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How to Pick the Best Paralegal Degree Program Near Birmingham Alabama

Birmingham Alabama female paralegal speaking with client on cellphoneCongratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Birmingham AL and start your journey that will result in a gratifying career in legal services. However, it's essential that you locate the best school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you need to achieve success. As you most likely know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more educational options are becoming available, both at school and online. However with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? A number of prospective students start by trying to find schools within commuting distance of their Birmingham residences. Of those options, they look for the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are important considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only qualifiers you should consider. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the school need to be taken into consideration as well. Later in this post we will review a list of questions that you must ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare every one prior to making your decision. But before we do, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic choices that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.

Legal Assistants and Paralegals

Birmingham Alabama law library

Legal assistants and paralegals essentially both hold comparable job roles and functions, only with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and are part of a different job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Birmingham AL attorneys with a wide variety of job functions, such as maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job duties are based upon the type of legal firm where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm could 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 the same as attorneys, they must carry out their duties with a high level of professionalism and follow a strict standard of professional ethics. As mentioned, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they work, but a few of their everyday activities can involve:

  • Investigating and fact checking cases
  • Conducting research on relevant cases and laws
  • Composing correspondence and legal documents
  • Submitting legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
  • Helping lawyers get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
  • Organizing and maintaining legal files, documents and additional records

With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be complicated and rather demanding. On the other hand, what they are not legally permitted to do is provide legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not limited to administrative or clerical functions more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the right hand support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys have the ability to manage a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could otherwise.

Paralegal Programs and Certification

Birmingham Alabama male paralegal speaking on cellphone taking notes

As we previously covered, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the academic prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The quickest means to launch your career as a legal assistant 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 provide a more expansive education and can be acquired at many community colleges in two years. For an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are an option also. After you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you might choose to proceed and get a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help improve your employment opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. A few 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 certificate or degree from an accredited school (we will discuss the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two essential initial steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.

Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Schools

Birmingham Alabama woman student attending paralegal online trainingLegal assistant and paralegal online programs have become more common and may be an excellent alternative for individuals searching for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online programs can be especially attractive 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 on campus options. Even secondary expenses for such items as commuting or study materials may be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will discuss in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the training you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the program and school you are looking into are accredited by a respected organization, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to attend classes in a less structured and formal environment, then obtaining your degree or certificate online may be the right option for you.

Questions to Ask Paralegal Colleges

Now that you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what educational choices are available, you can start the process of assessing schools. But since there are so many programs accessible at junior and community colleges in the Birmingham AL area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you need to find out what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is especially true when you add all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like the majority of 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 crucial issues to research also, including the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's go over some of the questions you should be asking the schools you are considering so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your final choice.

Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you pick should be accredited by a respected accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it might also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets distance or online training. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will obtain will be of the highest standard, but it will show potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. Numerous Birmingham AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited school. Also, financial assistance and student loans are often obtainable only for accredited schools.

What's the School's Reputation? Find out what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal programs you are looking at. This is of special importance if you are entering the profession with no prior work history, since employers will need to rely on the quality of your education exclusively. Checking that the school you pick is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating services, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call several Birmingham AL law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask what schools they recommend. Bear in mind that even though a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.

Does the School Sponsor Internships? Internship programs offer students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal enterprise while remaining in school. They can also offer a means for students to start developing contacts within the Birmingham AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal schools you are reviewing offer internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing upon graduation.

Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will undoubtedly want to hit the ground running after graduation, but getting that initial job in a new field can be difficult without help. Ask if the paralegal programs you are interviewing have job placement programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have substantial networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their students are highly regarded and sought after.

Where is the Campus Located? Because laws differ 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 work after graduating. Also, it will be valuable to build relationships in the local legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is even more reason to acquire your education in the community where you choose to practice. 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 might want to first look at those schools that are within the Birmingham AL region.

How Much is the Total Cost? Paralegal programs can vary in price depending on the credential earned and the amount of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expense for your training. Don't forget to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial assistance may be available to help reduce some of the cost, so be sure to consult with the school's financial aid department to see what is offered in Birmingham AL. Of course if you choose to attend an online program, a portion these supplementary expenses, for instance for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.

Do the Classes Match your Schedule? Numerous legal students keep working while obtaining their training and require flexibility in class scheduling. If you can just attend weekend or evening classes near Birmingham AL, make certain classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make certain that the program you enroll in makes available that option. Last, ask what the procedure is for making up classes missed as a result of sickness, work or family emergencies.

Learn More About Birmingham Online Paralegal Schools

Enroll in the Best Birmingham Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program

Enrolling in the best legal assistant training program is an essential first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have covered 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 residence. Paralegal academic programs are offered in many lengths and formats. Various types of private and public institutions make available paralegal training, including junior and community colleges, four year universities and colleges, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a profound impact on your prospects for success in your new profession. Considering that there is a wide range in the quality of programs, choose carefully. Afford yourself the best possible chance to succeed in this fascinating profession. But regardless of how you decide to receive your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to evaluate each school and make your final selection. And with the right education you can achieve your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Birmingham Alabama.


 

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