How to Choose the Right Paralegal Certificate Program Near Bay Minette Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Bay Minette AL and start your journey that will lead to a gratifying profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's crucial that you find the ideal school so that you will get the extensive training that you require to succeed. As you probably understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more academic options are being offered, both on campus and online. But with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Some potential students begin by looking for schools within commuting distance of their Bay Minette residences. Of those alternatives, they look for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are important considerations when selecting a college, they are not the only qualifiers you ought to take into consideration. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the school need to be taken into account as well. Later in this article we will review a list of questions that you must ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare each one before making your decision. But before we do, let's take a look at exactly 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 roles and responsibilities, only with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and belong to a separate job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals help Bay Minette AL attorneys with a wide range of job duties, such as maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job duties are relevant to the type of legal firm where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice may assist with trial logistics or delivering documents to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is typically billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And just like attorneys, they must perform with a high level of professionalism and adhere to a strict code of professional ethics. As noted, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they are employed, but some of their day-to-day activities can involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching pertinent cases and laws
- Preparing correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping lawyers get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be complicated and quite demanding. However, what they are not legally permitted to do is offer legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not limited to administrative or clerical functions more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys are able to take on a much larger number of cases or clients than they could alone.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the educational requirements and job prospects will be the same. The quickest way to begin your career as a paralegal in Bay Minette AL is by earning a certificate, which can require as little as 6 months to complete. Many entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which provide a more extensive education and can be acquired at numerous community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are available also. When you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you may choose to proceed and earn a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help maximize 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 address the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 important initial steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Programs
Legal assistant and paralegal online schools have become more available and can be a good alternative for those looking for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be particularly attractive to Bay Minette AL students who continue to work while earning a degree. As an additional advantage, online programs can sometimes be less expensive than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenses for such things as study materials or commuting may be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all online schools are accredited, which we will address in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the training you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the program and school you are considering are accredited by a highly regarded agency, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less supervised and formal environment, then earning your certificate or degree online might be the ideal choice for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Schools
Since you now you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what academic options are offered, you can start the process of assessing schools. But considering that there are numerous programs available at community and junior colleges in the Bay Minette AL area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you must know what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is especially true if you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree 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 already covered, there are other important factors to think about as well, including the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's go over some of the questions you should be asking the programs you are researching so that you can effectively vet each one and make your final selection.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you choose need to be accredited by a highly regarded organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it may 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 obtain will be of the highest standard, but it will demonstrate to future employers that you are a qualified professional also. Numerous Bay Minette AL law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited school. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are typically obtainable only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Investigate what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant programs you are considering. This is of specific importance if you are new to the profession with no prior experience, since employers will have to rely on the quality of your training exclusively. Verifying that the program you pick is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating services, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact a few Bay Minette AL law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask which schools they suggest. Bear in mind that even when a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an excellent reputation.
Does the School Provide Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law practice or other legal establishment while still in school. They can also provide a pathway for students to begin developing contacts within the Bay Minette AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal programs you are considering provide internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance provided? You will most likely wish to secure employment quickly after graduation, but finding that initial job in a new profession can be challenging without support. Find out if the paralegal schools you are interviewing have job placement programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have substantial networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their graduates are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the Campus Located? Considering that laws differ among states, it might be advantageous to enroll in a paralegal school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you wish to practice after graduating. Also, it will be valuable to develop relationships in the area legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is even more reason to obtain your education in the community where you want to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many require a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may need to first investigate those colleges that are within the Bay Minette AL area.
What is the Entire Expense? Paralegal schools can differ in price depending on the credential earned and the length of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your training. Remember to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance may be accessible to help offset part of the expense, so don't forget to talk to the school's financial aid office to see what is offered in Bay Minette AL. Of course if you choose to attend an online program, a portion these supplementary expenses, for instance for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Match your Schedule? Numerous paralegal students continue working while receiving their training and must have flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend night or weekend classes near Bay Minette AL, make certain classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, confirm that the program you enroll in provides that option. Last, find out what the procedure 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 paralegal degree school is an essential first step toward your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have covered in this post, you have the option of attending classes on campus or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Bay Minette home. Paralegal academic programs are made available in numerous formats and lengths. Various kinds of public and private institutions provide paralegal education, including junior and community colleges, four-year universities and colleges, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a pronounced influence on your prospects for success in your new profession. Given that there is a broad range in the quality of schools, choose wisely. Afford yourself the greatest possible opportunity to be successful in this fascinating profession. But no matter how you choose to obtain your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have presented you will have the ability to assess each program and make your ultimate selection. And with the right education you can accomplish your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Bay Minette Alabama.