How to Choose the Best Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program Near Gulf Shores Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Gulf Shores AL and start your journey that will lead to a fulfilling career in legal services. However, it's crucial that you find the ideal school so that you will get the extensive training that you require to succeed. As you probably understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of academic choices are being offered, both on campus and online. However with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one start? A number of prospective students start by trying to find schools within traveling distance of their Gulf Shores homes. Of those options, they look for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are prime considerations when picking a school, they are not the only qualifiers you should consider. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the program should be taken into account also. Later in this post we will review a list of questions that you must ask potential paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare each one before making your decision. But before we do, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the instructional options that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals for the most part both fill the same job roles and functions, only with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and are part of a separate job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Gulf Shores AL lawyers with a diverse array of job functions, including legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job functions are based upon the type of legal firm where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice may help with the logistics of a trial or transporting files to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is usually billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And the same as attorneys, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and follow a strict standard of professional ethics. As noted, their responsibilities can be diverse in support of the practices where they work, but some of their daily tasks may involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on applicable laws and cases
- Composing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping lawyers get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal documents, files and other records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be complex and very challenging. However, what they are not legally permitted to do is give legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not confined to administrative or clerical tasks more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the right hand support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers are able to take on a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could alone.
Paralegal Certificates and Degrees and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The fastest way to begin your career as a legal assistant in Gulf Shores AL is by earning a certificate, which can take as little as six months to accomplish. Many entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which provide a more extensive education and can be acquired at numerous community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are available as well. When you have earned either a certificate or degree, you might want to proceed and earn a certification. Although it is not a legal 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. Some 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 discuss the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 crucial first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Schools
Legal assistant and paralegal online programs have become more available and may be a good option for students looking for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online programs can be particularly attractive to Gulf Shores AL students who keep working while earning a certificate or degree. As an added benefit, online schools can in some cases be less expensive than more traditional options. Even secondary expenditures for such things as study materials or commuting may 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 education 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 structured and conventional environment, then obtaining your certificate or degree online might be the ideal choice for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Since you now you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what training options are available, you can start the process of evaluating schools. But considering that there are so many programs available at junior and community colleges in the Gulf Shores AL area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you need to find out what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is particularly true if you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like many potential students, you will start by searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other crucial aspects to research as well, for instance the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's go over a few of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are investigating so that you can properly vet each one and make your ultimate selection.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you select should be accredited by a respected organization 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 focuses on distance or online learning. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will obtain will be of the highest standard, but it will demonstrate to future employers that you are a qualified professional also. Many Gulf Shores AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited program. Finally, financial aid and student loans are often offered only for accredited schools.
What's the Program's Reputation? Research what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal programs you are contemplating. This is of particular importance if you are new to the field with no prior work history, since employers will need to make a decision based on the caliber of your training exclusively. Confirming that the program you choose is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating reports, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact a few Gulf Shores AL law firms that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask what schools they suggest. Remember that even though a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an excellent reputation.
Does the Program Sponsor Internships? Internship programs offer students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal operation while still in school. They can also provide a means for students to begin establishing contacts within the Gulf Shores AL legal field. 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 upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help available? You will most likely want to secure employment quickly after graduating, but finding that initial job in a new field can be difficult without assistance. Ask if the paralegal schools you are reviewing have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have large networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their students are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the School's Location? Considering that laws vary among states, it may be beneficial to select a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you wish to work after graduating. In addition, it will be necessary to develop relationships in the neighboring legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is even more justification to receive your education in the community where you want to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many require an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may need to first consider those colleges that are within the Gulf Shores AL area.
How Much is the Total Cost? Paralegal schools can vary in cost based 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 assistance might be accessible to help reduce some of the expense, so make sure to contact the school's financial aid office to see what is offered in Gulf Shores AL. Needless to say that if you choose to attend an online school, some of these supplementary costs, such as for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Accommodate your Schedule? A number of paralegal students continue working while receiving their training and need flexibility to schedule classes. If you can just attend weekend or evening classes near Gulf Shores AL, verify classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, confirm that the school you choose makes available that option. Finally, ask what the procedure is for making up missed classes as a result of sickness, work or family obligations.
Enroll in the Right Gulf Shores Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Choosing the best legal assistant degree program is a crucial first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have covered in this post, you have the option of attending classes at school or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Gulf Shores home. Paralegal training programs are made available in numerous formats and lengths. Various types of private and public institutions provide paralegal training, including community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a pronounced influence on your prospects for success in your new profession. Given that there is a broad range in the quality of programs, choose wisely. Give yourself the best possible opportunity to succeed in this exciting profession. But regardless of how you decide to acquire your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have presented you will be able to examine each program and make your ultimate selection. And with the ideal training you can accomplish your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Gulf Shores Alabama.