How to Select the Best Paralegal School Near Leeds Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Leeds AL and start your journey that will result in a fulfilling profession in legal services. However, it's essential that you locate the right school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you require to succeed. 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 alternatives to choose from, where does one start? Many potential students begin by searching for schools within driving range of their Leeds homes. Of those alternatives, they look for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are necessary considerations when selecting a college, they are not the only factors you need to consider. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the school must be taken into account also. Later on in this article we will cover a list of concerns that you need to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare every one before making your decision. But first, let's take a look at what a paralegal does and the academic options that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals for the most part both hold the same job roles 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 classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Leeds AL attorneys with a wide variety of job duties, such as legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job functions are relevant to the type of practice where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm may help with the logistics of a trial or transporting files to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is usually billed hourly as are the attorney's. And just like attorneys, they must carry out their duties with a high level of professionalism and follow a strict standard of professional ethics. As noted, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they are employed, but a few of their routine activities might involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on related cases and laws
- Preparing correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting lawyers prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal files, documents and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be complex 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 confined to clerical or administrative duties more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the main support systems for attorneys. And since they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers are able to handle a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The fastest means to begin your career as a legal assistant in Leeds AL is by obtaining a certificate, which may involve just six months to accomplish. Many entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which offer a more expansive education and may be acquired at many community colleges in 2 years. For an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are available as well. When you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you might want to proceed and get a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help improve your job opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. A few of the highly regarded 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 school (we will discuss the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two crucial first steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Classes
Legal assistant and paralegal online schools have become more prevalent and may be an excellent option for individuals searching for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be particularly appealing to Leeds AL students who continue to work while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an added benefit, online schools can in some cases be less costly than on campus options. Even supplementary expenses for such things as study materials or commuting can be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will discuss in more detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the education you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure 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 study in a less supervised and conventional environment, then earning your certificate or degree online could be the right option for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Programs
Since you now you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what educational options are available, you can start the undertaking of evaluating schools. But considering that there are so many programs offered at community and junior colleges in the Leeds AL area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you need to find out what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is particularly true if you add all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. If you are like many potential students, you will begin by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other important aspects 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 should be asking the schools you are considering so that you can properly vet each one and make your ultimate decision.
Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you select need to be accredited by a reputable accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it might also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets online or distance training. Accreditation will not only help guarantee 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. A number of Leeds AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited program. Finally, financial aid and student loans are typically obtainable only for accredited programs.
What's the School's Reputation? Find out what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant schools you are looking at. This is of particular importance if you are new to the profession with no prior work history, since employers will have to make a decision based on the quality of your training exclusively. Confirming that the program you pick is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating reports, such as 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 Leeds AL law practices that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask what schools they suggest. Keep in mind that even though a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the Program Offer Internships? Internship programs give 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 start creating contacts within the Leeds AL legal field. Ask 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 Help available? You will undoubtedly wish to hit the ground running after graduating, but getting that first job in a new profession can be challenging without assistance. Find out if the paralegal programs you are assessing have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good sign that the schools have substantial networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their graduates are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the School's Location? Considering that laws vary among states, it may be advantageous to choose a paralegal school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you plan to work after graduation. In addition, it will be valuable to develop relationships in the neighboring legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is even more reason to obtain your education in the area where you choose to work. 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 need to initially consider those colleges that are within the Leeds AL region.
How Much is the Total Cost? Paralegal schools can differ in cost depending on the credential received and the amount of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only cost for your training. Remember to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid may be accessible to help reduce some of the cost, so make sure to consult with the school's financial aid office to see what is available in Leeds AL. Of course if you choose to attend an online program, a portion these supplementary costs, for instance for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Fit your Schedule? Many legal students continue working while receiving their training and require flexibility to schedule classes. If you can just attend night or weekend classes near Leeds AL, make sure classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, confirm that the program you enroll in makes available that option. Last, inquire what the procedure is for making-up classes missed due to sickness, work or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Right Leeds Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Selecting the ideal paralegal certificate program is an important first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have covered in this post, you have the option of attending classes on campus or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Leeds residence. Paralegal training programs are offered in many 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 choice of a paralegal school will have a profound influence on your prospects for success in your new profession. Considering that there is a wide range in the quality of schools, pick wisely. Give yourself the best possible chance to succeed in this fascinating profession. But irrespective of how you elect to receive your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have provided you will have the ability to evaluate each program and make your ultimate selection. And with the ideal education you can realize your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Leeds Alabama.