How to Select the Best Paralegal School Near Gulf Shores Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Gulf Shores AL and start your journey that will result in a fulfilling profession in legal services. However, it's crucial that you find the ideal school so that you will get the extensive training that you need to succeed. As you probably understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of educational options are becoming available, both at school and online. However with numerous options to choose from, where does one start? Some prospective students start by searching for schools within commuting distance of their Gulf Shores residences. Of those choices, they try to find the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are very important considerations when choosing a school, they are not the only qualifiers you should consider. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the program should be taken into account as well. Later on in this post we will review a list of questions that you should ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare each one before making your choice. But first, let's take a look at what a paralegal does and the instructional alternatives that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants basically both hold comparable job positions and functions, just 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 legal assistants and paralegals assist Gulf Shores AL attorneys with a wide range of job duties, 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 practice could assist with trial logistics or delivering files to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is typically billed hourly as are the attorney's. And just like lawyers, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and adhere to a strict code of professional ethics. As stated, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they work, but some of their regular tasks may include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on applicable cases and laws
- Preparing correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting attorneys get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be complex and very demanding. However, what they are not legally allowed to do is provide legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not limited to administrative or clerical duties more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the main support systems for attorneys. And since they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys are able to take on a much larger number of clients or cases than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Education 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 academic requirements and opportunities will be the same. The quickest means to start your career as a paralegal in Gulf Shores AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can involve as little as six months to accomplish. Many entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which provide a more extensive education and can be earned at numerous community colleges in two years. For an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are offered as well. Once you have acquired either a degree or a certificate, you may want to proceed and obtain a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help improve your employment opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. Some of the highly respected 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 certificate or degree from an accredited program (we will cover the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two crucial initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Classes
Paralegal and legal assistant online schools have become more prevalent and may be an excellent alternative for those looking for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be particularly attractive to Gulf Shores AL students who continue to work while obtaining a degree. As an additional benefit, online programs can in some cases be less costly than more traditional options. Even supplementary expenditures for such items as commuting or study materials may be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all online programs are accredited, which we will address in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the education you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the program and school you are looking into are accredited by a reputable organization, for example 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 may be the ideal option for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Now that you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what training choices are available, you can begin the undertaking of assessing schools. But since there are numerous programs available at junior and community colleges in the Gulf Shores 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 if you add all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. If you are like most potential students, you will start by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other critical 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 considering so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your ultimate selection.
Is the Paralegal School and Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you pick should be accredited by a highly regarded accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it can also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets distance or online education. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will obtain will be of the highest standard, but it will demonstrate to potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Many Gulf Shores AL law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited program. Also, financial assistance and student loans are usually available only for accredited schools.
What's the Program's Reputation? Find out what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant programs you are considering. This is of special importance if you are entering the field with no prior experience, since employers will need to make a decision based on the caliber of your training exclusively. Verifying that the school you pick is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating reports, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also call a few Gulf Shores AL law offices that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask what schools they suggest. Remember that even when a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an excellent reputation.
Does the Program Sponsor Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law firm or other legal operation while still in school. They can also offer a means for students to begin creating contacts within the Gulf Shores AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal programs you are reviewing provide internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance offered? You will undoubtedly wish to hit the ground running after graduating, but finding that initial job in a new field can be challenging without assistance. Ask if the paralegal programs you are assessing have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good sign that the schools have large networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their graduates are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the School Located? Considering that laws vary from one state to another, it may be beneficial to choose a paralegal school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you plan to work after graduation. Also, it will be important to develop relationships in the area legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is all the more reason to obtain your education in the area where you choose to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many require an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might wish to first consider those schools that are within the Gulf Shores AL area.
What is the Total Cost? Paralegal programs can vary in price based on the credential earned and the amount of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only expense for your education. Don't forget to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance might be available to help minimize some of the expense, so make sure to consult with the school's financial aid department to find out what is available in Gulf Shores AL. Of course if you opt to attend an online program, a portion these supplementary costs, for instance for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? Numerous paralegal students keep working while obtaining their training and require flexibility in class scheduling. If you can solely attend weekend or evening classes near Gulf Shores AL, verify classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, confirm that the school you choose offers that option. Finally, ask what the procedure is for making up missed classes due to work, illness or family emergencies.
Choose the Right Gulf Shores Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Selecting the best paralegal certificate program is an essential first step toward your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have addressed in this article, you have the choice of attending classes on-campus or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Gulf Shores home. Paralegal academic programs are offered in various formats and lengths. Various types of private and public institutions provide paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four year colleges and universities, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a profound influence on your prospects for success in your new profession. Given that there is a wide range in the quality of schools, pick carefully. Give yourself the greatest possible opportunity to be successful in this exciting profession. But no matter how you decide to obtain your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have presented you will be able to review each program and make your final decision. And with the ideal training you can accomplish your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Gulf Shores Alabama.