How to Select the Right Paralegal Studies Degree Program Near Leeds Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Leeds AL and start your journey that will result in a rewarding profession in legal services. However, it's essential that you locate the right school so that you will get the extensive training that you need to be successful. As you probably know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more educational options are being offered, both on campus and online. But with numerous options to choose from, where does one start? Many prospective students start by searching for schools within commuting range of their Leeds homes. Of those options, they look for the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are necessary considerations when selecting a college, they are not the only factors you ought to take into consideration. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the program ought to be taken into consideration too. Later on in this article we will cover a list of questions that you should ask potential paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare every one before making your decision. But first, let's take a look at 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 for the most part both hold comparable job positions and responsibilities, just with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and belong to a different job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Leeds AL lawyers with a wide range of job duties, such as legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job functions are based upon the type of practice where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice might help with the logistics of a trial or transferring documents to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is usually billed by the hour as are the lawyer's. And the same as attorneys, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and comply with a strict standard of professional ethics. As noted, their responsibilities can be diverse in support of the practices where they are employed, but a few of their daily tasks can include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on pertinent cases and laws
- Composing correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting attorneys prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be complicated and quite demanding. On the other hand, what they are not legally authorized to do is offer legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not restricted to administrative or clerical tasks more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers are able to handle a much larger number of clients or cases than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the academic requirements and job prospects will be the same. The quickest means to launch your career as a legal assistant in Leeds AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can require just 6 months to complete. A large number of entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more comprehensive education and can be obtained at many community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are an option also. After you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you might choose to continue and obtain a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help increase your employment opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. A few of the highly respected certifying agencies in the field 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 program (we will cover the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two essential first steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Programs
Paralegal and legal assistant online schools have become more available and can be a good alternative for those searching for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online schools can be particularly appealing to Leeds AL students who continue to work while earning a degree. As an additional advantage, online programs can sometimes be less costly than more traditional options. Even supplementary expenditures for such items as commuting or study materials may be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all online programs are accredited, which we will discuss 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 sure that the program and school you are looking into are accredited by a respected agency, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less supervised and formal setting, then earning your certificate or degree online might be the ideal option for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Since you now you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what training choices are available, you can start the process of assessing schools. But because there are so many programs accessible at junior and community colleges in the Leeds AL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you must learn what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is particularly true if you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like many prospective students, you will begin by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other critical issues to think about also, for instance accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's go over several of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are researching so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your ultimate choice.
Is the Paralegal School and Program Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you pick should be accredited by a recognized organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it may also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance training. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will obtain will be of the highest standard, but it will show future employers that you are a qualified professional also. Numerous Leeds AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited program. Also, financial assistance and student loans are typically accessible only for accredited schools.
What's the Program's Reputation? Learn what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant schools you are looking at. This is of special importance if you are new to the profession with no prior experience, since employers will need to rely on the quality of your education exclusively. Checking that the program you select is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating reports, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact several Leeds AL law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask what schools they suggest. Bear in mind that even though a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the School Provide Internships? Internship programs offer students a chance to experience working in a law firm or other legal establishment while remaining in school. They can also present an avenue for students to start creating contacts within the Leeds AL legal field. Ask if the paralegal schools you are assessing provide internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help provided? You will most likely want to secure employment quickly after graduation, but getting that first job in a new field can be difficult without support. Find out if the paralegal schools you are reviewing have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have large networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their students are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the School Located? Since laws vary from one state to another, it may be advantageous to choose a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you want to practice after graduation. Also, it will be important to establish relationships in the neighboring legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is all the more justification to obtain your education in the area where you wish 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 might want to first investigate those colleges that are within the Leeds AL area.
What is the Total Cost? Paralegal programs can vary in price depending on the credential received and the amount of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only cost for your training. Don't forget to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial assistance might be obtainable to help minimize part of the cost, so don't forget to contact the school's financial aid department to find out what is available in Leeds AL. Naturally if you decide to attend an online school, a portion these supplementary costs, such as for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? A number of paralegal students continue working while getting their training and must have flexibility in class scheduling. If you can solely attend weekend or evening classes near Leeds AL, verify classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, confirm that the school you select offers that option. Last, ask what the protocol is for making up missed classes due to sickness, work or family obligations.
Enroll in the Right Leeds Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Selecting the best paralegal certificate school is an essential first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have discussed in this post, you have the choice of attending classes on campus or you can attend them online in the comfort and privacy of your Leeds home. Paralegal education programs are made available in numerous lengths and formats. Several kinds of public and private institutions offer paralegal training, including community and junior colleges, four year universities and colleges, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a pronounced impact on your opportunities for success in your new career. Since there is a broad range in the quality of programs, pick carefully. Afford yourself the best possible opportunity to be successful in this rewarding profession. But no matter how you choose to receive your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have provided you will have the ability to assess each school and make your ultimate selection. And with the appropriate education you can realize your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Leeds Alabama.