How to Enroll in the Best Paralegal Training 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 profession in legal services. However, it's essential that you find the right school so that you will receive the extensive training that you require to achieve success. As you most likely understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of educational options are becoming available, both on campus and online. However with so many options to choose from, where does one start? A number of prospective students begin by trying to find schools within commuting range of their Gardendale homes. Of those choices, they look for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are very important considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only qualifiers you ought to consider. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the program must be taken into account too. Later on in this post we will cover a list of questions that you should ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare every one before making your selection. But first, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the educational alternatives that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals basically both hold comparable job roles 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 help Gardendale AL lawyers with a wide variety of job duties, including maintaining client files, legal research, 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 trial logistics or transferring files to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is normally billed by the hour as are the lawyer's. And just like lawyers, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and follow a strict code of professional ethics. As mentioned, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they are employed, but a few of their regular tasks can include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on relevant cases and laws
- Drafting correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping lawyers prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be complicated and very demanding. However, what they are not legally authorized to do is give legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not confined to administrative or clerical duties more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants 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 number of clients or cases than they could on their own.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps 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 start your career as a paralegal in Gardendale AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can require just 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 can be earned at many community colleges in 2 years. For an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are offered also. After you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you might choose to continue and obtain a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help improve your employment opportunities, but help establish you as a professional as well. Some 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 certificate or degree 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 paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Schools
Online legal assistant or paralegal schools have become more prevalent and may be a good alternative for individuals searching for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online programs can be particularly attractive to Gardendale AL students who continue to work while earning a degree. As an added advantage, online programs can in some cases be less expensive than on campus options. Even secondary expenses for such items as study materials or commuting can be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will address in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the education you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the school and program you are considering are accredited by a reputable agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to attend classes in a less supervised and conventional environment, then earning your certificate or degree online might be the right choice for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Studies Programs
Once you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what training choices are available, you can start the undertaking of assessing schools. But considering that there are so many programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Gardendale AL area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you must learn 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 many potential 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, for instance accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at some of the questions you should be asking the schools you are considering so that you can effectively vet each one and make your ultimate selection.
Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you enroll in should be accredited by a recognized accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it might also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets distance or online training. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will get will be of the highest standard, but it will demonstrate to future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Numerous Gardendale AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited program. Finally, financial aid and student loans are often offered only for accredited programs.
What's the Program's Reputation? Research what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant schools you are looking at. This is of particular importance if you are entering the profession with no previous experience, since employers will need to make a decision based on the caliber of your training exclusively. Checking that the program you pick is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating reports, 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 contact a few Gardendale AL law practices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask what schools they recommend. Remember that even when a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an excellent reputation.
Does the Program Provide Internships? Internship programs provide students an opportunity to experience working in a law firm or other legal operation while still in school. They can also provide a pathway for students to begin creating contacts within the Gardendale AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal schools you are assessing provide internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help provided? You will most likely wish to secure employment quickly after graduating, but getting that first job in a new profession can be difficult without help. Ask if the paralegal schools you are considering have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good sign that the schools have substantial networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their graduates are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the School Located? Because laws differ among states, it may be beneficial to choose a paralegal school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you plan to work after graduation. In addition, it will be necessary to establish relationships in the neighboring legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is all the more justification to receive your education in the community where you wish to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most charge a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might wish to first look at those schools that are within the Gardendale AL region.
What is the Total Cost? Paralegal programs can vary in price depending on the credential earned and the amount of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only expense for your training. Remember to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid might be accessible to help reduce some of the expense, so don't forget to consult with the school's financial aid office to find out what is offered in Gardendale AL. Of course if you decide to attend an online school, some of these supplementary costs, for instance for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Match your Schedule? Many paralegal students continue working while obtaining their training and require flexibility in class scheduling. If you can solely attend weekend or evening classes near Gardendale AL, make certain classes are offered 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, find out what the process is for making-up missed classes as a result of work, illness or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Best Gardendale Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Choosing the right paralegal studies certificate program is a crucial first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have discussed in this post, you have the option of attending classes at school or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Gardendale home. Paralegal education programs are offered in numerous formats and lengths. Various kinds of private and public institutions offer paralegal education, including junior and community colleges, four year universities and colleges, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a profound influence on your opportunities for success in your new career. Considering that there is a broad range in the quality of schools, choose wisely. Afford yourself the greatest possible chance to be successful in this exciting profession. But irrespective of how you decide to obtain your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have presented you will have the ability to review each school and make your final selection. And with the appropriate education you can achieve your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Gardendale Alabama.