How to Enroll in the Right Paralegal Studies Certificate or Degree Program Near Fairhope Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Fairhope AL and start your journey that will result in a gratifying career in legal services. Nevertheless, it's important that you find the right school so that you will get 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 increasingly more educational choices are being offered, both on campus and online. However with so many options to choose from, where does one start? Some potential students begin by trying to find schools within commuting distance of their Fairhope homes. Of those options, they try to find the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are very important considerations when picking a college, they are not the only qualifiers you must consider. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the program need to be taken into consideration as well. Later in this article we will review a list of questions that you must ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare each one before making your decision. But first, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the instructional options that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals basically both fill comparable job positions and functions, just with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and belong to a different job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Fairhope AL attorneys with a wide range of job duties, such as legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job duties are based upon the type of legal firm where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice could assist with the logistics of a trial or transporting files to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is typically billed by the hour as are the lawyer's. And just like attorneys, they must carry out their duties with a high degree of professionalism and comply with a strict standard of professional ethics. As stated, their responsibilities can be varied in support of the practices where they are employed, but some of their everyday tasks might include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching related laws and cases
- Drafting correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting lawyers get ready for trial and stay 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 rather challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally allowed to do is offer legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not confined to administrative or clerical duties more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys are able to manage a much larger number of cases or clients than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Training 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 educational prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The quickest means to begin your career as a paralegal in Fairhope AL is by obtaining a certificate, which may involve just 6 months to complete. A large number of entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which offer a more comprehensive education and can be earned at many community colleges in two years. For an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are available as well. Once you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you may want to continue and obtain a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help boost your job opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. A few 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 school (we will address the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 essential first steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Programs
Paralegal and legal assistant online schools have become more common and can be a good alternative for individuals searching for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be particularly appealing to Fairhope AL students who continue to work while obtaining a degree. As an added benefit, online schools can often be less costly than on campus options. Even supplementary expenses for such things as study materials or commuting can be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will address in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the education you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the school and program you are thinking about are accredited by a highly regarded agency, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less supervised and formal environment, then obtaining your certificate or degree online might be the ideal option for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Degree or Certificate Programs
Since you now you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what academic choices are available, you can begin the process of evaluating schools. But since there are so many programs available at junior and community colleges in the Fairhope AL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you need to learn what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is especially true if you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like many potential students, you will start by searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other critical issues to research as well, including the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's take a look at some of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are researching so that you can effectively vet each one and make your ultimate choice.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you pick need to be accredited by a recognized accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it might 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 receive will be of the highest standard, but it will demonstrate to potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. Many Fairhope AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited school. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are often offered only for accredited schools.
What's the Program's Reputation? Find out what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant schools you are looking at. This is of special importance if you are entering the profession with no prior experience, since employers will need to rely on the caliber of your education exclusively. Confirming that the program you choose is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating reports, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call several Fairhope AL law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask which schools they suggest. Keep in mind that even when a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an excellent reputation.
Does the School Provide Internships? Internship programs provide students an opportunity to experience working in a law firm or other legal enterprise while remaining in school. They can also provide an avenue for students to begin developing contacts within the Fairhope AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal schools you are assessing offer internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance provided? You will probably want to secure employment quickly after graduating, but getting that first job in a new profession can be challenging without assistance. Find out if the paralegal schools you are considering have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have substantial networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their students are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the Campus Located? Considering that laws differ from one state to another, it might be a good idea to choose a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you want to work after graduation. Also, it will be necessary to cultivate 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 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 wish to first look at those colleges that are within the Fairhope AL region.
How Much is the Complete Expense? Paralegal schools can differ in price based on the credential obtained and the length of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expense for your training. Remember to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid might be accessible to help offset part of the cost, so don't forget to check with the school's financial aid office to find out what is offered in Fairhope AL. Of course if you choose to attend an online program, a portion these added expenses, for instance for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? Numerous legal students continue working while getting their training and must have flexibility in class scheduling. If you can solely attend night or weekend classes near Fairhope AL, verify classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, confirm that the program you enroll in provides that option. Finally, inquire what the protocol is for making-up classes missed because of sickness, work or family obligations.
Enroll in the Best Fairhope Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Choosing the best paralegal studies degree program is an essential first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have discussed in this article, you have the choice of attending classes on campus or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Fairhope home. Paralegal academic programs are provided in numerous lengths and formats. Various kinds of private and public institutions provide paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four year universities and colleges, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a profound influence on your prospects for success in your new career. Since there is a broad range in the quality of programs, pick carefully. Give yourself the best possible opportunity to be successful in this rewarding profession. But irrespective of how you choose to obtain 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 ultimate selection. And with the right education you can accomplish your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Fairhope Alabama.