involved and rather demanding. However, what they are not legally permitted to do is provide legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not confined to administrative or clerical tasks more suited 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 ground work and preparation, lawyers have the ability to handle a much larger number of cases or clients than they could on their own.
Paralegal Certificates and Degrees and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the academic requirements and opportunities will be the same. The fastest way to begin your career as a paralegal in Bay Minette AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can take just 6 months to complete. Most 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 two years. For an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are offered as well. When you have earned either a degree or a certificate, you may choose to proceed and get a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help improve your employment opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. Some 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 school (we will cover the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 crucial first steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Training
Online paralegal or legal assistant schools have become more common and can be a good alternative for students looking for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be particularly appealing to Bay Minette AL students who keep working while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an additional benefit, online programs can in some cases be less costly than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenses for such things as study materials or commuting can be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will discuss in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the education you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the school and program you are considering are accredited by a reputable agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less supervised and formal environment, then obtaining your certificate or degree online might be the right option for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Degree or Certificate Programs
Since you now you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what educational choices are available, you can begin the undertaking of assessing schools. But considering that there are so many programs available at community and junior colleges in the Bay Minette AL area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you need to learn what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is especially true when you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like the majority of prospective students, you will start by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other crucial issues to think about as well, for instance the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's go over several of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are considering so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your final choice.
Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you choose need to be accredited by a reputable 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 focuses on distance or online learning. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will receive will be of the highest quality, but it will show future employers that you are a qualified professional also. Numerous Bay Minette AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited school. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are often available only for accredited schools.
What's the Program's Reputation? Learn what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant schools you are contemplating. This is of particular importance if you are entering the field with no prior experience, since employers will need to rely on the quality of your education exclusively. Checking 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 verify school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact several Bay Minette AL law practices that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask what schools they recommend. Bear in mind that even when a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an excellent reputation.
Does the School Sponsor Internships? Internship programs provide students a chance to experience working in a law practice or other legal establishment while attending school. They can also provide an avenue for students to begin establishing contacts within the Bay Minette AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal schools you are assessing provide internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will undoubtedly want to hit the ground running after graduation, but getting that initial job in a new field can be difficult without assistance. Ask if the paralegal schools you are assessing have job placement programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good indication that the schools have substantial 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? Because laws vary among states, it might be beneficial 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 establish relationships in the area legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is even more justification to acquire your education in the area where you choose to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many require an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may want to initially consider those schools that are within the Bay Minette AL region.
How Much is the Complete Cost? Paralegal programs can differ in cost depending on the credential obtained and the amount of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expense for your training. Don't forget to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial assistance may be available to help reduce 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. Needless to say that if you choose to attend an online program, a portion these added costs, for instance for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Fit your Schedule? Numerous paralegal students continue working while obtaining their training and need flexibility to schedule classes. If you can just attend night or weekend classes near Bay Minette 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, find out what the process is for making up missed classes due to work, illness or family obligations.
Enroll in the Right Bay Minette Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Enrolling in the right legal assistant degree school is a crucial first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have addressed in this article, you have the choice of attending classes at school or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Bay Minette home. Paralegal academic programs are provided in many formats and lengths. Several types of public and private institutions make available paralegal education, including junior and community colleges, four-year universities and colleges, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a profound impact on your prospects for success in your new profession. Given that there is a broad range in the quality of programs, choose carefully. Afford yourself the greatest possible chance to be successful in this exciting profession. But regardless of how you decide to acquire your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will have the ability to evaluate each school and make your ultimate selection. And with the appropriate education you can achieve your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Bay Minette Alabama.