How to Select the Right Paralegal Studies 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 satisfying career in legal services. Nevertheless, it's important that you find the right school so that you will get the extensive training that you require to be successful. 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 choices are being offered, both at school and online. But with numerous options to choose from, where does one start? A number of potential students begin by trying to find schools within traveling range of their Gardendale homes. Of those alternatives, they try to find the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are important considerations when selecting a college, they are not the only qualifiers you need to consider. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the school must be taken into consideration too. Later on in this article we will cover a list of questions that you must ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare every one before making your decision. But before we do, let's take a look at what a paralegal does and the educational options that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals basically both hold comparable job roles and functions, only with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and belong to a different job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals help Gardendale AL attorneys with a wide variety of job functions, including maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job functions are based upon the type of legal firm where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice may assist with trial logistics or transferring documents to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is normally billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And just like lawyers, they must carry out their duties with a high level of professionalism and follow a strict code of professional ethics. As stated, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they are employed, but a few of their everyday tasks may involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on applicable cases and laws
- Composing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping lawyers prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal files, documents and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be involved and quite challenging. However, what they are not legally permitted to do is give legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not confined to administrative or clerical functions more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the main support systems for attorneys. And since they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers are able to take on a much larger number of cases or clients than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational requirements and opportunities will be the same. The quickest way to start your career as a paralegal in Gardendale AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can involve just 6 months to accomplish. Most entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more comprehensive education and may be obtained at numerous community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are an option also. After you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you might choose to proceed and obtain a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help boost your job opportunities, but help establish you as a professional as well. A few of the highly regarded certifying organizations in the profession 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 address the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 crucial initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Training
Online paralegal or legal assistant programs have become more prevalent and can be a good option for students looking for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be especially attractive to Gardendale AL students who continue to work while earning a certificate or degree. As an added advantage, online classes can sometimes be less expensive than more traditional options. Even supplementary expenditures for such things as commuting or study materials may be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will cover in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the education you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the school and program you are reviewing are accredited by a reputable organization, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less structured and formal environment, then earning your degree or certificate online may be the right choice for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Degree or Certificate Programs
Once you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what academic options are available, you can start the process of assessing schools. But because there are so many programs accessible at junior and community colleges in the Gardendale AL area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you must find out what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is especially true when you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like the majority of potential students, you will start by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other crucial factors to think about as well, for instance the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's go over some of the questions you should be asking the schools you are investigating so that you can properly vet each one and make your final decision.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you choose should be accredited by a highly regarded accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it may also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance learning. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will get will be of the highest quality, but it will establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Numerous Gardendale AL law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited program. Also, financial assistance and student loans are typically obtainable only for accredited programs.
What's the Program's Reputation? Find out what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant schools you are contemplating. This is of specific importance if you are entering the profession with no prior experience, since employers will need to make a decision based on the caliber of your education exclusively. Verifying that the school you select is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating reports, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call several Gardendale AL law offices that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask what schools they recommend. Keep in mind that even though a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the Program Provide Internships? Internship programs provide students a chance to experience working in a law practice or other legal establishment while attending school. They can also provide a means for students to begin establishing contacts within the Gardendale AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal programs you are considering provide internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance provided? You will undoubtedly want to hit the ground running after graduation, but getting that initial 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 success rates are. Rapid and high 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 students are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the School Located? Because laws differ from one state to another, it may be a good idea to choose a paralegal school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you wish to work after graduation. Also, it will be valuable to cultivate relationships in the area legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is all the more justification to acquire your education in the community where you desire to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many charge an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might want to initially consider those colleges that are within the Gardendale AL region.
How Much is the Entire Cost? Paralegal programs can vary in price based on the credential obtained and the amount of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your education. Don't forget to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance might be available to help minimize part of the expense, so be sure to check with the school's financial aid department to find out what is available in Gardendale AL. Of course if you decide to attend an online program, a portion these additional expenses, such as for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Accommodate your Schedule? A number of legal students continue working while getting their training and must have flexibility in class scheduling. If you can just attend weekend or evening classes near Gardendale AL, make certain classes are offered 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. Finally, ask what the procedure is for making up missed classes because of work, illness or family obligations.
Enroll in the Best Gardendale Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Enrolling in the ideal paralegal studies certificate program is an essential first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have covered in this post, you have the choice of attending classes on-campus or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Gardendale residence. Paralegal training programs are provided in various formats and lengths. Various kinds of private and public institutions offer paralegal training, 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 pronounced influence on your opportunities for success in your new career. Considering that there is a broad range in the quality of programs, choose wisely. Afford yourself the greatest possible chance to be successful in this exciting profession. But no matter how you elect 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 ultimate selection. And with the right education you can accomplish your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Gardendale Alabama.