How to Find the Best Paralegal Studies School Near Fultondale Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Fultondale AL and start your journey that will result in a satisfying profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's essential that you find the best 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 increasingly more educational alternatives are being offered, both at school and online. However with so many options to choose from, where does one start? A number of potential students start by searching for schools within traveling range of their Fultondale homes. Of those options, they look for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are important considerations when choosing a college, they are not the only factors you need to take into consideration. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the program need to be taken into consideration also. Later on in this post we will cover a list of questions that you need to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare every one prior to making your selection. But first, let's have 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 essentially both hold the same job positions and functions, just with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and belong to a separate job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals help Fultondale AL lawyers with a wide variety of job duties, such as legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job duties are based upon the type of practice where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm could help with the logistics of a trial or delivering files to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is usually billed hourly as are the attorney's. And just like attorneys, they must conduct themselves with a high degree of professionalism and adhere to 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 routine tasks might include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching related cases and laws
- Drafting correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting attorneys prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be involved and very challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally permitted to do is offer legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not confined to administrative or clerical duties more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers have the ability to handle a much larger number of cases or clients than they could alone.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the academic prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The quickest means to begin your career as a legal assistant in Fultondale AL is by earning a certificate, which can involve just six months to complete. Many entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which provide a more expansive education and may be obtained at many community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are offered as well. After you have earned either a degree or a certificate, you may want to continue and obtain a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help maximize your job opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. Some of the highly regarded 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 degree or certificate from an accredited program (we will discuss the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two crucial first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Training
Paralegal and legal assistant online programs have become more common and can be an excellent alternative for those looking for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online programs can be particularly attractive to Fultondale AL students who keep working while earning a certificate or degree. As an additional benefit, online schools can often be less costly than on campus options. Even supplementary expenses for such items as commuting or study materials may be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all online programs are accredited, which we will cover in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the education you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the program and school you are thinking about are accredited by a reputable agency, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less structured and conventional setting, then obtaining your certificate or degree online might be the right option for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Degree or Certificate Programs
Now that you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what academic choices are offered, you can start the undertaking of assessing schools. But because there are numerous programs accessible at junior and community colleges in the Fultondale AL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you need to learn what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is particularly true when 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 driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other significant issues to think about also, for instance accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at some of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are investigating so that you can properly vet each one and make your ultimate selection.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you enroll in need to be accredited by a reputable organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it can also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online education. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will receive will be of the highest quality, but it will establish with future employers that you are a qualified professional also. Many Fultondale AL law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited program. Also, financial assistance and student loans are usually available only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Research what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal schools you are contemplating. This is of particular importance if you are entering the profession with no previous work history, since employers will need to make a decision based on the caliber of your training exclusively. Verifying that the program you select is accredited is a good first step. Checking 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 Fultondale AL law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask which schools they recommend. Bear in mind that even when a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an excellent 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 present an avenue for students to begin establishing contacts within the Fultondale AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal schools you are reviewing offer internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help available? You will undoubtedly want to hit the ground running after graduating, but getting that first job in a new field can be difficult 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 an excellent sign that the schools have substantial networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their students are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the School Located? Since laws differ among states, it may be beneficial to enroll in a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you plan to work after graduating. In addition, it will be necessary to build relationships in the neighboring legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is even more justification to acquire your education in the area where you desire to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many require a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might wish to first look at those schools that are within the Fultondale AL area.
What is the Total Cost? Paralegal schools can vary in cost based on the credential earned and the length of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your education. Don't forget to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance might be obtainable to help offset part of the expense, so be sure to consult with the school's financial aid department to see what is available in Fultondale AL. Needless to say that if you choose to attend an online program, some of these additional expenses, such as for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Fit your Schedule? A number of paralegal students continue working while getting their training and must have flexibility to schedule classes. If you can solely attend night or weekend classes near Fultondale AL, make certain classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make sure that the program you select offers that option. Last, inquire what the protocol is for making up missed classes due to sickness, work or family emergencies.
Choose the Best Fultondale Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Choosing the ideal legal assistant training school is a crucial first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have addressed in this post, you have the choice of attending classes at school or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Fultondale residence. Paralegal education programs are offered in numerous formats and lengths. Different types of public and private institutions offer paralegal training, including junior and community colleges, four year colleges and universities, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a profound impact on your opportunities for success in your new career. Considering that there is a wide range in the quality of schools, choose wisely. Afford yourself the greatest possible opportunity to succeed in this exciting profession. But regardless of how you elect to obtain your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will be able to assess each program and make your final decision. And with the appropriate education you can accomplish your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Fultondale Alabama.