How to Find the Best Paralegal School Near Gulf Shores Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Gulf Shores AL and start your journey that will result in a rewarding career in legal services. However, it's crucial that you find the right school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you require to be successful. As you probably understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more academic options are being offered, both on campus and online. But with so many options to choose from, where does one begin? A number of prospective students begin by looking for schools within traveling distance of their Gulf Shores residences. Of those alternatives, they look for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are important considerations when picking a school, they are not the only factors you need to consider. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the school should be taken into account as well. Later in this post we will cover a list of concerns that you must ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare every one before making your decision. But first, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic options that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants for the most part both hold comparable job roles and responsibilities, just 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 paralegals and legal assistants help Gulf Shores AL attorneys with a diverse array of job functions, such as 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 work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice might help with trial logistics or delivering documents to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is typically billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And just like attorneys, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and abide by a strict standard of professional ethics. As mentioned, their duties can be varied in support of the practices where they work, but some of their regular activities might involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on relevant cases and laws
- Composing correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping lawyers get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal files, documents and other 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 paralegals are not limited to clerical or administrative functions more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the main support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers have the ability to handle a much larger number of clients or cases than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Programs 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 opportunities will be the same. The quickest means to begin your career as a legal assistant in Gulf Shores AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can take as little as 6 months to accomplish. Many entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which offer a more extensive education and may 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 also. After you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you might want to continue and obtain a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help maximize your job 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 discuss the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two important first steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Certificates and Degrees
Paralegal and legal assistant online schools have become more available and may be an excellent alternative for those looking for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be particularly attractive to Gulf Shores AL students who keep working while obtaining a degree. As an added benefit, online schools can in some cases be less expensive than on campus options. Even secondary expenditures for such items as study materials or commuting may be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all online programs are accredited, which we will cover in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the education you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the school and program you are thinking about are accredited by a reputable agency, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less supervised and conventional setting, then obtaining your degree or certificate online may be the right choice for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Now that you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what educational choices are offered, you can start the undertaking of assessing schools. But since there are numerous programs accessible at junior and community colleges in the Gulf Shores AL area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you must know what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is especially true when you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. 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 previously discussed, there are other crucial issues to consider also, including accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at a few of the questions you should be asking the schools you are considering so that you can effectively vet each one and make your ultimate choice.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you select need to be accredited by a reputable organization 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 education you will obtain will be of the highest quality, but it will show potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Many Gulf Shores AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited school. Also, financial aid and student loans are often obtainable only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Find out what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant schools you are contemplating. This is of specific importance if you are new to the field with no previous work history, since employers will need to rely on the caliber of your training exclusively. Verifying that the school you pick is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating services, including 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 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 ranked, its paralegal program could still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the School Provide Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal establishment while attending school. They can also present an avenue for students to start developing contacts within the Gulf Shores AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal programs you are reviewing offer internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will most likely want to hit the ground running after graduation, but getting that first job in a new field can be difficult without help. Find out if the paralegal programs you are interviewing have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good indication that the schools have sizable networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their graduates are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the School Located? Since laws vary from one state to another, it may be advantageous to enroll in a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you plan to practice after graduation. In addition, it will be valuable to cultivate relationships in the local legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is all the more justification to acquire your education in the area where you want to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many charge a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may wish to initially investigate those colleges that are within the Gulf Shores AL region.
How Much is the Complete Expense? Paralegal programs can differ in cost depending on the credential received and the length of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only expense for your education. Don't forget to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid might be obtainable to help offset some of the cost, so don't forget to consult with the school's financial aid office to see what is offered in Gulf Shores AL. Needless to say that if you opt to attend an online program, a portion these added costs, for instance for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Fit your Schedule? Many paralegal students keep working while obtaining their training and require flexibility in class scheduling. If you can solely 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 select provides that option. Last, find out what the procedure is for making up missed classes because of sickness, work or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Best Gulf Shores Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Enrolling in the ideal paralegal studies degree school is an important first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have addressed in this post, you have the option of attending classes at school or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Gulf Shores residence. Paralegal training programs are provided in numerous formats and lengths. Various kinds of private and public institutions offer paralegal training, including junior and community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a profound impact on your opportunities for success in your new career. Considering that there is a broad range in the quality of schools, pick carefully. Afford yourself the greatest possible opportunity to succeed in this fascinating profession. But regardless of how you decide to obtain your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to review each program and make your ultimate decision. And with the right training you can realize your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Gulf Shores Alabama.