How to Pick the Best Paralegal Degree Program Near Fultondale Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Fultondale AL and begin your journey that will result in a rewarding profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's essential that you locate the ideal school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you need to be successful. As you probably understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more academic choices are becoming available, both on campus and online. However with so many options to choose from, where does one start? Many prospective students start by searching for schools within commuting distance of their Fultondale homes. Of those alternatives, they look for the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are important considerations when choosing a college, 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 post we will cover a list of concerns that you need to ask potential 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 exactly what a paralegal does and the educational alternatives that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants for the most part both hold the same job roles and functions, only with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and belong to a different job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Fultondale AL lawyers with a wide range of job functions, including maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job functions are based upon the type of legal firm where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice could help with the logistics of a trial or transferring files to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is typically billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And just like lawyers, they must carry out their duties with a high level of professionalism and abide by a strict code of professional ethics. As noted, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they work, but some of their daily activities might involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on relevant laws and cases
- Preparing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping attorneys get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal files, documents and other records
With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be involved and quite demanding. However, what they are not legally permitted 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 tasks more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the main support systems for attorneys. And since they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers are able to handle a much larger number of clients or cases than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The fastest means to begin your career as a paralegal in Fultondale AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can take just six months to accomplish. A large number of entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more extensive education and can be obtained at numerous community colleges in two years. For an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are offered as well. When you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you might choose to proceed and get a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help boost your employment opportunities, but help establish 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 address the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two essential first steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Training
Online legal assistant or paralegal schools have become more prevalent and can be a good alternative for students looking for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be especially attractive to Fultondale AL students who keep working while earning a degree. As an added advantage, online programs can often be less expensive than on campus options. Even supplementary expenses for such things as commuting or study materials may be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all online programs are accredited, which we will discuss 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 school and program you are looking into are accredited by a respected organization, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to attend classes in a less structured and formal setting, then earning your certificate or degree online might be the right choice for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Degree or Certificate Programs
Since you now you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what training options are offered, you can begin the process of assessing schools. But because there are so many programs offered at community and junior colleges in the Fultondale AL area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you need to 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 also. If you are like the majority of potential students, you will begin by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other important aspects to research also, for instance accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's go over several of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are researching so that you can effectively vet each one and make your final selection.
Is the Paralegal Training Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you enroll in need to be accredited by a recognized organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it may also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online learning. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will get will be of the highest quality, but it will demonstrate to 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. Finally, financial aid and student loans are often obtainable only for accredited programs.
What's the School's Reputation? Investigate what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal programs you are considering. This is of special importance if you are new to the profession with no prior experience, since employers will need to make a decision based on the caliber of your training exclusively. Verifying that the school you select is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating reports, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact several Fultondale AL law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask which schools they suggest. Remember that even if a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs give students an opportunity to experience working in a law firm or other legal operation while remaining in school. They can also provide a pathway for students to start establishing contacts within the Fultondale AL legal field. Ask if the paralegal programs you are considering offer internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help provided? You will most likely want to hit the ground running after graduation, but finding that first job in a new profession can be difficult without support. Find out if the paralegal schools you are considering have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have large networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their graduates are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the School's Location? Because laws differ from state to state, it might be beneficial to select a paralegal school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you plan to practice after graduation. In addition, it will be valuable to develop relationships in the area legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is even more justification to obtain your education in the community where you wish to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many require an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might wish to initially look at those schools that are within the Fultondale AL area.
What is the Entire Expense? Paralegal schools can vary in cost depending on the credential obtained and the length of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your training. Remember to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial assistance may be available to help reduce some of the expense, so be sure to contact the school's financial aid office to find out what is available in Fultondale AL. Of course if you opt to attend an online school, a portion these added costs, such as for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Fit your Schedule? A number of paralegal students continue working while receiving their training and must have flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend night or weekend classes near Fultondale AL, make sure classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make sure that the program you enroll in provides that option. Finally, ask what the protocol is for making up classes missed because of work, illness or family obligations.
Choose the Right Fultondale Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Choosing the right legal assistant certificate school is a crucial first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have covered in this article, you have the option of attending classes at school or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Fultondale home. Paralegal education programs are made available in various formats and lengths. Various kinds of private and public institutions provide paralegal education, including junior and community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a profound influence on your prospects for success in your new profession. Since there is a wide range in the quality of programs, choose carefully. Afford yourself the greatest possible opportunity to succeed in this fascinating profession. But irrespective of how you choose to receive your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to review each school and make your final decision. And with the ideal training you can accomplish your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Fultondale Alabama.