How to Enroll in the Right Paralegal Studies Certificate or Degree Program Near Bessemer Alabama
Congratulations 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. However, 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 among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more academic alternatives are being offered, both at school and online. However with numerous options to choose from, where does one start? A number of potential students begin by searching for schools within driving distance of their Bessemer residences. Of those alternatives, they search for the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are necessary considerations when choosing a school, they are not the only factors you should consider. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the program must be taken into consideration also. Later in this post we will cover a list of questions that you need to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare each one before making your choice. But before we do, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the educational options that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants for the most part both hold the same job roles and responsibilities, only with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and are part of a different job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Bessemer AL lawyers with a wide variety of job duties, such as maintaining client files, legal research, 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 firm might help with trial logistics or delivering files to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is usually billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And just like lawyers, they must conduct themselves with a high degree of professionalism and adhere to a strict standard of professional ethics. As noted, their duties can be diverse in support of the firms where they work, but some of their routine tasks might include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching applicable laws and cases
- Preparing correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping lawyers get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be complicated and quite challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally allowed to do is provide legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not restricted to clerical or administrative functions more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers are able to take on a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could alone.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the academic prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The fastest means to launch your career as a legal assistant in Bessemer AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can take just 6 months to accomplish. A large number of entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which offer a more comprehensive education and can be earned at numerous community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are available as well. When you have earned either a degree or a certificate, you may want to proceed and obtain a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help improve your career opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. A few of the highly regarded 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 degree or certificate from an accredited school (we will address the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two essential first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Programs
Online paralegal or legal assistant schools have become more prevalent and can be an excellent alternative for students searching for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be particularly appealing to Bessemer AL students who continue to work while obtaining a degree. As an added advantage, online classes can sometimes be less expensive than on campus options. Even ancillary expenses for such things as commuting or study materials can be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will address in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the training you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the school and program you are considering are accredited by a reputable agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less structured and conventional environment, then earning your certificate or degree online could be the ideal option for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Degree or Certificate Programs
Once you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what educational options are available, you can begin the process of assessing schools. But since there are so many programs accessible at community and junior colleges in the Bessemer AL area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you need to find out what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is especially true when you include 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 already covered, there are other important factors to research also, including accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at some of the questions you should be asking the schools you are considering so that you can properly vet each one and make your final decision.
Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you select need to be accredited by a highly regarded 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 targets distance or online training. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will obtain will be of the highest standard, 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 legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited school. Also, financial aid and student loans are often available only for accredited programs.
What's the School's Reputation? Investigate what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal schools you are contemplating. This is of specific importance if you are entering the field with no prior work history, since employers will need to rely on the caliber of your training exclusively. Confirming that the program you pick is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating reports, such as those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact a few Bessemer AL law practices that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask which schools they recommend. Keep in mind that even though a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the School Provide Internships? Internship programs give students an opportunity to experience working in a law office or other legal establishment while still in school. They can also offer a means for students to start establishing contacts within the Bessemer AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal schools you are evaluating offer internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will undoubtedly want to secure employment quickly after graduation, but finding that first job in a new profession can be challenging without support. 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 corroborates that their graduates are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the School Located? Because laws differ among states, it might be a good idea to choose a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you want to practice after graduating. Also, it will be necessary to cultivate relationships in the local legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is all the more reason to receive your education in the community where you desire to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most charge an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may wish to initially look at those schools that are within the Bessemer AL area.
What is the Total Expense? Paralegal schools can vary in price depending on the credential earned and the amount of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only expense for your training. Don't forget to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid may be accessible to help offset some of the expense, so be sure to contact the school's financial aid department to find out what is available in Bessemer AL. Naturally if you decide to attend an online program, a portion these added expenses, for instance for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? Numerous paralegal students keep working while obtaining their training and need flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend night or weekend classes near Bessemer AL, make certain classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make sure that the program you enroll in offers that option. Finally, find out what the procedure is for making up missed classes as a result of sickness, work or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Best Bessemer Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Selecting the right paralegal studies training school is a crucial first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have addressed in this post, you have the option of attending classes on campus or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Bessemer residence. Paralegal training programs are provided in numerous formats and lengths. Several types of private and public institutions provide paralegal education, including junior and community colleges, four year universities and colleges, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a profound impact on your prospects for success in your new profession. Since there is a broad range in the quality of schools, pick carefully. Afford yourself the best possible chance to succeed in this exciting profession. But irrespective of how you elect to receive your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have presented you will have the ability to review each school and make your ultimate decision. And with the right training you can realize your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Bessemer Alabama.