How to Pick the Best Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program Near Fultondale Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Fultondale AL and start your journey that will lead to a fulfilling career in legal services. Nevertheless, it's crucial that you find the best school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you need to succeed. As you probably know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of academic options are becoming available, both on campus and online. However with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Some prospective students begin by searching for schools within traveling distance of their Fultondale homes. Of those choices, they look for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are prime considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only factors you need to take into consideration. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the school must be taken into consideration as well. Later on in this post we will cover a list of questions that you should ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare each one before making your selection. But first, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic options that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants for the most part both hold comparable job roles and functions, 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 classification. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Fultondale AL attorneys with a wide variety of job functions, 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. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm may assist with the logistics of a trial or transporting documents 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 perform with a high level of professionalism and comply with a strict standard of professional ethics. As stated, their responsibilities can be diverse in support of the firms where they are employed, but a few of their regular tasks might involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on applicable laws and cases
- Composing correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping lawyers prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal files, documents and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be complex and quite challenging. However, what they are not legally authorized to do is provide legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not restricted to clerical or administrative functions more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the main support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers are able to take on a much larger number of clients or cases than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the academic requirements and opportunities will be the same. The fastest way to begin your career as a paralegal in Fultondale AL is by earning a certificate, which may involve just six months to complete. Many entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more expansive education and may be earned at many community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are offered as well. After you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you may want to continue and receive a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help maximize your employment opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. Some of the highly respected certifying organizations 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 discuss the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two important first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Training
Online paralegal or legal assistant programs have become more common and can be an excellent alternative for students searching for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online schools can be especially attractive to Fultondale AL students who continue to work while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an additional benefit, online programs can often be less expensive than more traditional options. Even secondary expenditures for such items as commuting or study materials can be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet schools 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 program and school you are reviewing are accredited by a highly regarded agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less supervised and conventional environment, then earning your certificate or degree online could be the ideal option for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Certificate or Degree Programs
Since you now you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what educational options are available, you can begin the undertaking of evaluating schools. But because there are numerous programs offered at community and junior colleges in the Fultondale AL area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you must know what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is especially true if you add all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. If you are like many potential students, you will begin by searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other critical factors to think about also, including the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's go over several 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 Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you pick should be accredited by a reputable accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it may also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets distance or online training. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will receive will be of the highest standard, but it will establish with future employers that you are a qualified professional also. Numerous Fultondale AL law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited program. Also, financial assistance and student loans are usually available only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the School? Investigate what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant programs you are looking at. This is of specific importance if you are new to the profession with no prior experience, since employers will have to make a decision based on the quality of your education exclusively. Verifying that the program you pick is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating reports, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call a few Fultondale AL law practices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask what schools they recommend. Bear in mind that even though a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an excellent reputation.
Does the Program Provide Internships? Internship programs offer students an opportunity to experience working in a law firm or other legal enterprise while remaining in school. They can also provide a means for students to begin creating contacts within the Fultondale AL legal field. Ask if the paralegal programs you are evaluating offer internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance offered? You will probably want to secure employment quickly after graduation, but finding that first job in a new field can be challenging without help. Find out if the paralegal schools you are considering have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good sign that the schools have sizable networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their students are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the School Located? Because laws differ among states, it may be a good idea to select a paralegal school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you wish to work after graduating. In addition, it will be valuable to cultivate relationships in the area legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is all the more justification to acquire your education in the area where you choose to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many require a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may want to initially look at those schools that are within the Fultondale AL region.
How Much is the Entire Cost? Paralegal programs can differ in cost based on the credential obtained and the length of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only cost for your education. Remember to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance may be available to help reduce part of the expense, so don't forget to consult with the school's financial aid office to find out what is offered in Fultondale AL. Of course if you choose to attend an online school, some of these supplementary expenses, such as for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Fit your Schedule? Numerous legal students continue working while getting their training and need flexibility to schedule classes. If you can just attend night or weekend classes near Fultondale AL, verify classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make certain that the program you select provides that option. Finally, inquire what the protocol is for making-up classes missed because of sickness, work or family obligations.
Choose the Right Fultondale Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Selecting the ideal legal assistant degree school is a vital first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have discussed in this post, you have the choice of attending classes on campus or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Fultondale residence. Paralegal academic programs are made available in many lengths and formats. Various kinds of public and private institutions provide paralegal education, including 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 profession. Given that there is a broad range in the quality of schools, pick wisely. Give yourself the greatest possible chance to succeed in this fascinating profession. But regardless of how you decide to acquire your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will have the ability to examine each program and make your final selection. And with the right training you can achieve your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Fultondale Alabama.