How to Pick the Best Paralegal Studies Certificate or Degree Program Near Birmingham Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Birmingham AL and start your journey that will lead to a rewarding profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's essential that you locate the right school so that you will receive the extensive training that you require to succeed. As you most likely know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more educational choices are being offered, both at school and online. However with so many options to choose from, where does one start? A number of potential students begin by trying to find schools within driving range of their Birmingham residences. Of those options, they try to find the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are important considerations when choosing 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 considered too. Later on in this post we will review a list of concerns that you ought to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare every one before making your decision. But first, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the academic alternatives that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals for the most part both fill the same job roles and responsibilities, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and are part of a separate job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Birmingham AL attorneys with a diverse array of job functions, such as legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job functions are based upon the type of practice where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm may assist with trial logistics or transferring documents to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is typically billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And just like attorneys, they must conduct themselves with a high degree of professionalism and adhere to a strict standard of professional ethics. As stated, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they are employed, but some of their routine tasks might involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching relevant laws and cases
- Composing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping lawyers prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal documents, files and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be involved and rather challenging. However, what they are not legally permitted to do is provide legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not confined to clerical or administrative functions more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers are able to manage a much larger number of clients or cases than they could on their own.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The fastest means to begin your career as a paralegal in Birmingham AL is by obtaining a certificate, which may involve just 6 months to accomplish. A large number of entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which offer a more expansive education and can be acquired at many community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are available also. Once you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you might choose to continue and get a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help maximize your employment opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. A few of the highly regarded certifying organizations in the field 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.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Training
Legal assistant and paralegal online schools have become more popular and can be an excellent option for those looking for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online programs can be especially appealing to Birmingham AL students who keep working while earning a degree. As an added advantage, online programs can sometimes be less costly than more traditional options. Even secondary expenses for such items as commuting or study materials may be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will address in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the training you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the program and school you are thinking about are accredited by a respected organization, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less structured and formal environment, then earning your degree or certificate online might be the ideal choice for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Studies Programs
Once you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what educational options are offered, you can begin the process of evaluating schools. But considering that there are numerous programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Birmingham AL area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you need to find out what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is especially true if you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like most prospective students, you will start by searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other critical aspects to think about as well, for instance the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's go over several of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are considering so that you can properly vet each one and make your ultimate selection.
Is the Paralegal School and Program Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you choose should be accredited by a reputable organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it can also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets online or distance learning. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will receive will be of the highest standard, but it will show potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. A number of Birmingham AL law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited school. Also, financial assistance and student loans are usually offered only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the School? Learn what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal schools you are looking at. 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 training exclusively. Verifying that the school you choose is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating services, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact several Birmingham AL law offices that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask what schools they recommend. Remember that even when a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the Program Provide Internships? Internship programs give students an opportunity to experience working in a law practice or other legal enterprise while still in school. They can also offer an avenue for students to begin developing contacts within the Birmingham AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal programs you are reviewing provide internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help available? You will probably wish to hit the ground running after graduation, but finding that first job in a new field can be challenging without help. Ask if the paralegal schools you are interviewing have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good sign that the schools have sizable networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their students are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the School's Location? Considering that laws differ from one state to another, it might be beneficial to enroll in a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you wish to practice after graduating. In addition, it will be necessary to develop relationships in the area legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is all the more justification to obtain your education in the community where you want to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many require an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may want to initially consider those schools that are within the Birmingham AL region.
What is the Complete Expense? Paralegal schools can differ in price depending on the credential obtained and the amount of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only expense for your training. Remember to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance might be obtainable to help reduce some of the cost, so be sure to talk to the school's financial aid office to see what is available in Birmingham AL. Needless to say that if you choose to attend an online program, a portion these added costs, such as for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? Many paralegal students keep working while obtaining their training and need flexibility in class scheduling. If you can just attend night or weekend classes near Birmingham AL, make sure classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make certain that the school you select makes available that option. Last, ask what the procedure is for making-up missed classes as a result of sickness, work or family obligations.
Choose the Best Birmingham Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Choosing the best paralegal certificate program is an essential first step toward 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 privacy and comfort of your Birmingham home. Paralegal academic programs are offered in various lengths and formats. Different kinds of private and public institutions offer paralegal training, including community and junior colleges, four year colleges and universities, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a pronounced influence on your prospects for success in your new career. Considering that there is a wide range in the quality of schools, choose wisely. Afford yourself the greatest possible opportunity to succeed in this rewarding profession. But irrespective of how you choose to obtain your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to assess each program and make your ultimate decision. And with the right education you can accomplish your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Birmingham Alabama.