How to Select the Best Paralegal Studies Certificate Program Near Birmingham Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Birmingham AL and begin your journey that will result in a rewarding profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's crucial that you locate the right school so that you will receive the extensive training that you need to be successful. As you most likely know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more academic options are being offered, both at school and online. However with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Many prospective students start by trying to find schools within traveling distance of their Birmingham homes. Of those choices, they try to find the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are very important considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only factors you need to take into consideration. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the program should be taken into account too. Later on in this post we will review a list of questions that you ought to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare each one before making your selection. But first, 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
Legal assistants and paralegals for the most part both hold comparable job positions and functions, 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 classification. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Birmingham AL attorneys with a wide range of job functions, such as legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job functions are relevant to the type of practice where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm may assist with trial logistics or transferring documents to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is normally billed by the hour as are the lawyer's. And just like lawyers, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and abide by a strict code of professional ethics. As mentioned, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they work, but some of their everyday tasks might include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching relevant cases and laws
- Composing correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- 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 quite challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally authorized to do is offer legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not restricted to administrative or clerical functions more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the right hand support systems for attorneys. And since they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers are able to take on a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the academic prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The fastest means to launch your career as a paralegal in Birmingham AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can require just six months to accomplish. Many entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which offer a more comprehensive education and may be obtained at numerous community colleges in 2 years. For an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are an option also. When you have acquired either a certificate or degree, you may want to proceed and receive a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help increase your job opportunities, but help substantiate 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 discuss the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two essential first steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Courses
Paralegal and legal assistant online programs have become more available and may be an excellent alternative for those looking for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be particularly attractive to Birmingham AL students who continue to work while obtaining a degree. As an added advantage, online schools can often be less expensive than more traditional options. Even secondary expenses for such items as commuting or study materials may be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all online schools are accredited, which we will discuss in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the education you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the program and school you are thinking about are accredited by a reputable organization, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to attend classes in a less supervised and formal setting, then obtaining your certificate or degree online might be the right option for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Schools
Now that you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what academic choices are available, you can start the process of assessing schools. But because there are numerous programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Birmingham AL area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you need to find out what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is particularly true if you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like the majority of potential students, you will start by searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other crucial issues to research as well, for instance accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at a few of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are researching so that you can effectively vet each one and make your final choice.
Is the Paralegal Training Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you select should be accredited by a highly regarded accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it might also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online training. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will get will be of the highest standard, but it will demonstrate to potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. A number of Birmingham AL law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited school. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are usually offered only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Find out what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant programs you are looking at. This is of particular importance if you are new to the profession with no previous experience, since employers will need to make a decision based on the caliber of your education exclusively. Checking that the program you pick is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating services, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call some Birmingham AL law practices that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask which schools they recommend. Bear in mind that even when a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the School Sponsor Internships? Internship programs provide students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal establishment while remaining in school. They can also provide an avenue for students to start developing contacts within the Birmingham AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal programs you are assessing provide internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance provided? You will most likely want to secure employment quickly after graduating, but finding that first job in a new field can be challenging without support. Find out if the paralegal schools you are assessing have job placement programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have sizable networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their graduates are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the School Located? Considering that laws vary from one state to another, it might be beneficial to choose a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you want to practice after graduating. In addition, it will be important to build relationships in the neighboring legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is all the more justification to acquire your education in the community where you choose to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many require an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may want to first investigate those schools that are within the Birmingham AL region.
What is the Total Cost? Paralegal schools can differ in cost depending on the credential received and the length of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only cost for your education. Remember to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial assistance may be accessible to help reduce some of the cost, so make sure to consult with the school's financial aid office to find out what is offered in Birmingham AL. Needless to say that if you choose to attend an online program, some of these added expenses, such as for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Match your Schedule? Numerous legal students keep working while obtaining their training and must have flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend weekend or evening classes near Birmingham AL, make certain classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make certain that the school you select provides that option. Finally, ask what the protocol is for making-up missed classes as a result of work, illness or family obligations.
Choose the Best Birmingham Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Choosing the right paralegal training program is an essential first step toward your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have covered in this article, you have the choice of attending classes on-campus or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Birmingham home. Paralegal training programs are made available in numerous formats and lengths. Several types of public and private institutions offer paralegal training, including community colleges, four-year universities and colleges, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a pronounced impact on your prospects for success in your new profession. Since there is a wide range in the quality of programs, pick wisely. Afford yourself the greatest possible opportunity to succeed in this exciting profession. But irrespective of how you decide to obtain your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have presented you will have the ability to assess each school and make your final selection. And with the appropriate training you can achieve your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Birmingham Alabama.