How to Find the Right Paralegal Studies Degree Program Near Gardendale Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Gardendale AL and begin your journey that will lead to a satisfying career in legal services. Nevertheless, it's important that you locate the right school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you require to succeed. As you probably know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more educational options are being offered, both at school and online. But with numerous options to choose from, where does one begin? Many potential students start by searching for schools within commuting range of their Gardendale homes. Of those alternatives, they look for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are necessary considerations when choosing a college, they are not the only factors you must consider. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the school ought to be considered as well. Later on in this article we will review a list of questions that you must ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare each one before making your selection. But before we do, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the instructional alternatives that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants for the most part both fill the same job roles and responsibilities, just with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and belong to a different job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Gardendale AL attorneys with a wide variety of job duties, including maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job duties are relevant to the type of practice where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm might assist with trial logistics or transporting documents to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is normally billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And just like lawyers, they must carry out their duties with a high degree of professionalism and comply with a strict code of professional ethics. As stated, their duties can be varied in support of the practices where they are employed, but a few of their regular tasks can include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching pertinent laws and cases
- Preparing correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting attorneys prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be complicated and quite challenging. However, what they are not legally allowed to do is provide legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not restricted to clerical or administrative duties more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the right hand support systems for attorneys. And since they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys have the ability to manage 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 academic requirements and job prospects will be the same. The fastest means to begin your career as a legal assistant in Gardendale AL is by earning a certificate, which may take just 6 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 many community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are offered also. Once you have acquired either a degree or a certificate, you might choose to continue and get a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help improve your career opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. A few of the highly respected 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 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 legal assistant or a paralegal.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Courses
Online paralegal or legal assistant schools have become more prevalent and may be a good option for students searching for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be especially attractive to Gardendale AL students who keep working while earning a certificate or degree. As an additional benefit, online classes can sometimes be less costly than on campus options. Even ancillary expenses for such items as commuting or study materials can be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all online programs are accredited, which we will address in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the training you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the school and program you are looking into are accredited by a reputable organization, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less supervised and formal environment, then obtaining your certificate or degree online might be the right option for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Degree or Certificate Programs
Since you now you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what educational choices are offered, you can begin the undertaking of assessing schools. But because there are numerous programs accessible at community and junior colleges in the Gardendale AL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you need to find out what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is particularly true if 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 looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other critical issues to think about 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 effectively vet each one and make your ultimate choice.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you select should be accredited by a respected accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it can also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets distance or online learning. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will receive will be of the highest standard, but it will show future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Numerous Gardendale AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited school. Finally, financial aid and student loans are typically accessible only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Research what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal programs you are looking at. This is of special importance if you are new to the field with no prior experience, since employers will have to rely on the caliber of your education exclusively. Confirming that the school you pick is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating services, such as those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also call some Gardendale AL law offices that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask what schools they suggest. Bear in mind that even if a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the Program Provide Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law firm or other legal operation while attending school. They can also provide a means for students to start creating contacts within the Gardendale AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal schools you are considering offer internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance offered? You will undoubtedly wish to hit the ground running after graduation, but getting that first job in a new profession can be challenging without assistance. Ask if the paralegal programs you are considering have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have substantial networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their graduates are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the School Located? Since laws differ from one state to another, it may be a good idea to choose a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you plan to practice after graduating. In addition, it will be important to cultivate relationships in the local legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is all the more justification to receive your education in the community where you want to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most require a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might need to initially look at those schools that are within the Gardendale AL area.
How Much is the Complete Cost? Paralegal schools can vary in cost depending on the credential obtained and the length of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only cost for your training. Remember to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid might be accessible to help reduce part of the cost, so don't forget to consult with the school's financial aid department to find out what is offered in Gardendale AL. Of course if you choose to attend an online program, a portion these additional expenses, for instance for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? Numerous paralegal students continue working while receiving their training and need flexibility in class scheduling. If you can only attend weekend or evening classes near Gardendale AL, make certain classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make sure that the school you select provides that option. Finally, ask what the procedure is for making-up classes missed due to sickness, work or family emergencies.
Choose the Right Gardendale Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Enrolling in the ideal legal assistant training program is an essential first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have covered 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 training programs are offered in many formats and lengths. Several types of private and public institutions provide paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four year colleges and universities, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a pronounced influence on your prospects for success in your new profession. Considering that there is a broad range in the quality of programs, pick wisely. Give yourself the best possible chance to succeed in this exciting profession. But no matter how you choose to acquire your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have presented you will have the ability to examine each program and make your final selection. And with the right education you can accomplish your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Gardendale Alabama.