How to Select the Right Paralegal Certificate Program Near Gulf Shores Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Gulf Shores AL and begin your journey that will result in a satisfying profession in legal services. However, it's crucial that you locate the ideal 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 increasingly more educational choices are being offered, both on campus and online. However with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? A number of potential students start by trying to find schools within traveling range of their Gulf Shores homes. Of those options, they look for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are necessary considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only qualifiers you need to take into consideration. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the school must be taken into consideration also. Later in this post 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 choice. But first, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the instructional alternatives that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals for the most part 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 assist Gulf Shores 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 duties are based upon the type of practice where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm might assist with the logistics of a trial or transporting files to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is usually billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And just like attorneys, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and comply with a strict standard of professional ethics. As stated, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they work, but some of their everyday activities might include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching relevant cases and laws
- Preparing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting lawyers get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be complex and rather demanding. However, what they are not legally permitted to do is offer legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not confined to clerical or administrative tasks more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the main support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys are able to take on a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly 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 start your career as a paralegal in Gulf Shores AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can take as little as six months to accomplish. Most entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which offer a more expansive education and can be acquired at many community colleges in two years. For an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are available as well. Once you have acquired either a certificate or degree, you may want to proceed and get a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help improve your employment 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 certificate or degree from an accredited school (we will address the benefits 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.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Courses
Legal assistant and paralegal online schools have become more available and may be an excellent alternative for those looking for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online schools can be particularly attractive to Gulf Shores AL students who keep working while earning a certificate or degree. As an additional benefit, online classes can in some cases be less expensive than more traditional options. Even secondary expenditures for such items as commuting or study materials may be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will discuss in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the training you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the program and school you are looking into are accredited by a reputable agency, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less structured and formal environment, then obtaining your degree or certificate online could be the right option for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Degree or Certificate Programs
Since you now you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what training choices are offered, you can start the undertaking of evaluating schools. But since there are numerous programs available at junior and community colleges in the Gulf Shores AL area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you need to know what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is especially true when you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like many potential students, you will start by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other important issues to consider as well, such as accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's go over some 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 school and program that you pick should be accredited by a recognized accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it may also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online learning. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will obtain will be of the highest quality, but it will establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. A number of Gulf Shores AL law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited school. Also, financial assistance and student loans are often offered only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the School? Learn what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal schools you are contemplating. This is of particular importance if you are new to the field with no prior work history, since employers will have to make a decision based on the caliber of your education exclusively. Verifying that the school you choose is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating reports, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also call a few Gulf Shores AL law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask which schools they suggest. Remember that even if a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an excellent reputation.
Does the Program Offer Internships? Internship programs offer students an opportunity to experience working in a law practice or other legal operation while remaining in school. They can also provide a means for students to begin creating contacts within the Gulf Shores AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal programs you are evaluating offer internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering after 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 difficult without support. Find out 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 sizable networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their graduates are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the School Located? Since laws differ among states, it might be advantageous to choose a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you want to practice after graduation. In addition, it will be important to cultivate relationships in the area legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is all the more reason to obtain your education in the area 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 may wish to first consider those schools that are within the Gulf Shores AL region.
What is the Complete Cost? Paralegal programs can vary in price depending on the credential received and the length of training furnished. 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 available to help minimize some of the cost, so don't forget to contact the school's financial aid department to see what is available in Gulf Shores AL. Naturally if you choose to attend an online school, some of these additional costs, such as for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Fit your Schedule? Numerous paralegal students continue working while getting their training and must have flexibility in class scheduling. If you can solely attend weekend or evening classes near Gulf Shores AL, make certain classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make certain that the program you choose offers that option. Last, ask what the procedure is for making-up classes missed as a result of sickness, work or family emergencies.
Choose the Right Gulf Shores Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Enrolling in the ideal paralegal studies certificate school is a vital first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have discussed in this post, you have the choice of attending classes at school or you can attend them online in the comfort and privacy of your Gulf Shores home. Paralegal education programs are offered in various formats and lengths. Various kinds of private and public institutions make available paralegal education, including community colleges, four year universities and colleges, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a pronounced influence on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Given that there is a broad range in the quality of schools, choose wisely. Afford yourself the greatest possible chance to be successful in this rewarding profession. But regardless of how you decide to receive your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have presented you will be able to assess each program and make your final decision. And with the right education you can achieve your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Gulf Shores Alabama.