How to Pick the Best Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program Near Irondale Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Irondale AL and start your journey that will lead to a gratifying career in legal services. Nevertheless, it's crucial that you find the ideal school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you need to succeed. As you probably know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of academic alternatives are becoming available, both at school and online. But with numerous options to choose from, where does one begin? Many prospective students begin by looking for schools within traveling distance of their Irondale homes. Of those alternatives, they look for the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are very important considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only qualifiers you need to take into consideration. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the program must be taken into account as well. Later in this post we will cover a list of concerns that you need to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare each one before making your selection. But first, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the educational alternatives that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals basically both hold comparable job positions and responsibilities, only with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and are part of a different job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Irondale AL attorneys with a wide variety of job functions, including legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job duties are based upon the type of legal firm where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice might assist with the logistics of a trial or transporting documents to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is normally billed by the hour as are the lawyer's. And the same as attorneys, they must perform with a high level of professionalism and follow a strict standard of professional ethics. As noted, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they work, but a few of their routine tasks might involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on pertinent cases and laws
- Drafting correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting lawyers prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be complex and quite challenging. 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 restricted to clerical or administrative tasks more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the right hand support systems for attorneys. And since they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers are able to manage 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 perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the academic requirements and opportunities will be the same. The quickest way to begin your career as a paralegal in Irondale AL is by earning a certificate, which can require as little as 6 months to accomplish. Many entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more extensive education and can be obtained at numerous community colleges in two years. For an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are offered as well. When you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you might choose 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 also. A few of the highly respected certifying agencies 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 address the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 important initial steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Courses
Online legal assistant or paralegal schools have become more popular and may be an excellent alternative for individuals searching for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be particularly attractive to Irondale AL students who continue to work while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an added benefit, online schools can sometimes be less expensive than on campus options. Even secondary expenses for such items as study materials or commuting can be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all online schools are accredited, which we will cover in more detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the training you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the school and program you are thinking about are accredited by a reputable agency, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less supervised and conventional setting, then earning your certificate or degree online could be the right option for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Since you now you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what academic choices are offered, you can start the undertaking of assessing schools. But because there are so many programs accessible at junior and community colleges in the Irondale AL area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you must learn 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 most potential students, you will start by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other significant aspects to think about as well, such as accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's go over some of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are researching so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your ultimate decision.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you enroll in should be accredited by a respected organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it might also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance education. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will get will be of the highest standard, but it will show future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. A number of Irondale AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited program. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are often obtainable only for accredited programs.
What's the School's Reputation? Find out what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal schools you are looking at. This is of specific importance if you are entering the field with no prior experience, since employers will have to make a decision based on the quality of your training exclusively. Verifying that the school you pick is accredited is an excellent 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 call several Irondale 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 exceptional reputation.
Does the Program Sponsor Internships? Internship programs offer students an opportunity to experience working in a law firm or other legal enterprise while attending school. They can also present an avenue for students to begin creating contacts within the Irondale AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal programs you are evaluating provide internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help offered? You will most likely want to hit the ground running after graduating, but finding that initial job in a new profession can be challenging without help. Ask if the paralegal schools you are reviewing have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good indication that the schools have large networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their students are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the Campus Located? Since laws vary among states, it might be advantageous to enroll in a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you want to practice after graduating. In addition, it will be necessary to establish relationships in the local legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is all the more reason to acquire your education in the area where you want to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most require a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may wish to initially investigate those colleges that are within the Irondale AL region.
What is the Total Expense? Paralegal schools can differ in cost depending on the credential earned and the length of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only cost for your education. Remember to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial assistance might be available to help reduce some of the cost, so be sure to consult with the school's financial aid department to see what is available in Irondale AL. Needless to say that if you opt to attend an online program, some of these added expenses, such as for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Fit your Schedule? Many legal students continue working while obtaining their training and must have flexibility to schedule classes. If you can just attend night or weekend classes near Irondale AL, make certain classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make sure that the school you enroll in offers that option. Last, find out what the process is for making up classes missed due to sickness, work or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Best Irondale Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Choosing the right paralegal degree program is an essential first step toward your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have covered in this article, you have the option of attending classes at school or you can attend them online in the comfort and privacy of your Irondale home. Paralegal training programs are made available in many formats and lengths. Several kinds of public and private institutions make available paralegal education, including community colleges, four-year universities and colleges, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a profound influence on your prospects 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 be successful in this rewarding 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 school and make your final decision. And with the appropriate training you can achieve your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Irondale Alabama.