How to Pick the Best Paralegal Studies Program Near Gadsden Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Gadsden AL and begin your journey that will lead to a rewarding career in legal services. However, it's important that you locate the best school so that you will get 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 more and more academic options are being offered, both on campus and online. But with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Many potential students begin by looking for schools within commuting distance of their Gadsden homes. Of those options, they look for the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are necessary considerations when picking a school, they are not the only factors you should take into consideration. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the school should be considered also. Later on in this post we will review a list of concerns that you must ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare each one prior to making your decision. But first, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic options that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals for the most part both fill the same job positions and functions, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and are part of a separate job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Gadsden AL attorneys with a diverse array of job functions, including maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job duties are based upon the type of practice where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice could help with the logistics of a trial or transporting documents to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is normally billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And the same as attorneys, they must carry out their duties with a high degree of professionalism and abide by a strict standard of professional ethics. As noted, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they are employed, but a few of their daily activities might include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching applicable cases and laws
- Preparing correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting attorneys get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be complex and quite demanding. However, what they are not legally allowed to do is offer legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not limited to clerical or administrative functions more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the main support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys have the ability to take on a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could alone.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the educational prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The fastest means to launch your career as a paralegal in Gadsden AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can involve as little as six months to accomplish. A large number of entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which provide a more extensive education and can be acquired at numerous community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are available also. When you have earned either a degree or a certificate, you may want to proceed and earn 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 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 degree or certificate from an accredited program (we will address the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two essential initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Certificates and Degrees
Legal assistant and paralegal online programs have become more common and can be a good option for those looking for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online programs can be especially attractive to Gadsden AL students who keep working while earning a degree. As an additional advantage, online classes can sometimes be less expensive than more traditional options. Even secondary expenses for such items as commuting or study materials can be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all online programs are accredited, which we will cover in more detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the education you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the program and school you are looking into are accredited by a highly regarded agency, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less structured and formal environment, then obtaining your degree or certificate online could be the ideal option for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Studies Programs
Since you now you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what educational options are available, you can start the process of assessing schools. But because there are numerous programs available at junior and community colleges in the Gadsden AL area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you need to know 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 most potential students, you will start by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other critical factors to research also, including the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's go over some of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are considering so that you can effectively vet each one and make your ultimate choice.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you choose need to be accredited by a reputable organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it might also obtain 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 obtain will be of the highest quality, but it will establish with future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Numerous Gadsden AL law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited program. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are often offered only for accredited schools.
What's the Program's Reputation? Learn what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal programs you are looking at. This is of specific importance if you are entering the field with no prior work history, since employers will need to make a decision based on the quality of your education exclusively. Confirming that the school you choose is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating services, 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 several Gadsden AL law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask which schools they recommend. Bear in mind that even though a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the Program Sponsor Internships? Internship programs offer students an opportunity to experience working in a law office or other legal operation while remaining in school. They can also present a pathway for students to begin creating contacts within the Gadsden AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal schools you are considering offer internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will probably want to hit the ground running after graduating, but finding that first job in a new field can be challenging without help. Ask if the paralegal schools you are interviewing 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 well regarded and in demand.
Where is the School Located? Because laws differ from state to state, it may be beneficial to enroll in a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you want to practice after graduation. In addition, it will be important to create relationships in the local legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is all the more justification to obtain your education in the area where you desire 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 wish to initially investigate those schools that are within the Gadsden AL region.
What is the Entire Expense? Paralegal schools can vary in price based on the credential obtained and the amount of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only cost for your education. 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 minimize part of the cost, so don't forget to contact the school's financial aid department to find out what is available in Gadsden AL. Naturally if you choose to attend an online program, some of these additional costs, such as for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Fit your Schedule? Many legal students keep working while getting their training and need flexibility in class scheduling. If you can solely attend weekend or evening classes near Gadsden AL, verify classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make certain that the school you choose makes available that option. Finally, inquire what the process is for making-up missed classes because of work, illness or family emergencies.
Choose the Right Gadsden Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Enrolling in the best legal assistant degree program is an important first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have covered in this post, you have the choice of attending classes on-campus or you can attend them online in the comfort and privacy of your Gadsden residence. Paralegal academic programs are made available in various lengths and formats. Various types of private and public institutions offer paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four year colleges and universities, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a profound impact on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Considering that there is a broad range in the quality of schools, pick wisely. Give yourself the greatest possible chance to be successful in this rewarding profession. But irrespective of how you choose to acquire your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will be able to assess each school and make your ultimate decision. And with the appropriate training you can realize your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Gadsden Alabama.