How to Choose the Right Paralegal Training Program Near Birmingham Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Birmingham AL and begin your journey that will result in a gratifying career in legal services. However, it's important that you find the right school so that you will receive the extensive 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 choices are being offered, both at school and online. But with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Many prospective students start by trying to find schools within commuting distance of their Birmingham residences. Of those choices, they search for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are necessary considerations when selecting a college, they are not the only qualifiers you should consider. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the program ought to be considered as well. Later on in this post we will cover a list of questions that you ought to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare each one prior to making your decision. But before we do, let's take 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 essentially both fill the same job roles and functions, only with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and are part of a separate job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Birmingham AL lawyers with a diverse array of job duties, including legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job duties are relevant to the type of legal firm where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm might help with trial logistics or delivering files to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is normally billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And just like lawyers, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and follow a strict standard of professional ethics. As stated, their duties can be diverse in support of the firms where they work, but a few of their everyday tasks may include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching pertinent cases and laws
- Composing correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting attorneys prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be involved and rather challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally authorized to do is provide legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not confined to administrative or clerical tasks more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the main support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers have the ability to handle a much larger number of cases or clients than they could alone.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the educational prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The fastest way to launch your career as a paralegal in Birmingham AL is by obtaining a certificate, which may take just six months to accomplish. A large number of entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more comprehensive education and may be acquired at numerous community colleges in two years. For an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are offered also. Once you have earned either a degree or a certificate, you might want to continue and get a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help maximize your career 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 certificate or degree from an accredited program (we will address the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two crucial initial steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Classes
Paralegal and legal assistant online programs have become more common and may be an excellent option for those searching for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online programs can be particularly appealing to Birmingham AL students who keep working while earning a certificate or degree. As an added benefit, online programs can sometimes be less costly than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenses for such things as commuting or study materials can be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all online schools 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 caliber. So check to make sure that the school and program you are looking into are accredited by a respected organization, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less supervised and formal setting, then obtaining your degree or certificate online might be the right option for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Programs
Now that you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what educational choices are available, you can start the undertaking of assessing schools. But because there are so many programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Birmingham AL area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you need to know what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is particularly true if you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like many prospective students, you will begin by searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other critical issues to consider as well, 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 researching so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your ultimate selection.
Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you select should be accredited by a highly regarded organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it may also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance learning. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will obtain will be of the highest quality, but it will establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. A number of Birmingham AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited school. Also, financial assistance and student loans are often obtainable only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Learn what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant programs you are considering. This is of specific importance if you are entering the field with no previous experience, since employers will need to make a decision based on the caliber of your education exclusively. Verifying that the school you select is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating services, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call some Birmingham AL law offices that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask which schools they suggest. Bear in mind that even if a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs offer students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal operation while attending school. They can also offer an avenue for students to begin developing contacts within the Birmingham AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal programs you are evaluating offer internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance provided? You will undoubtedly want to hit the ground running after graduating, but finding that initial job in a new field can be difficult without assistance. Ask if the paralegal schools you are considering have job placement programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have large networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their students are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the Campus Located? Considering that laws vary among states, it might be beneficial to enroll in a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you plan to work after graduating. In addition, it will be necessary to develop relationships in the local legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is all the more reason to acquire your education in the community where you desire to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most require an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may need to initially look at those colleges that are within the Birmingham AL area.
What is the Complete Cost? Paralegal programs can vary in price depending on the credential earned and the amount of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only cost for your training. Don't forget to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance may be available to help minimize part of the cost, so make sure to talk to the school's financial aid office to find out what is available in Birmingham AL. Naturally if you choose to attend an online program, a portion these additional expenses, such as for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Accommodate your Schedule? Many legal students keep working while getting their training and must have flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend weekend or evening classes near Birmingham AL, verify classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make certain that the school you choose makes available that option. Finally, inquire what the protocol is for making up classes missed due to sickness, work or family obligations.
Enroll in the Right Birmingham Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Enrolling in the best legal assistant degree program is an essential first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have discussed in this post, you have the option of attending classes on-campus or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Birmingham home. Paralegal training programs are made available in many formats and lengths. Several types of private and public institutions make available paralegal education, including junior and community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a profound influence on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Considering that there is a wide range in the quality of programs, choose wisely. Give yourself the best possible chance to succeed in this exciting profession. But regardless of how you elect to receive your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have presented you will be able to examine each school and make your ultimate decision. And with the ideal education you can accomplish your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Birmingham Alabama.