How to Select the Best Paralegal Studies Program Near Fairhope Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Fairhope AL and begin your journey that will result in a gratifying career in legal services. However, it's important that you find the right school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you need to achieve success. As you most likely understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of educational alternatives are being offered, both on campus and online. However with so many options to choose from, where does one start? Some potential students start by trying to find schools within driving distance of their Fairhope homes. Of those options, they look for the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are very important considerations when choosing a college, they are not the only qualifiers you ought to consider. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the school ought to be taken into consideration as well. Later in this post we will review a list of questions that you should ask potential paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare every one prior to making your decision. But before we do, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the educational options that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants essentially both fill comparable job roles and responsibilities, just with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and are part of a different job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Fairhope AL lawyers with a wide variety of job duties, including legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job duties are relevant to the type of practice where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm may assist with the logistics of a trial or delivering files to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is normally billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And the same as lawyers, they must carry out their duties with a high level of professionalism and comply with a strict standard of professional ethics. As noted, their duties can be varied in support of the practices where they are employed, but a few of their regular activities can involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching related laws and cases
- Preparing correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping attorneys prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be involved and rather demanding. However, what they are not legally permitted to do is provide legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not restricted to administrative or clerical duties more applicable 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 ground work and preparation, attorneys have the ability to handle a much larger number of cases or clients than they could on their own.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the educational prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The quickest means to launch your career as a legal assistant in Fairhope AL is by earning a certificate, which can take as little as six months to accomplish. Many 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 2 years. For an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are available as well. Once you have earned either a certificate or degree, you may want to continue and earn a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help improve your career opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. Some 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 address the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 important first steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Classes
Online paralegal or legal assistant schools have become more popular and may be an excellent option for individuals searching for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be particularly appealing to Fairhope AL students who continue to work while earning a degree. As an added benefit, online classes can in some cases be less costly than on campus options. Even supplementary expenditures for such items as study materials or commuting may be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will cover in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the education you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the program and school you are reviewing are accredited by a respected organization, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less supervised and formal setting, then obtaining your degree or certificate online could be the right choice for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Certificate or Degree Programs
Once you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what educational choices are offered, you can start the undertaking of evaluating schools. But since there are so many programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Fairhope 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 certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like most 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 crucial issues to think about also, including accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at a few of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are investigating so that you can properly vet each one and make your final decision.
Is the Paralegal Training Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you pick need to be accredited by a respected organization 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 targets online or distance learning. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will obtain will be of the highest quality, but it will show potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Many Fairhope AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited program. Also, financial aid and student loans are typically accessible only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Learn what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant programs you are considering. This is of special importance if you are new to the field with no previous experience, since employers will have to make a decision based on the quality of your training exclusively. Checking that the school you select is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating reports, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call a few Fairhope AL law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask what schools they suggest. Bear in mind that even when a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an excellent reputation.
Does the School Provide Internships? Internship programs provide students a chance to experience working in a law firm or other legal operation while attending school. They can also present a pathway for students to begin establishing contacts within the Fairhope AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal schools you are assessing provide internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help offered? You will undoubtedly want to secure employment quickly after graduation, but finding that initial job in a new profession can be challenging without help. Ask if the paralegal programs you are interviewing have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid 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 sought after.
Where is the School Located? Because laws vary from state to state, it may be beneficial to choose a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you wish to practice after graduating. Also, it will be valuable to establish relationships in the area legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is even more justification to acquire your education in the community where you choose to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many charge a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might want to initially investigate those colleges that are within the Fairhope AL region.
What is the Total Expense? Paralegal schools can differ in price based on the credential received and the amount of training provided. However, 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 also. Financial aid may be obtainable to help reduce part of the expense, so be sure to contact the school's financial aid office to find out what is offered in Fairhope AL. Needless to say that if you opt to attend an online program, a portion these additional costs, for instance for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Fit your Schedule? Many legal students continue working while obtaining their training and require flexibility in class scheduling. If you can just attend night or weekend classes near Fairhope AL, make sure classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make sure that the school you select makes available that option. Last, inquire what the process is for making-up classes missed as a result 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 post, you have the choice of attending classes on-campus or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Fairhope residence. Paralegal training programs are provided in numerous formats and lengths. Various kinds of private and public institutions make available paralegal education, including community colleges, four-year universities and colleges, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a profound influence on your prospects for success in your new career. Given that there is a broad range in the quality of schools, choose wisely. Give yourself the best possible opportunity to be successful in this fascinating profession. But irrespective of how you choose to receive your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have presented you will have the ability to review each school and make your final decision. And with the ideal education you can realize your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Fairhope Alabama.