How to Find the Right Paralegal Studies Certificate Program Near Irondale Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Irondale AL and start your journey that will result in a fulfilling career in legal services. Nevertheless, it's important that you locate the right school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you need to be successful. As you most likely know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more academic alternatives are being offered, both at school and online. However with numerous options to choose from, where does one begin? Some potential students start by looking for schools within driving distance of their Irondale homes. Of those choices, they look for the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are very important considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only factors you need to consider. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the school ought to be taken into account too. Later on in this article we will cover a list of concerns that you need to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare every one prior to making your selection. But before we do, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the instructional choices 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 the same job positions and functions, only with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and are part of a different job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Irondale AL lawyers with a wide variety of job duties, such as maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job duties are relevant to the type of legal firm where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm could help with the logistics of a trial or transporting documents to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is typically billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And the same as lawyers, they must carry out their duties with a high degree of professionalism and follow a strict standard of professional ethics. As stated, their responsibilities can be varied in support of the firms where they work, but some of their daily activities can include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on pertinent laws and cases
- Composing correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping lawyers prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal files, documents and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be complex and quite challenging. 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 proceeding. But paralegals are not restricted to administrative or clerical duties more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the main support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers are able to take on a much larger number of cases or clients than they could on their own.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the academic requirements and opportunities will be the same. The quickest means to start your career as a legal assistant in Irondale AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can require just 6 months to complete. Many entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which offer a more expansive education and can be earned at numerous community colleges in 2 years. For an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are available as well. When you have obtained 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 practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help increase your employment opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. Some of the highly regarded 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 certificate or degree from an accredited school (we will discuss the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two important first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Programs
Online paralegal or legal assistant programs have become more common and may be an excellent alternative for those looking for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be especially appealing to Irondale AL students who continue to work while earning a degree. As an added benefit, online schools can often be less costly than more traditional options. Even supplementary expenses for such items as commuting or study materials can be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will address in more detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the education you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the school and program you are considering are accredited by a reputable agency, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less structured and formal setting, then obtaining your degree or certificate online may be the ideal choice for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Programs
Once 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 offered at junior and community colleges in the Irondale AL area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you must know what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is particularly true if you add all of the online paralegal degree and certificate 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 previously covered, there are other important factors to research as well, such as the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's go over a few of the questions you should be asking the programs you are investigating so that you can properly vet each one and make your final 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 may also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets online or distance education. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will obtain will be of the highest quality, but it will establish with future employers that you are a qualified professional also. Many Irondale AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited school. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are typically offered only for accredited schools.
What's the School's Reputation? Research what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant schools you are looking at. This is of specific importance if you are new to the field with no previous work history, since employers will need to make a decision based on the quality of your training exclusively. Verifying that the program you pick 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 quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact some Irondale AL law practices that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask what schools they recommend. Remember that even when a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the Program Sponsor Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal enterprise while attending school. They can also present a pathway for students to begin creating contacts within the Irondale AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal programs you are reviewing provide internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance offered? You will probably wish to secure employment quickly after graduation, but finding that first job in a new field can be challenging without support. Find out if the paralegal programs you are considering have job placement 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 substantiates that their students are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the Campus Located? Since laws vary among states, it might be beneficial to enroll in a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you wish to practice after graduating. In addition, it will be valuable to build relationships in the local legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is even more justification to obtain your education in the area where you desire to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most charge a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might need to initially look at those colleges that are within the Irondale AL area.
How Much is the Total Cost? Paralegal programs can differ in cost depending on the credential received and the length of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expense for your training. Remember to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid may be obtainable to help offset part of the expense, so don't forget to talk to the school's financial aid department to see what is available in Irondale AL. Of course if you opt to attend an online school, some of these supplementary expenses, for instance for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Fit your Schedule? Many legal students continue working while obtaining their training and need flexibility in class scheduling. If you can just attend weekend or evening classes near Irondale AL, make certain classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make certain that the program you select provides that option. Last, inquire what the procedure is for making up classes missed as a result of sickness, work or family obligations.
Choose the Right Irondale Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Enrolling in the ideal paralegal studies training program is an important first step to guarantee 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 attend them online in the comfort and privacy of your Irondale home. Paralegal training programs are provided in various lengths and formats. Various types of private and public institutions make available paralegal education, including community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a profound impact on your prospects for success in your new profession. Considering that there is a broad range in the quality of programs, pick wisely. Give yourself the greatest possible chance to be successful in this exciting profession. But no matter how you choose to receive your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to assess each school and make your ultimate decision. And with the ideal training you can accomplish your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Irondale Alabama.