How to Pick the Best Paralegal Degree Program Near Birmingham Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Birmingham AL and start your journey that will result in a fulfilling profession in legal services. However, it's essential that you locate the ideal school so that you will get the extensive training that you need to achieve success. As you most likely understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more educational choices are becoming available, both on campus and online. However with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one start? Many prospective students start by searching for schools within commuting range of their Birmingham residences. Of those choices, they try to find the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are prime considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only qualifiers you ought to take into consideration. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the program need to be considered also. Later on in this article we will review a list of questions that you need to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare every one before making your choice. But before we do, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the instructional alternatives that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants for the most part 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 different job classification. Both legal assistants and paralegals help Birmingham AL lawyers with a diverse array of job duties, such as legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job functions are based upon the type of legal firm where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice might assist with trial logistics or transferring documents to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is normally billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And the same as attorneys, they must carry out their duties with a high level 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 are employed, but a few of their day-to-day activities can include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching pertinent cases and laws
- Drafting correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting attorneys prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal documents, files and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be involved and very 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 action. But paralegals are not confined to administrative or clerical functions more suited 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 have the ability to handle a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could on their own.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the academic prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The quickest way to start your career as a legal assistant in Birmingham AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can take just six months to complete. Many entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more comprehensive education and may be earned at many 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 work as a paralegal, certification may not only help improve your job opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. A few of the highly respected 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 cover the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 important first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Schools
Online paralegal or legal assistant programs have become more prevalent and can be an excellent alternative for those searching for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online schools can be particularly appealing to Birmingham AL students who keep working while earning a degree. As an additional advantage, online programs can in some cases be less expensive than on campus options. Even secondary expenditures for such items as commuting or study materials may be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all online programs are accredited, which we will cover in more detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the education you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the program and school you are considering are accredited by a reputable organization, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less structured and conventional setting, then earning your certificate or degree online may be the ideal option for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Now that you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what training choices are offered, you can begin the process of evaluating schools. But because there are numerous programs available at junior and community colleges in the Birmingham AL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you need to find out what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is especially true if you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like the majority of prospective students, you will start by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other critical issues to think about also, for instance the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's go over some of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are researching so that you can properly vet each one and make your final decision.
Is the Paralegal Training Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you pick need to be accredited by a reputable accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it might also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance education. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will receive will be of the highest quality, but it will demonstrate to future employers that you are a qualified professional also. A number of Birmingham AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited school. Finally, financial aid and student loans are usually offered only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Find out what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant schools you are contemplating. This is of specific importance if you are new to the profession with no prior experience, since employers will need to make a decision based on the caliber of your training exclusively. Confirming that the school you pick is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking 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 call some Birmingham AL law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask which schools they recommend. Remember that even though a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the Program Sponsor Internships? Internship programs give students an opportunity to experience working in a law office or other legal operation while still in school. They can also offer an avenue for students to start developing contacts within the Birmingham AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal schools you are assessing offer internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will most likely want to hit the ground running after graduation, but finding that first job in a new field can be difficult without support. Find out if the paralegal programs you are reviewing have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have substantial networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their students are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the School Located? Considering that laws vary from state to state, it might be beneficial to choose a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you wish to work after graduation. In addition, it will be valuable to cultivate relationships in the local legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is all the more reason to acquire your education in the area where you desire to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many require a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might want to first look at those schools that are within the Birmingham AL region.
How Much is the Entire Cost? Paralegal programs can differ in cost based on the credential earned and the amount of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your education. Don't forget to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance might be accessible to help reduce part of the cost, so make sure to talk to the school's financial aid department to see what is offered in Birmingham AL. Of course if you opt to attend an online program, some of these added expenses, such as for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? Many legal students continue working while receiving their training and require flexibility to schedule classes. If you can solely attend night or weekend classes near Birmingham AL, make sure classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, confirm that the school you choose makes available that option. Finally, ask what the process is for making up classes missed due to work, illness or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Best Birmingham Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Selecting the right paralegal training program is an essential first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have covered 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 residence. Paralegal academic programs are made available in various formats and lengths. Different types of public and private 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 program will have a profound influence on your prospects for success in your new career. Considering that there is a wide range in the quality of programs, choose wisely. Afford yourself the best possible opportunity to succeed in this rewarding profession. But no matter how you elect 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 program and make your ultimate selection. And with the right education you can realize your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Birmingham Alabama.