How to Select the Best Paralegal Studies Course Near Irondale Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Irondale AL and begin your journey that will lead to a satisfying career in legal services. Nevertheless, it's essential that you find the best school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you need to achieve success. As you most likely understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more educational choices are being offered, both at school and online. However with so many options to choose from, where does one start? A number of potential students start by looking for schools within driving range of their Irondale homes. Of those alternatives, they look for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are prime considerations when choosing a school, they are not the only factors you must consider. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the school should be taken into account also. Later in this article we will review a list of concerns that you should ask potential paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare every one before making your selection. But before we do, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic choices that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants essentially both hold the same job positions and functions, just 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 help Irondale AL lawyers with a wide range of job functions, such as maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job duties are based upon the type of legal firm where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice could help with the logistics of a trial or delivering files 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 lawyers, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and adhere to a strict code of professional ethics. As mentioned, their duties can be varied in support of the firms where they are employed, but some of their daily tasks may include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching related laws and cases
- Preparing correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping lawyers get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal documents, files and other records
With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be complex and very challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally permitted to do is give legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not confined to administrative or clerical duties 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 preparation and ground work, attorneys are able to handle a much larger number of cases or clients than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The fastest way to begin your career as a paralegal in Irondale AL is by earning a certificate, which may involve just six months to accomplish. A large number of entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which provide a more comprehensive education and can be obtained at numerous community colleges in 2 years. For an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are offered as well. Once you have earned either a certificate or degree, you might want to continue and get a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help maximize your job opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. A few 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 program (we will discuss the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 important initial steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Classes
Online legal assistant or paralegal programs have become more available and may be a good alternative for individuals 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 certificate or degree. As an added benefit, online classes can in some cases be less expensive than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenditures for such things as study materials or commuting can be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all internet 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 quality. So check to make certain that the program and school you are thinking about are accredited by a highly regarded organization, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less structured and conventional setting, then earning your degree or certificate online may be the right option for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Once you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what training choices are available, you can start the process of evaluating schools. But because there are so many programs offered at community and junior colleges in the Irondale AL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you need to know what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is especially true when you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like many prospective students, you will start by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other important issues to think about also, such as accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at several of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are researching so that you can properly vet each one and make your final selection.
Is the Paralegal School and Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you select need to be accredited by a highly regarded accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it might also receive 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 obtain will be of the highest quality, but it will demonstrate to potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. A number of Irondale AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited program. Also, financial assistance and student loans are often obtainable only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Investigate what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant schools you are considering. This is of specific importance if you are entering the profession with no previous work history, since employers will need to make a decision based on the caliber of your education exclusively. Checking that the program you choose is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating services, 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 a few Irondale AL law practices that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask what schools they recommend. Bear in mind that even though a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the School Provide Internships? Internship programs give students an opportunity to experience working in a law practice or other legal enterprise while attending school. They can also present a pathway for students to begin establishing contacts within the Irondale AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal programs you are considering offer internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance provided? You will most likely wish to hit the ground running after graduation, but getting that first job in a new field can be challenging without help. Find out if the paralegal schools you are considering have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good indication that the schools have large networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their students are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the School's Location? Because laws differ from state to state, it might be a good idea to enroll in a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you want to work after graduation. Also, it will be important to create relationships in the local legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is even more justification to acquire your education in the community where you desire to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most require an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may need to initially look at those schools that are within the Irondale AL region.
What is the Entire Expense? Paralegal schools can vary in price based on the credential earned and the length of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expense for your training. Remember to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance might be obtainable to help offset some of the cost, so be sure to check with the school's financial aid office to see what is offered in Irondale AL. Of course if you choose to attend an online program, some of these supplementary costs, such as for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? Many legal students continue working while obtaining their training and need flexibility in class scheduling. If you can just attend night or weekend classes near Irondale AL, verify classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make sure that the program you enroll in provides that option. Finally, ask what the process is for making up classes missed due to sickness, work or family obligations.
Choose the Right Irondale Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Enrolling in the ideal paralegal studies certificate school is a crucial first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have discussed in this post, you have the option of attending classes at school or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Irondale residence. Paralegal education programs are provided in various formats and lengths. Different types of public and private institutions provide paralegal training, including junior and community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a profound influence on your prospects for success in your new career. Given that there is a broad range in the quality of programs, choose carefully. Afford yourself the best possible opportunity to be successful in this exciting profession. But regardless of how you elect to obtain your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have provided you will have the ability to review each school and make your ultimate selection. And with the ideal training you can accomplish your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Irondale Alabama.