How to Find the Right Paralegal Studies Program Near Bessemer Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Bessemer AL and begin your journey that will lead to a fulfilling profession in legal services. However, it's important that you find the right school so that you will get the extensive training that you require to succeed. As you probably know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more academic options are becoming available, both on campus and online. However with numerous options to choose from, where does one begin? Many potential students begin by searching for schools within commuting distance of their Bessemer homes. Of those alternatives, they look for the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are necessary considerations when picking a college, they are not the only qualifiers you ought to consider. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the school must be taken into consideration as well. Later in this post we will review a list of questions that you should ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare each one before making your selection. But first, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the educational options that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals basically both hold comparable job roles and responsibilities, just with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and belong to a different job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Bessemer AL attorneys with a wide range of job functions, including legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job duties are relevant to the type of legal firm where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice may help with trial logistics or transporting files to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is usually billed hourly as are the attorney's. And the same as attorneys, they must carry out their duties with a high degree of professionalism and comply with a strict standard of professional ethics. As mentioned, their responsibilities can be varied in support of the firms where they are employed, but some of their regular tasks can involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on pertinent cases and laws
- Drafting correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping attorneys prepare for trial and keep 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 very demanding. On the other hand, what they are not legally authorized to do is give legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not confined to clerical or administrative functions more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the main support systems for attorneys. And since they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys are able to take on a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could on their own.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
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 way to launch your career as a paralegal in Bessemer AL is by obtaining a certificate, which may involve just six months to complete. A large number of entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which provide a more extensive education and may be obtained at many community colleges in 2 years. For an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are offered as well. When you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you might choose to continue and get a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help improve your job opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. A few of the highly regarded 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 school (we will address the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 crucial initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Courses
Online paralegal or legal assistant programs have become more prevalent and may be a good alternative for students looking for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online schools can be particularly attractive to Bessemer AL students who continue to work while earning a certificate or degree. As an additional benefit, online programs can often be less expensive than more traditional options. Even secondary expenditures for such items as study materials or commuting may be minimized 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 guarantee that the training you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the school and program you are considering are accredited by a highly regarded agency, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less supervised and formal environment, then obtaining your certificate or degree online could be the right choice for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Certificate or Degree Programs
Now that you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what educational choices are available, you can start the process of assessing schools. But considering that there are numerous programs accessible at community and junior colleges in the Bessemer AL area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you must know what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is especially true if you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like the majority of potential students, you will start by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other significant issues to research also, such as the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's take a look at a few of the questions you should be asking the schools you are investigating so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your ultimate selection.
Is the Paralegal Training Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you pick need to be accredited by a recognized accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it might also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance education. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will get will be of the highest quality, but it will establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. A number of Bessemer AL law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited school. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are typically available only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Research what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal programs you are looking at. This is of special importance if you are new to the profession with no previous work history, since employers will have to make a decision based on the quality of your education exclusively. Confirming that the school you select is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating reports, such as those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call some Bessemer AL law firms that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask what schools they recommend. Keep in mind that even though a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the Program Offer Internships? Internship programs provide students an opportunity to experience working in a law firm or other legal operation while remaining in school. They can also offer an avenue for students to start creating contacts within the Bessemer AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal schools you are assessing provide internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help available? You will most likely wish to secure employment quickly after graduation, but getting that initial job in a new profession can be difficult without help. Find out if the paralegal schools you are considering have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good sign that the schools have sizable networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their students are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the School's Location? Because laws vary from one state to another, it may be a good idea to select a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you wish to work after graduation. Also, it will be necessary to cultivate relationships in the area legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is even more justification to receive your education in the community where you wish to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most charge an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may want to initially consider those colleges that are within the Bessemer AL region.
How Much is the Complete Expense? Paralegal schools can vary in price depending on the credential received and the length of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expense for your education. Don't forget to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid may be available to help minimize part of the cost, so don't forget to talk to the school's financial aid department to find out what is available in Bessemer AL. Needless to say that if you decide to attend an online school, a portion these additional costs, such as for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Fit your Schedule? A number of paralegal students keep working while receiving their training and must have flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend weekend or evening classes near Bessemer AL, verify classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, confirm that the school you select offers that option. Finally, ask what the procedure is for making-up classes missed because of work, illness or family emergencies.
Choose the Right Bessemer Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Enrolling in the best paralegal training school is a vital 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 attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Bessemer residence. Paralegal education programs are offered in various lengths and formats. Various kinds of private and public institutions provide paralegal training, including junior and community colleges, four year universities and colleges, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a profound influence on your prospects for success in your new profession. Since there is a broad range in the quality of schools, pick wisely. Afford yourself the best possible opportunity to be successful in this exciting profession. But regardless of how you choose to obtain your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will be able to assess each school and make your ultimate selection. And with the ideal training you can achieve your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Bessemer Alabama.