How to Choose the Right Paralegal Studies Program Near Forestdale Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Forestdale AL and start your journey that will result in a gratifying career in legal services. However, it's crucial that you find the right school so that you will receive the extensive training that you require to achieve success. As you most likely understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more educational alternatives are becoming available, both at school and online. But with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? A number of prospective students start by looking for schools within traveling range of their Forestdale homes. Of those choices, 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 factors you need to take into consideration. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the program need to be taken into account as well. Later on in this article we will review a list of concerns that you should ask potential paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare every one before making your choice. But before we do, let's take a look at what a paralegal does and the instructional choices that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals basically both fill the same job roles and functions, only with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and belong to a separate job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Forestdale AL lawyers with a wide variety of job duties, such as maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job duties are relevant to the type of practice where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice could assist with trial logistics or transferring files to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is usually billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And the same as attorneys, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and abide by a strict code of professional ethics. As mentioned, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they work, but some of their everyday tasks may involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on related laws and cases
- Drafting correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting attorneys get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal documents, files and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be complicated and very challenging. However, what they are not legally authorized to do is provide legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not confined to administrative or clerical functions 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 alone.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The quickest means to begin your career as a legal assistant in Forestdale AL is by earning a certificate, which may involve as little as six months to complete. Most entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which offer a more extensive education and can be earned at many community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are available as well. Once you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you might want to continue and receive a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help maximize your employment opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. Some 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 school (we will cover the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two crucial initial steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Courses
Online paralegal or legal assistant programs have become more available and can be an excellent option for individuals looking for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be especially appealing to Forestdale AL students who continue to work while obtaining a degree. As an added advantage, online programs can sometimes be less expensive than on campus options. Even ancillary expenses for such things as commuting or study materials may be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will cover in greater detail later. But at the very least 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 reviewing are accredited by a respected agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to attend classes in a less supervised and conventional setting, then earning your degree or certificate online might be the ideal option for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Degree or Certificate Programs
Since you now you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what training options are offered, you can start the undertaking of evaluating schools. But because there are so many programs available at junior and community colleges in the Forestdale 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 particularly true if you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like many potential 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 critical aspects to think about also, for instance accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at several of the questions you should be asking the schools you are researching so that you can properly vet each one and make your final choice.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you enroll in should be accredited by a highly regarded organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it can also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online education. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will obtain will be of the highest standard, but it will show future employers that you are a qualified professional also. Many Forestdale AL law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited program. Finally, financial aid and student loans are usually offered only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Learn what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal programs you are considering. This is of particular importance if you are new to the profession with no previous experience, since employers will need to rely on the quality of your education exclusively. Confirming that the school you pick is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating services, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact some Forestdale AL law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask what schools they recommend. Keep in mind that even if a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the Program Offer Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law practice or other legal operation while remaining in school. They can also provide an avenue for students to begin developing contacts within the Forestdale AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal programs you are assessing 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 wish to secure employment quickly after graduation, but getting that first job in a new profession can be difficult without help. Ask if the paralegal programs you are considering have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good indication that the schools have large networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their graduates are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the Campus Located? Because laws differ from state to state, it might be a good idea to select a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you wish to work after graduation. Also, it will be necessary to build relationships in the neighboring legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is even more reason to obtain your education in the area where you desire to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most charge an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may want to initially consider those schools that are within the Forestdale AL area.
How Much is the Entire Cost? Paralegal programs can vary in cost depending on the credential earned and the amount of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only cost for your training. Remember to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid might be available to help minimize part of the expense, so make sure to contact the school's financial aid department to find out what is offered in Forestdale AL. Needless to say that if you opt to attend an online program, some of these additional expenses, such as for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? A number of legal students continue working while receiving their training and require flexibility to schedule classes. If you can just attend weekend or evening classes near Forestdale AL, verify classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, confirm that the program you choose offers that option. Finally, find out what the protocol is for making up classes missed because of sickness, work or family emergencies.
Choose the Best Forestdale Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Enrolling in the right paralegal studies certificate program is an important first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have discussed in this article, you have the option of attending classes on campus or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Forestdale residence. Paralegal education programs are made available in many formats and lengths. Different types of private and public institutions offer paralegal training, including junior and community colleges, four-year universities and colleges, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a pronounced influence on your opportunities for success in your new career. Since there is a wide range in the quality of programs, pick carefully. Afford yourself the greatest possible opportunity to be successful in this fascinating profession. But no matter how you decide to receive your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will be able to examine each school and make your final decision. And with the appropriate education you can achieve your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Forestdale Alabama.