How to Choose the Right Paralegal Degree Program Near Gardendale Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Gardendale AL and begin your journey that will result in a fulfilling career in legal services. However, it's crucial that you locate the right school so that you will get the extensive training that you need to be successful. As you probably know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more educational options are being offered, both at school and online. However with so many options to choose from, where does one start? Many potential students begin by trying to find schools within driving range of their Gardendale residences. Of those options, they look for the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are very important considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only qualifiers you need to take into consideration. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the program need to be taken into consideration too. Later in this post we will cover 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 educational choices that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals essentially both hold the same job roles and responsibilities, just with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and are part of a separate job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Gardendale AL lawyers with a wide variety of job duties, including legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job duties are based upon the type of practice where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm may help with trial logistics or transporting documents to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is typically billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And just like attorneys, they must conduct themselves with a high degree of professionalism and follow a strict code of professional ethics. As mentioned, their duties can be varied in support of the firms where they are employed, but a few of their day-to-day activities may include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on pertinent cases and laws
- Composing correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal documents 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 complicated and very challenging. However, what they are not legally authorized to do is give legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not limited to clerical or administrative duties more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the main support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers have the ability to handle a much larger number of clients or cases than they could on their own.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are actually 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 quickest way to launch your career as a paralegal in Gardendale AL is by earning a certificate, which can involve as little as six months to complete. Many entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which offer a more extensive education and may be acquired at many community colleges in two years. For an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are an option also. When you have earned either a degree or a certificate, you may want to continue and obtain a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help maximize your career opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. Some 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 certificate or degree from an accredited school (we will address the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two essential first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Classes
Paralegal and legal assistant online programs have become more common and may be an excellent option for individuals searching for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online schools can be particularly attractive to Gardendale AL students who keep working while earning a degree. As an additional advantage, online programs can often be less expensive than more traditional options. Even supplementary expenditures for such things as commuting or study materials can be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will discuss in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the education you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the program and school you are considering 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 conventional environment, then earning your degree or certificate online may be the right choice for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Since you now you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what training options are available, you can start the undertaking of assessing schools. But considering that there are so many programs available at community and junior colleges in the Gardendale AL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you need to learn what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is particularly true when you add 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 commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other important aspects to think about as well, such as accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at some of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are researching so that you can properly vet each one and make your final selection.
Is the Paralegal School and Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you select need to be accredited by a highly regarded organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it might also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets distance or online learning. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will get will be of the highest standard, but it will show potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. Numerous Gardendale AL law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited program. Also, financial assistance and student loans are typically available only for accredited programs.
What's the School's Reputation? Find out what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant programs you are contemplating. This is of particular importance if you are entering the profession with no prior work history, since employers will need to rely on the caliber of your training exclusively. Checking that the program you select is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating services, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact some Gardendale AL law firms that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask what schools they suggest. Bear in mind that even if a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the School Provide Internships? Internship programs give students an opportunity to experience working in a law office or other legal enterprise while remaining in school. They can also offer a pathway for students to start developing contacts within the Gardendale AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal programs you are evaluating provide internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will most likely want to hit the ground running after graduation, but getting that first job in a new field can be challenging without help. Find out if the paralegal programs you are assessing have job placement programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have sizable networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their graduates are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the School's Location? Considering that laws vary from one state to another, it may be a good idea to choose a paralegal school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you plan to practice after graduating. In addition, it will be necessary to cultivate relationships in the local legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is all the more reason to acquire your education in the area where you want to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most require a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may want to initially investigate those schools that are within the Gardendale AL region.
What is the Complete Cost? Paralegal programs can vary in cost based on the credential obtained and the length of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your training. Remember to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid may be obtainable to help minimize some of the cost, so be sure to consult with the school's financial aid department to find out what is available in Gardendale AL. Of course if you choose to attend an online program, some of these supplementary expenses, such as for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? A number of paralegal students continue working while obtaining their training and need flexibility to schedule classes. If you can just attend night or weekend classes near Gardendale AL, make sure classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, confirm that the school you enroll in makes available that option. Last, ask what the protocol is for making-up classes missed due to work, illness or family obligations.
Enroll in the Best Gardendale Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Selecting the best paralegal degree school is an important first step toward 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 participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Gardendale residence. Paralegal academic programs are made available in various lengths and formats. Different types of public and private institutions provide paralegal education, including community and junior 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. Considering that there is a wide range in the quality of schools, choose wisely. Give yourself the greatest possible opportunity to be successful in this exciting profession. But regardless of how you elect to receive your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will have the ability to evaluate each program and make your ultimate selection. And with the ideal training you can realize your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Gardendale Alabama.