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How to Choose the Best Paralegal Studies Certificate Program Near Bessemer Alabama

Bessemer Alabama female paralegal consulting with client on cellphoneCongratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Bessemer AL and start your journey that will result in a satisfying career in legal services. Nevertheless, it's important that you locate the right school so that you will receive the extensive training that you need to achieve success. As you probably know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of educational choices are becoming available, both at school and online. But with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one start? Many potential students begin by searching for schools within commuting range of their Bessemer residences. Of those options, they look for the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are prime considerations when picking a school, they are not the only factors you need to consider. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the program must be taken into consideration too. Later in this post we will review a list of questions that you ought to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare every one before making your selection. But first, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the academic options that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.

Paralegals and Legal Assistants

Bessemer Alabama law library

Legal assistants and paralegals basically both fill comparable job roles and responsibilities, only with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and belong to a separate job classification. Both legal assistants and paralegals help Bessemer AL attorneys with a wide variety of job functions, including maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job duties are relevant to the type of practice where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm may help with the logistics of a trial or transferring files to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is typically billed hourly as are the attorney's. And just like lawyers, they must conduct themselves with a high degree of professionalism and follow a strict standard of professional ethics. As noted, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they are employed, but some of their regular tasks might include:

  • Researching and fact checking cases
  • Conducting research on related cases and laws
  • Preparing correspondence and legal documents
  • Submitting legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
  • Helping lawyers prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
  • Organizing and maintaining legal documents, files and additional records

With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be complex and very demanding. On the other hand, what they are not legally allowed to do is offer legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not restricted to clerical or administrative duties more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the main support systems for lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys are able to handle a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could otherwise.

Paralegal Education and Certification

Bessemer Alabama male legal assistant on cellphone writing notes

As we previously covered, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably 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 Bessemer AL is by earning a certificate, which may require as little as six months to complete. Most entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which offer a more expansive education and may be acquired at numerous community colleges in 2 years. For an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are available also. After you have acquired either a degree or a certificate, you might choose to continue and get a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help boost your employment opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. A few of the highly respected certifying agencies 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 degree or certificate from an accredited program (we will cover the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 crucial initial steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.

Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Classes

Bessemer Alabama woman student attending paralegal online trainingOnline paralegal or legal assistant schools have become more prevalent and may be an excellent alternative for individuals searching for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online programs can be especially attractive to Bessemer AL students who continue to work while earning a certificate or degree. As an additional benefit, online programs can sometimes be less expensive than on campus options. Even secondary expenses for such items as commuting or study materials can 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 ensure that the education you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the program and school you are reviewing are accredited by a respected agency, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less structured and formal environment, then earning your certificate or degree online might be the ideal choice for you.

Points to Ask Paralegal Programs

Once you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what educational options are available, you can begin the process of evaluating schools. But since there are so many programs offered at community and junior colleges in the Bessemer AL area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you need to learn what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is particularly true when you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like many prospective students, you will begin by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other significant factors to research also, for instance accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's go over several of the questions you should be asking the programs you are researching so that you can properly vet each one and make your ultimate decision.

Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you pick need to be accredited by a reputable accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it might also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance training. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will get will be of the highest standard, but it will demonstrate to future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Many Bessemer AL law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited school. Also, financial assistance and student loans are usually obtainable only for accredited programs.

What's the Program's Reputation? Investigate what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant programs you are looking at. This is of special importance if you are new to the field with no previous experience, since employers will have to make a decision based on the quality of your education exclusively. Verifying that the school you pick is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating reports, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact several Bessemer AL law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask which schools they suggest. Remember that even when a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an excellent reputation.

Does the Program Provide Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law firm or other legal enterprise while remaining in school. They can also offer a pathway for students to start developing contacts within the Bessemer AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal schools you are reviewing provide internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing after graduation.

Is Job Placement Assistance provided? You will undoubtedly wish to secure employment quickly after graduation, but finding that first job in a new field can be challenging without assistance. Ask if the paralegal schools you are considering have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have large networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their graduates are well regarded and in demand.

Where is the School Located? Considering that laws vary among states, it may be beneficial to enroll in a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you wish to practice after graduation. In addition, it will be important to cultivate relationships in the area legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is all the more justification to obtain your education in the area where you desire to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most charge an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might wish to initially consider those schools that are within the Bessemer AL region.

What is the Complete Expense? Paralegal schools can differ in price depending on the credential earned and the length of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your training. Don't forget to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance might be accessible to help offset some of the expense, so make sure to talk to the school's financial aid department to see what is available in Bessemer AL. Needless to say that if you choose to attend an online program, some of these added expenses, for instance for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.

Do the Classes Match your Schedule? A number of legal students continue working while obtaining their training and require flexibility to schedule classes. If you can solely attend weekend or evening classes near Bessemer AL, make sure classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make sure that the school you enroll in offers that option. Last, find out what the procedure is for making-up missed classes as a result of sickness, work or family emergencies.

Find Out More About Bessemer Paralegal Degree Programs

Choose the Right Bessemer Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program

Enrolling in the best paralegal training program is an essential first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have discussed in this article, you have the option of attending classes on-campus or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Bessemer residence. Paralegal education programs are provided in numerous lengths and formats. Different types of public and private institutions make available paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four-year universities and colleges, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a profound impact on your prospects for success in your new career. Since there is a broad range in the quality of schools, pick carefully. Give yourself the best possible chance to be successful in this exciting profession. But regardless of how you elect to receive your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have provided you will have the ability to assess each program and make your final decision. And with the appropriate training you can achieve your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Bessemer Alabama.


 

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