How to Choose the Right Paralegal Training Program Near Gulf Shores Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Gulf Shores AL and begin your journey that will lead to a fulfilling profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's important that you find the best school so that you will get the extensive training that you need to achieve success. As you probably understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of educational choices are becoming available, both on campus and online. But with numerous options to choose from, where does one begin? Many potential students begin by searching for schools within traveling distance of their Gulf Shores homes. Of those choices, they look for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are prime considerations when picking a college, they are not the only qualifiers you should consider. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the school should be considered too. Later on in this post we will cover a list of concerns that you ought to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare every one before making your choice. But before we do, let's take a look at what a paralegal does and the academic alternatives that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals for the most part both fill comparable job positions and responsibilities, just with different titles. On the other hand, 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 Gulf Shores AL attorneys with a wide variety of job duties, including maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job functions are based upon the type of practice where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice may help with trial logistics or delivering documents to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is normally billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And just like lawyers, they must carry out their duties with a high level of professionalism and follow a strict standard of professional ethics. As stated, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they are employed, but a few of their routine tasks may include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching relevant laws and cases
- Composing correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting lawyers prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal documents, files and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be complicated and quite demanding. On the other hand, what they are not legally authorized to do is give legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not restricted to clerical or administrative duties more applicable 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 alone.
Paralegal Certificates and Degrees 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 educational requirements and job prospects will be the same. The fastest way to start your career as a legal assistant in Gulf Shores AL is by obtaining a certificate, which may require just 6 months to accomplish. Many entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more comprehensive education and can be acquired at numerous community colleges in two years. For an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are offered also. Once you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you might want to continue and obtain a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help maximize your career opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. A few of the highly respected certifying agencies 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 discuss the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 crucial initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Schools
Legal assistant and paralegal online programs have become more prevalent and can be a good option for those looking for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be especially attractive to Gulf Shores AL students who continue to work while earning a certificate or degree. As an added benefit, online schools can often be less costly than more traditional options. Even secondary expenses for such items as commuting or study materials may be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will cover in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the training you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the program and school you are thinking about are accredited by a reputable agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less structured and conventional environment, then obtaining your certificate or degree online could be the right choice for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Studies Programs
Once you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what training choices are offered, you can start the process of evaluating schools. But because there are numerous programs accessible at junior and community colleges in the Gulf Shores AL area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you need to learn what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is particularly true if you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. 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 discussed, there are other important issues to research also, including 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 effectively vet each one and make your final choice.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you pick need to be accredited by a recognized accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, 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 training you will receive will be of the highest quality, but it will show future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Numerous Gulf Shores AL law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited program. Also, financial aid and student loans are typically obtainable only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Find out what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal programs you are contemplating. This is of special importance if you are new to the field with no prior work history, since employers will have to rely on the caliber of your training exclusively. Checking that the school you select is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating services, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call several Gulf Shores AL law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask what schools they suggest. Remember that even though a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an excellent reputation.
Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs offer students an opportunity to experience working in a law firm or other legal operation while remaining in school. They can also present a pathway for students to begin developing contacts within the Gulf Shores AL legal field. Ask if the paralegal programs you are assessing provide internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance provided? You will most likely want to secure employment quickly after graduating, but finding that first job in a new field can be challenging without assistance. Ask if the paralegal programs you are assessing have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good sign that the schools have substantial networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their graduates are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the Campus Located? Because laws vary from one state to another, it might be a good idea to enroll in a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you wish to work after graduation. Also, it will be valuable to create relationships in the area legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is even more reason to obtain your education in the area where you want 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 may need to first look at those colleges that are within the Gulf Shores AL area.
What is the Complete Cost? Paralegal programs can vary in price depending on the credential obtained and the length of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only cost for your training. Don't forget to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid might be available to help minimize some of the expense, so be sure to consult with the school's financial aid office to see what is available in Gulf Shores AL. Naturally if you decide to attend an online program, a portion these supplementary costs, for instance for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Match your Schedule? Numerous legal students continue working while obtaining their training and require flexibility in class scheduling. If you can only attend night or weekend 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 sure that the program you choose offers that option. Last, ask what the protocol is for making-up missed classes as a result of sickness, work or family obligations.
Enroll in the Best Gulf Shores Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Selecting the ideal paralegal training program is a vital first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have discussed in this article, 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 academic programs are provided in numerous lengths and formats. Several kinds of private and public institutions provide 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 profound impact on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Since there is a broad range in the quality of schools, pick carefully. Afford yourself the greatest possible chance to succeed in this fascinating profession. But regardless of how you choose to obtain your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to evaluate each program and make your final selection. And with the right education you can accomplish your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Gulf Shores Alabama.