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How to Choose the Right Paralegal School Near Bessemer Alabama

Bessemer Alabama female paralegal speaking with client on phoneCongratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Bessemer AL and start your journey that will result in a rewarding career in legal services. Nevertheless, it's essential that you find the ideal school so that you will receive the extensive training that you need to succeed. As you most likely know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more educational choices are being offered, both at school and online. But with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one start? Many potential students begin by looking for schools within commuting range of their Bessemer residences. Of those options, they search for the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are prime considerations when choosing a school, they are not the only factors you ought to take into consideration. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the program should be taken into consideration as well. Later in this article we will cover a list of questions that you need to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare every one before making your choice. But first, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the instructional choices that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.

Legal Assistants and Paralegals

Bessemer Alabama law books

Legal assistants and paralegals for the most part both hold comparable job roles and responsibilities, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and belong to a different job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Bessemer AL lawyers with a wide variety of job duties, such as legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job duties are relevant to the type of practice where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice may assist with the logistics of a trial or transferring documents to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is normally billed by the hour as are the lawyer's. And just like attorneys, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and abide by a strict code of professional ethics. As stated, their duties can be diverse in support of the practices where they are employed, but a few of their regular tasks may include:

  • Investigating and fact checking cases
  • Researching applicable laws and cases
  • Composing correspondence and legal documents
  • Filing legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
  • Assisting lawyers get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
  • Organizing and maintaining legal documents, files and other records

With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be complicated and rather challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally allowed to do is offer legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not limited to administrative or clerical duties more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the main support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys are able to manage a much larger number of clients or cases than they could on their own.

Paralegal Programs and Certification

Bessemer Alabama male paralegal on phone taking notes

As we discussed earlier, 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 prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The fastest way to start your career as a legal assistant in Bessemer AL is by obtaining a certificate, which may involve as little as 6 months to complete. Most entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which offer a more extensive education and may be earned 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 as well. Once you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you might want to continue and obtain a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help boost your career opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. Some of the highly respected certifying agencies in the field 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 school (we will cover the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two essential initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.

Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Training

Bessemer Alabama female student enrolled in online paralegal trainingLegal assistant and paralegal online programs have become more prevalent and can be an excellent alternative for individuals searching for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be particularly appealing to Bessemer AL students who keep working while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an added advantage, online schools can sometimes be less expensive than on campus options. Even supplementary expenditures for such things as commuting or study materials may be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will cover in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the training you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the school and program you are looking into are accredited by a highly regarded organization, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less structured and conventional setting, then earning your degree or certificate online could be the right choice for you.

Questions to Ask Paralegal Studies Programs

Since you now you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what training choices are available, you can start the undertaking of evaluating schools. But considering that there are numerous programs offered at community and junior colleges in the Bessemer AL area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you need to learn what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is especially true when you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like the majority of prospective students, you will begin by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other critical factors to think about also, for instance accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's go over several of the questions you should be asking the schools you are researching so that you can properly vet each one and make your final selection.

Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you choose need to be accredited by a respected organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it can also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance training. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will obtain will be of the highest standard, but it will establish with future employers that you are a qualified professional also. A number of Bessemer AL law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited program. Also, financial aid and student loans are often accessible only for accredited schools.

What's the Reputation of the Program? Find out what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant programs you are contemplating. This is of special importance if you are new to the profession with no prior work history, since employers will have to rely on the quality of your education exclusively. Checking that the school you pick is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating reports, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact a few Bessemer AL law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask what schools they suggest. Keep in mind that even if a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an excellent reputation.

Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs offer students an opportunity to experience working in a law firm or other legal establishment while still in school. They can also provide a means for students to start developing contacts within the Bessemer AL legal field. Ask if the paralegal schools you are evaluating offer internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering upon graduation.

Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will probably want to hit the ground running after graduation, but finding that initial job in a new field can be difficult without help. Ask if the paralegal schools you are reviewing have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good sign that the schools have substantial networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their students are well regarded and in demand.

Where is the Campus Located? Because laws vary from state to state, it may be beneficial to enroll in a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you want to work after graduating. In addition, it will be important to develop relationships in the area legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is even more justification to acquire your education in the community where you choose to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most require a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may need to initially investigate those schools that are within the Bessemer AL area.

What is the Total Expense? Paralegal programs can differ in cost depending on the credential earned and the length of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only cost for your education. Remember to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid may be available to help offset part of the cost, so be sure to check with the school's financial aid department to find out what is offered in Bessemer AL. Needless to say that if you opt to attend an online school, a portion these added costs, for instance for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.

Do the Classes Fit your Schedule? Numerous legal students keep working while receiving their training and must have flexibility to schedule classes. If you can just attend night or weekend classes near Bessemer AL, make certain classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, confirm that the school you select offers that option. Last, find out what the procedure is for making up classes missed as a result of work, illness or family obligations.

Find Out More About Bessemer Online Paralegal Courses

Enroll in the Right Bessemer Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program

Choosing the ideal paralegal certificate school is an essential first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have covered in this article, you have the option of attending classes on campus or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Bessemer home. Paralegal training programs are made available in various formats and lengths. Various kinds of private and public institutions provide paralegal education, including community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a pronounced influence on your opportunities for success in your new career. Given that there is a wide range in the quality of programs, choose wisely. Afford yourself the greatest possible chance to be successful in this rewarding profession. But irrespective of how you decide to acquire your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will have the ability to assess each school and make your final selection. And with the ideal training you can realize your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Bessemer Alabama.


 

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