How to Select the Best Paralegal Training Program Near Fairhope Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Fairhope AL and begin your journey that will lead to a gratifying profession in legal services. However, it's crucial that you locate the right school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you require to succeed. As you most likely understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of academic alternatives are being offered, both on campus and online. However with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Some potential students begin by looking for schools within driving range of their Fairhope residences. Of those options, they look for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are important considerations when selecting a college, they are not the only qualifiers you should consider. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the school need to be taken into account also. Later on in this post we will cover a list of questions that you must ask potential paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare each one prior to making your selection. But before we do, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic choices that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals essentially both fill 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 separate job classification. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Fairhope AL attorneys with a wide variety of job duties, 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 are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm may assist with trial logistics or transporting documents to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is normally billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And the same as lawyers, they must carry out their duties with a high degree of professionalism and adhere to a strict standard of professional ethics. As noted, their responsibilities can be varied in support of the practices where they are employed, but a few of their routine tasks may include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on related cases and laws
- Composing correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping attorneys get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal files, documents and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be involved and quite 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 action. But paralegals are not confined to clerical or administrative duties more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really 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 alone.
Paralegal Certificates and Degrees and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the academic requirements and job prospects will be the same. The fastest means to begin your career as a paralegal in Fairhope AL is by obtaining a certificate, which may require as little as six months to accomplish. A large number of entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which offer a more expansive education and can be obtained at numerous community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are offered as well. When you have acquired either a degree or a certificate, you might 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. Some of the highly regarded certifying agencies 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 certificate or degree from an accredited program (we will address the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 important first steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Classes
Online legal assistant or paralegal schools have become more prevalent and may be a good alternative for students looking for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online programs can be particularly attractive to Fairhope AL students who keep working while earning a degree. As an added advantage, online programs can sometimes be less expensive than more traditional options. Even secondary expenditures for such things as study materials or commuting may be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all online schools are accredited, which we will discuss in more detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the training you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the program and school you are thinking about are accredited by a respected agency, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less supervised and conventional environment, then obtaining your degree or certificate online could be the right option for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Degree or Certificate Programs
Now that you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what training options are offered, you can start the undertaking of assessing schools. But considering that there are so many programs available at community and junior colleges in the Fairhope AL area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you need to learn what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is particularly true when you add all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. If you are like many prospective students, you will begin by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other significant aspects to think about as well, for instance accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at a few of the questions you should be asking the programs you are investigating so that you can effectively vet each one and make your ultimate choice.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you pick need to be accredited by a highly regarded organization 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 education. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will receive will be of the highest standard, but it will establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Many Fairhope AL law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited school. Also, financial aid and student loans are typically available only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Investigate what the rankings and reputations 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 have to rely on the quality of your training exclusively. Verifying that the school you pick is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating services, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also call some Fairhope AL law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduation 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 Offer Internships? Internship programs provide students an opportunity to experience working in a law office or other legal establishment while still in school. They can also provide a pathway for students to begin establishing contacts within the Fairhope AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal programs you are reviewing provide internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance offered? You will most likely wish to secure employment quickly after graduating, but finding that first job in a new profession can be challenging without support. Find out if the paralegal schools you are assessing have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good sign that the schools have large networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their graduates are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the School Located? Considering that laws vary among states, it might be a good idea to choose a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you want to work after graduating. In addition, it will be valuable to create relationships in the local legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is even more justification to obtain your education in the community where you want to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many charge an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might want to initially investigate those colleges that are within the Fairhope AL region.
What is the Complete Expense? Paralegal programs can vary in price depending on the credential obtained and the amount of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your education. Remember to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid might be obtainable to help reduce some of the cost, so be sure to check with the school's financial aid department to see what is offered in Fairhope AL. Of course if you opt to attend an online program, a portion these added costs, for instance for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? A number of paralegal students keep working while getting their training and need flexibility in class scheduling. If you can just attend weekend or evening classes near Fairhope AL, make certain classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make certain that the school you enroll in provides that option. Finally, ask what the procedure is for making-up missed classes because of sickness, work or family obligations.
Enroll in the Right Fairhope Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Enrolling in the right legal assistant certificate school is an important first step toward your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have covered in this article, you have the option of attending classes on-campus or you can attend them online in the comfort and privacy of your Fairhope residence. Paralegal academic programs are made available in many lengths and formats. Different types of private and public institutions provide paralegal training, including community and junior colleges, four year colleges and universities, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a pronounced influence on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Considering that there is a wide range in the quality of programs, choose carefully. Afford yourself the greatest possible opportunity to be successful in this fascinating profession. But irrespective of how you choose to obtain your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will be able to examine each program and make your final decision. And with the right education you can achieve your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Fairhope Alabama.