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How to Pick the Right Paralegal Course Near Bessemer Alabama

Bessemer Alabama woman paralegal consulting with client on cellphoneCongratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Bessemer AL and start your journey that will lead to a gratifying career in legal services. Nevertheless, it's important that you find the right school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you need to be successful. As you probably know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more educational alternatives are being offered, both at school and online. But with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? A number of prospective students start by looking for schools within driving range of their Bessemer residences. Of those options, they look for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are important considerations when choosing a college, they are not the only factors you must consider. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the program ought to be taken into account as well. Later in this article we will cover a list of concerns that you ought to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare each one prior to making your choice. But first, let's take a look at what a paralegal does and the instructional options that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.

Legal Assistants and Paralegals

Bessemer Alabama legal books

Paralegals and legal assistants basically both hold comparable job positions and functions, just with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and belong to a separate job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Bessemer AL attorneys with a wide variety of job duties, such as maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job duties are based upon the type of legal firm where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice may assist with the logistics of a trial or transporting documents to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is usually billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And just like attorneys, they must carry out their duties with a high degree of professionalism and abide by a strict code of professional ethics. As stated, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they are employed, but a few of their day-to-day tasks may include:

  • Researching and fact checking cases
  • Conducting research on related laws and cases
  • Preparing correspondence and legal documents
  • Submitting legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
  • Helping attorneys 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 role of a paralegal can be complicated and quite demanding. However, what they are not legally allowed to do is offer legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not confined to clerical or administrative duties more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the right hand support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers have the ability to manage a much larger number of cases or clients than they could otherwise.

Paralegal Programs and Certification

Bessemer Alabama male paralegal speaking on cellphone taking notes

As we discussed earlier, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the educational requirements and job prospects will be the same. The fastest means to begin your career as a legal assistant in Bessemer AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can require as little as six months to complete. Many entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which offer a more extensive education and can be obtained 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. After you have earned either a degree or a certificate, you may choose to proceed and earn a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help increase your employment opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. 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 degree or certificate from an accredited school (we will address the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 important initial steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.

Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Schools

Bessemer Alabama female student attending paralegal online classesOnline paralegal or legal assistant programs have become more available and can be a good option for individuals looking for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online programs can be particularly attractive to Bessemer AL students who keep working while obtaining a degree. As an added advantage, online programs can often be less costly than on campus options. Even supplementary expenditures for such things as study materials or commuting can be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all online programs are accredited, which we will cover 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 certain 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 attend classes in a less supervised and conventional environment, then earning your degree or certificate online may be the ideal choice for you.

Points to Ask Paralegal Programs

Since you now you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what training options are available, you can start the undertaking of assessing schools. But considering that there are so many programs available at junior and community colleges in the Bessemer AL area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you need to know 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 looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other significant aspects to research as well, including accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's go over several of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are investigating so that you can properly vet each one and make your final choice.

Is the Paralegal Training Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you choose need to be accredited by a respected accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it might also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets distance or online education. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will get will be of the highest standard, but it will demonstrate to potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Numerous Bessemer AL law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited school. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are typically offered only for accredited programs.

What's the School's Reputation? Find out what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant programs you are contemplating. This is of specific importance if you are new to the profession with no previous work history, since employers will have to rely on the quality of your education exclusively. Verifying that the school you choose is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing 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 some Bessemer AL law practices that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask what schools they suggest. Bear in mind that even though a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an outstanding reputation.

Does the Program Sponsor Internships? Internship programs give students an opportunity to experience working in a law practice or other legal enterprise while remaining in school. They can also offer a means for students to begin developing contacts within the Bessemer AL legal field. Ask if the paralegal programs you are considering provide internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering after graduation.

Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will probably want to hit the ground running after graduation, but getting that initial job in a new profession can be difficult without assistance. Find out 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 large networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their students are highly regarded and in demand.

Where is the School's Location? Because laws differ from one state to another, it might be a good idea to enroll in a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you plan to work after graduation. In addition, it will be important to create relationships in the local legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is all the more justification to receive your education in the area where you wish to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many charge an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might want to initially investigate those colleges that are within the Bessemer AL area.

What is the Complete Expense? Paralegal schools can differ in price based on the credential obtained and the amount of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your education. Remember to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial assistance might be accessible to help offset some of the cost, so make sure to contact the school's financial aid office to see what is available in Bessemer AL. Of course if you choose to attend an online school, a portion these additional expenses, such as for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.

Do the Classes Match your Schedule? A number of paralegal students keep working while obtaining their training and must have flexibility in class scheduling. If you can only attend weekend or evening classes near Bessemer AL, verify classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make sure that the school you select offers that option. Last, ask what the process is for making up missed classes due to work, illness or family emergencies.

Learn More About Bessemer Online Paralegal Training

Choose the Right Bessemer Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program

Enrolling in the best legal assistant degree school is an important first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have discussed in this article, you have the choice of attending classes at school or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Bessemer home. Paralegal training programs are provided in various lengths and formats. Different kinds of private and public institutions offer paralegal education, including junior and community colleges, four year universities and colleges, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a pronounced impact on your prospects for success in your new profession. Given that there is a broad range in the quality of programs, pick wisely. Give yourself the greatest possible opportunity to be successful in this fascinating profession. But no matter how you decide to acquire your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will be able to evaluate each program and make your ultimate decision. And with the appropriate training you can accomplish your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Bessemer Alabama.


 

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