How to Select the Right Paralegal School Near Fairhope Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Fairhope AL and begin your journey that will result in a gratifying career in legal services. However, it's crucial that you find the ideal school so that you will get the extensive training that you need to achieve success. As you probably know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and 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 looking for schools within traveling range of their Fairhope homes. Of those choices, they look for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are very important considerations when selecting a college, they are not the only qualifiers you must take into consideration. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the program must be taken into account as well. Later on in this article we will review a list of questions that you should ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare every one prior to making your choice. But before we do, let's take a look at 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 essentially both fill the same job positions and responsibilities, 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 category. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Fairhope AL attorneys with a wide range of job functions, such as legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job functions are relevant to the type of practice where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice may assist with the logistics of a trial or delivering files to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is normally billed hourly as are the attorney's. And the same as attorneys, they must carry out their duties with a high degree of professionalism and follow a strict standard of professional ethics. As noted, their duties can be varied in support of the firms where they are employed, but some of their regular activities can include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on related cases and laws
- Drafting correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting lawyers get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be complicated and very demanding. On the other hand, what they are not legally authorized 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 applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the main support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys have the ability to take on a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could alone.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational requirements and job prospects will be the same. The quickest means to begin your career as a legal assistant in Fairhope AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can involve just 6 months to accomplish. Most entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more extensive education and can be earned at numerous community colleges in 2 years. For an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are available also. When you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you might want to proceed and get a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help maximize your career opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. A few of the highly respected 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 discuss the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 crucial first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Classes
Legal assistant and paralegal online programs have become more prevalent and can be a good alternative for those looking for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be particularly appealing to Fairhope AL students who keep working while earning a degree. As an added benefit, online schools can in some cases be less costly than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenditures for such items as study materials or commuting may be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will discuss in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the training you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the program and school you are looking into are accredited by a reputable organization, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to attend classes in a less supervised and conventional setting, then earning your certificate or degree online may be the right choice for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Programs
Since you now you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what educational options are offered, you can start the undertaking of assessing schools. But since there are so many programs available at community and junior colleges in the Fairhope AL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you must find out what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is particularly true if 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 driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other important aspects to consider also, including 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 investigating so that you can effectively vet each one and make your ultimate choice.
Is the Paralegal School and Program Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you enroll in should be accredited by a reputable organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it can 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 receive will be of the highest quality, but it will demonstrate to future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Many Fairhope AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited school. Also, financial assistance and student loans are often obtainable only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the School? Learn what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal schools you are considering. This is of specific importance if you are entering the profession with no previous work history, since employers will need to make a decision based on the quality of your training exclusively. Confirming that the school you pick is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating services, 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 some Fairhope AL law offices that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask which schools they suggest. Keep in mind that even though a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an excellent reputation.
Does the Program Offer Internships? Internship programs provide students a chance to experience working in a law practice or other legal enterprise while remaining in school. They can also present a means for students to begin establishing contacts within the Fairhope AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal schools you are reviewing provide internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help available? You will most likely want to secure employment quickly after graduation, but getting that initial job in a new field can be challenging without help. Ask if the paralegal schools you are assessing have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good indication that the schools have substantial networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their students are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the School's Location? Since laws differ among states, it might be advantageous to choose a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you wish to work after graduation. Also, it will be valuable to create relationships in the area legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is even more reason to obtain your education in the area where you choose to practice. Also, if you attend 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.
How Much is the Entire 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 cost for your education. Remember to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance might be obtainable to help offset part of the expense, so be sure to contact the school's financial aid department to see what is available in Fairhope AL. Of course if you opt to attend an online school, a portion these supplementary expenses, such as for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Accommodate your Schedule? Many legal students keep working while getting their training and need flexibility in class scheduling. If you can solely 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, confirm that the school you choose makes available that option. Finally, inquire what the process is for making-up classes missed due to sickness, work or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Best Fairhope Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Selecting the right paralegal certificate school is an important 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 comfort and privacy of your Fairhope residence. Paralegal training programs are provided in various lengths and formats. Several kinds of private and public institutions offer paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four year universities and colleges, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a profound influence on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Given that there is a broad range in the quality of programs, pick wisely. Give yourself the best possible opportunity to be successful in this rewarding profession. But regardless of how you elect to receive your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will have the ability to assess each program and make your ultimate selection. And with the right training you can achieve your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Fairhope Alabama.