How to Select the Right Paralegal Certificate or Degree 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 rewarding profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's essential that you locate the right school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you require to succeed. As you most likely know, 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 at school and online. But with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one start? A number of potential students begin by trying to find schools within traveling distance of their Forestdale residences. Of those alternatives, they look for the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are important considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only qualifiers you should consider. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the school should be taken into consideration also. Later on in this post we will review a list of questions that you need to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare every one before making your decision. But first, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the educational 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 functions, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and are part of a different job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Forestdale AL attorneys with a diverse array of job duties, such as legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job functions are relevant to the type of legal firm where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice might assist with trial logistics or delivering documents to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is typically billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And just like attorneys, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and follow a strict code of professional ethics. As stated, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they are employed, but some of their routine activities might include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on pertinent cases and laws
- Composing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping lawyers get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal documents, files and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be complex and quite demanding. However, what they are not legally allowed to do is provide legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not limited to administrative or clerical duties more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly 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 otherwise.
Paralegal Certificates and Degrees and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps 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 start your career as a legal assistant in Forestdale AL is by earning a certificate, which may take as little as 6 months to complete. A large number of entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which offer a more expansive education and can be acquired at many community colleges in two years. For an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are offered also. After you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you might want to continue and obtain a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help maximize your job opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. Some of the highly respected certifying agencies 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 program (we will address the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two important first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Training
Online legal assistant or paralegal schools have become more prevalent and can be an excellent option for students looking for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online programs can be especially attractive to Forestdale AL students who continue to work while earning a degree. As an added advantage, online programs can sometimes be less expensive than more traditional options. Even supplementary expenditures for such items as study materials or commuting may be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all online programs are accredited, which we will address in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the education you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the school and program you are reviewing 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 structured and formal environment, then earning your certificate or degree online may be the ideal option for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Schools
Once you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what educational options are offered, you can start the process of evaluating schools. But considering that there are numerous programs offered at community and junior colleges in the Forestdale AL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you need to learn what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is especially true when you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like most 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 critical factors to research as well, for instance the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's take a look at some of the questions you should be asking the programs you are researching so that you can properly vet each one and make your ultimate decision.
Is the Paralegal School and Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you choose should be accredited by a highly regarded organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it may also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance training. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will receive will be of the highest standard, but it will show future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Numerous Forestdale AL law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited school. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are usually obtainable only for accredited programs.
What's the Program's Reputation? Find out what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal programs you are contemplating. This is of particular importance if you are entering the profession with no previous experience, since employers will have to make a decision based on the quality of your training exclusively. Confirming that the program you choose is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating reports, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact some Forestdale AL law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask which schools they suggest. Remember that even though a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal establishment while remaining in school. They can also offer an avenue for students to start creating contacts within the Forestdale AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal schools you are evaluating offer internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will undoubtedly want to hit the ground running after graduation, but finding that initial job in a new field can be challenging without support. Find out if the paralegal programs you are assessing have job assistance 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 confirms that their students are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the School's Location? Since laws vary among states, it may be advantageous to enroll in a paralegal school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you wish to practice after graduating. Also, it will be important to develop relationships in the neighboring legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is even more justification to receive your education in the area where you wish to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most charge a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may need to first look at those colleges that are within the Forestdale AL region.
How Much is the Complete Cost? Paralegal schools can differ in price depending on the credential obtained and the length of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only cost for your training. Don't forget to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance might be obtainable to help reduce some of the cost, so make sure to talk to the school's financial aid office to find out what is available in Forestdale AL. Naturally if you decide to attend an online program, some of these additional costs, for instance for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Fit your Schedule? Numerous legal students continue working while getting their training and require flexibility in class scheduling. If you can only attend night or weekend classes near Forestdale AL, make sure classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, confirm that the school you enroll in provides that option. Last, find out what the process is for making up classes missed due to sickness, work or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Right Forestdale Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Selecting the best paralegal studies training school is a crucial first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have addressed 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 provided in numerous formats and lengths. 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 school will have a pronounced impact on your prospects for success in your new career. Considering that there is a broad range in the quality of programs, pick wisely. Give yourself the best possible chance to succeed in this exciting profession. But irrespective of how you elect to receive your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have presented you will be able to assess each school and make your final decision. And with the ideal education you can achieve your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Forestdale Alabama.