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How to Pick the Right Paralegal Studies Training Program Near Gardendale Alabama

Gardendale Alabama woman paralegal speaking with client on cellphoneCongratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Gardendale AL and start your journey that will result in a satisfying career in legal services. However, it's crucial that you find the ideal school so that you will get the extensive training that you need to achieve success. As you most likely know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more educational choices are becoming available, both on campus and online. But with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one start? Many prospective students start by searching for schools within driving range of their Gardendale residences. Of those choices, they search for the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are prime considerations when picking a college, they are not the only qualifiers you should consider. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the school must be taken into account as well. Later in this post we will review a list of questions that you ought to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare every one before making your choice. But before we do, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the academic options that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.

Paralegals and Legal Assistants

Gardendale Alabama legal books

Paralegals and legal assistants for the most part both hold the same job positions and functions, only with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and are part of a separate job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Gardendale AL attorneys with a diverse array of job functions, such as legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. 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 firm might help with the logistics of a trial or delivering files to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is typically billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And just like attorneys, they must perform with a high level of professionalism and follow a strict standard of professional ethics. As mentioned, their duties can be varied in support of the firms where they work, but a few of their day-to-day activities can include:

  • Investigating and fact checking cases
  • Researching applicable laws and cases
  • Composing correspondence and legal documents
  • Filing legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
  • Helping attorneys get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
  • Organizing and maintaining legal files, documents and other records

With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be complicated and rather challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally allowed to do is give legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not confined to clerical or administrative functions more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the main support systems for attorneys. And since they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys are able to manage a much larger number of cases or clients than they could otherwise.

Paralegal Education and Certification

Gardendale Alabama male legal assistant speaking on phone writing notes

As we discussed earlier, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the academic requirements and job prospects will be the same. The fastest means to start your career as a legal assistant in Gardendale AL is by earning a certificate, which can involve just six months to accomplish. Many entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which provide a more comprehensive education and can be obtained at many community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are available as well. After you have earned either a certificate or degree, you may want to proceed and obtain a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help boost your career opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. A few of the highly regarded 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 school (we will cover the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two important first steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.

Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Classes

Gardendale Alabama woman student attending online paralegal trainingOnline legal assistant or paralegal programs have become more prevalent and may be an excellent alternative for those looking for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online programs can be especially attractive to Gardendale AL students who keep working while earning a certificate or degree. As an additional benefit, online schools can often be less expensive than more traditional options. Even secondary expenditures for such items as study materials or commuting can be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all online schools are accredited, which we will cover in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the training you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the program and school you are looking into are accredited by a respected agency, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to attend classes in a less supervised and formal environment, then obtaining your certificate or degree online might be the ideal choice for you.

Points to Ask Paralegal Schools

Since you now you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what academic options are offered, you can begin the undertaking of evaluating schools. But because there are so many programs available at community and junior colleges in the Gardendale AL area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you need to learn what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is especially true when you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. If you are like the majority of prospective 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 critical issues to think about also, such as accreditation and the reputation 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 thoroughly vet each one and make your ultimate decision.

Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you select should be accredited by a respected organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it may also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets distance or online education. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will obtain will be of the highest standard, but it will show potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. A number of Gardendale AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited program. Finally, financial aid and student loans are often obtainable only for accredited programs.

What's the School's Reputation? Research what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant schools you are contemplating. This is of special importance if you are entering the profession with no previous experience, since employers will need to make a decision based on the quality of your training exclusively. Verifying that the program you pick is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating services, such as those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call a few Gardendale AL law practices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask what schools they suggest. Bear in mind that even though a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.

Does the Program Sponsor Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law practice or other legal establishment while remaining in school. They can also present an avenue for students to begin developing contacts within the Gardendale AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal schools you are assessing provide internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing upon graduation.

Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will most likely want to secure employment quickly after graduating, but getting that initial job in a new field can be challenging without help. Find out if the paralegal programs you are assessing have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have substantial networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their graduates are well regarded and sought after.

Where is the School's Location? Because laws vary from state to state, it might be advantageous to choose a paralegal school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you plan to work after graduation. Also, it will be necessary to develop relationships in the neighboring legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is all the more reason to receive your education in the community where you wish to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most require an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may need to first consider those schools that are within the Gardendale AL region.

What is the Complete Expense? Paralegal schools can vary in price depending on the credential received and the amount of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only cost for your training. Don't forget to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid may be available to help offset part of the expense, so be sure to contact the school's financial aid office to find out what is available in Gardendale AL. Of course if you decide to attend an online school, a portion these added expenses, such as for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.

Do the Classes Fit your Schedule? Many paralegal students continue working while receiving their training and need flexibility in class scheduling. If you can just attend weekend or evening classes near Gardendale AL, verify classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, confirm that the program you enroll in offers that option. Last, ask what the procedure is for making-up classes missed due to sickness, work or family obligations.

Find Out More About Gardendale Paralegal Schools

Enroll in the Right Gardendale Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program

Enrolling in the best paralegal studies certificate program is an essential first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have discussed in this article, you have the choice of attending classes on campus or you can attend them online in the comfort and privacy of your Gardendale residence. Paralegal education programs are made available in various formats and lengths. Various types of private and public institutions make available paralegal training, including community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a profound influence on your prospects for success in your new career. Given that there is a wide range in the quality of schools, choose carefully. Afford yourself the greatest possible chance to succeed in this exciting profession. But regardless of how you elect to receive your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have presented you will have the ability to review each program and make your ultimate decision. And with the right education you can accomplish your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Gardendale Alabama.


 

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