How to Choose the Right Paralegal Studies Course Near Gadsden Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Gadsden AL and begin your journey that will result in a fulfilling profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's important that you find the right school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you need to succeed. As you most likely understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of educational options are being offered, both at school and online. But with numerous options to choose from, where does one begin? A number of potential students start by trying to find schools within commuting range of their Gadsden residences. Of those alternatives, they search for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are necessary considerations when choosing a school, they are not the only factors you ought to consider. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the program must be considered also. Later in this post we will review a list of questions that you must ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare each one prior to making your choice. But before we do, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic choices that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants basically both hold comparable job positions and functions, only with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and belong to a different job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Gadsden 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 functions are based upon the type of practice where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice might help with trial logistics or transferring documents to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is normally billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And the same as lawyers, they must conduct themselves with a high degree of professionalism and adhere to a strict standard of professional ethics. As mentioned, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they work, but a few of their routine activities can include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on applicable laws and cases
- Composing correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting attorneys prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be involved and quite challenging. However, what they are not legally allowed to do is give legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not confined to administrative or clerical functions more applicable 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, lawyers are able to take on a much larger number of clients or cases than they could alone.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational requirements and opportunities will be the same. The quickest means to start your career as a legal assistant in Gadsden AL is by earning a certificate, which can involve as little as six months to complete. A large number of entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more expansive education and may be earned at numerous community colleges in two years. For an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are an option also. Once you have acquired either a degree or a certificate, you might choose 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 increase your job opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. A few 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 school (we will cover the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two essential initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Programs
Legal assistant and paralegal online schools have become more common and may be a good option for those searching for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be particularly appealing to Gadsden AL students who keep working while earning a degree. As an additional benefit, online programs can often be less costly than more traditional options. Even supplementary expenses for such items as study materials or commuting can be reduced 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 guarantee that the training you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the school and program you are thinking about are accredited by a respected agency, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less structured and formal setting, then obtaining your certificate or degree online may be the ideal choice for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Programs
Once you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what educational choices are available, you can start the process of assessing schools. But considering that there are so many programs available at junior and community colleges in the Gadsden AL area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you need to find out what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is especially true if you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like the majority of prospective students, you will begin by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other critical factors to research also, such as the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's go over several of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are considering so that you can properly vet each one and make your final selection.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you pick should be accredited by a recognized accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it might also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets distance or online training. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will get will be of the highest quality, but it will show potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Numerous Gadsden AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited school. Also, financial assistance and student loans are usually accessible only for accredited programs.
What's the Program's Reputation? Research what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant programs you are considering. This is of specific importance if you are new to the field with no prior work history, since employers will have to make a decision based on the caliber of your training exclusively. Checking that the school you select is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating reports, such as those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call some Gadsden AL law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask which schools they recommend. Keep in mind that even though a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs provide students a chance to experience working in a law practice or other legal establishment while remaining in school. They can also provide a pathway for students to begin establishing contacts within the Gadsden AL legal field. Ask if the paralegal schools you are reviewing provide internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance offered? You will probably wish to hit the ground running after graduating, but finding that first job in a new field can be difficult without help. Ask if the paralegal programs you are considering have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good indication that the schools have large networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their students are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the School's Location? Since laws differ among states, it may be advantageous to select a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you plan to work after graduating. Also, it will be valuable to develop relationships in the neighboring legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is even more justification to obtain your education in the community where you choose to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many require an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might want to first look at those colleges that are within the Gadsden AL area.
How Much is the Total Cost? Paralegal schools can differ in cost depending on the credential earned and the amount of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only expense for your education. Remember to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid may be accessible to help reduce part of the expense, so don't forget to check with the school's financial aid office to see what is available in Gadsden AL. Naturally if you opt to attend an online school, a portion these supplementary costs, such as for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Fit your Schedule? A number of paralegal students continue working while obtaining their training and need flexibility to schedule classes. If you can solely attend weekend or evening classes near Gadsden AL, make certain classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, confirm that the school you choose makes available that option. Last, ask what the process is for making-up classes missed as a result of work, illness or family obligations.
Enroll in the Right Gadsden Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Choosing the right paralegal studies training program is an important first step toward your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have covered in this post, you have the option of attending classes on-campus or you can attend them online in the comfort and privacy of your Gadsden residence. Paralegal education programs are offered in many lengths and formats. Several types of private and public institutions offer paralegal training, including junior and community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a profound influence on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Considering that there is a wide range in the quality of programs, choose wisely. Afford yourself the best possible chance to be successful in this fascinating profession. But no matter how you decide to receive your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have presented you will have the ability to evaluate each program and make your ultimate decision. And with the right training you can realize your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Gadsden Alabama.