How to Find 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 begin your journey that will lead to a gratifying profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's crucial that you locate the right school so that you will receive the extensive training that you require to be successful. As you most likely understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more educational choices are becoming available, both on campus and online. However with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one start? Many prospective students start by looking for schools within commuting range of their Bay Minette homes. Of those alternatives, they try to find the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are necessary considerations when picking a school, they are not the only factors you must consider. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the school need to be taken into consideration also. Later on in this post we will review a list of questions that you ought to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare every one before making your decision. But first, let's take a look at 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 basically both fill comparable job roles and functions, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and belong to a separate job classification. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Bay Minette AL attorneys with a wide range of job functions, including maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job functions are relevant to the type of legal firm where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice could help with the logistics of a trial or transporting documents to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is usually billed hourly as are the attorney's. And the same as attorneys, they must perform with a high level of professionalism and adhere to a strict standard of professional ethics. As noted, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they are employed, but some of their regular activities might include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching relevant laws and cases
- Drafting correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping lawyers get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal files, documents and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be complicated and rather challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally allowed to do is give legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not limited to administrative or clerical tasks more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals 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 number of cases or clients than they could on their own.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the academic requirements and opportunities will be the same. The quickest means to launch your career as a legal assistant in Bay Minette AL is by earning a certificate, which can take as little as 6 months to complete. Most entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more expansive education and may be obtained at numerous community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are available also. When you have acquired either a certificate or degree, you might choose to continue and earn a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help improve your job opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. 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 program (we will discuss the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 crucial initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Classes
Legal assistant and paralegal online programs have become more prevalent and can be a good option for individuals looking for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be especially attractive to Bay Minette AL students who keep working while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an additional advantage, online programs can often be less expensive than on campus options. Even secondary expenses for such things as study materials or commuting may be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will discuss 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 certain that the school and program you are considering are accredited by a reputable agency, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less supervised and conventional setting, then obtaining your degree or certificate online might be the ideal option for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Degree or Certificate Programs
Since you now you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what educational choices are offered, you can begin the process of assessing schools. But since there are so many programs accessible at community and junior colleges in the Bay Minette AL area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you must learn what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is particularly true if you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like most potential students, you will start by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other significant aspects to research as well, for instance accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at a few of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are investigating so that you can effectively vet each one and make your final choice.
Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you pick need to be accredited by a highly regarded 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 education. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will get will be of the highest quality, but it will demonstrate to potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. Many Bay Minette AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited program. Also, financial aid 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 specific importance if you are entering the profession with no prior work history, since employers will have to rely on the quality of your training exclusively. Confirming that the program you choose is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating reports, such as those furnished 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 graduating and ask which schools they recommend. Keep in mind that even if a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the School Sponsor Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal establishment while attending school. They can also offer an avenue for students to begin establishing contacts within the Bay Minette AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal schools you are reviewing provide internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will undoubtedly want to hit the ground running after graduating, but getting that first job in a new profession can be challenging without assistance. Find out if the paralegal programs you are assessing have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have sizable networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their students are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the School Located? Because laws vary among states, it may be a good idea to enroll in a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you plan to work after graduating. In addition, it will be necessary to develop relationships in the area legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is even more reason to acquire your education in the area where you wish to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most charge an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might wish to initially investigate those schools that are within the Bay Minette AL area.
How Much is the Entire Cost? Paralegal programs can vary in price based on the credential received and the length of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only cost for your training. Don't forget to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid might be accessible to help reduce part of the expense, so be sure to contact the school's financial aid office to find out what is offered in Bay Minette AL. Needless to say that if you opt to attend an online program, a portion these added expenses, such as for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Match your Schedule? A number of legal students keep working while obtaining their training and require flexibility in class scheduling. If you can just attend night or weekend classes near Bay Minette AL, make sure classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make certain that the school you select offers that option. Finally, find out what the protocol is for making up missed classes because of work, illness or family emergencies.
Choose the Right Bay Minette Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Enrolling in the right paralegal studies training program is a vital 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 participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Bay Minette home. Paralegal academic programs are made available in numerous lengths and formats. Several types of private and public institutions offer paralegal training, including junior and community colleges, four-year universities and colleges, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal school 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 carefully. Give yourself the best possible chance to succeed in this fascinating profession. But irrespective of how you elect to acquire your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have presented you will have the ability to review each school and make your ultimate selection. And with the ideal training you can accomplish your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Bay Minette Alabama.