How to Choose the Right Paralegal Studies Degree Program Near Leeds Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Leeds AL and begin your journey that will result in a gratifying profession in legal services. However, it's important that you locate the right school so that you will receive the extensive training that you need to achieve success. As you most likely know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of academic choices are being offered, both on campus and online. But with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Many prospective students begin by looking for schools within driving distance of their Leeds homes. Of those choices, they try to find the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are very important considerations when choosing a school, they are not the only factors you should take into consideration. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the program need to be considered as well. Later on in this post we will cover a list of concerns that you should ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare every one before making your selection. But first, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic options that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants essentially both hold comparable job roles 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 help Leeds 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 functions are relevant to the type of practice where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm could help with the logistics of a trial or transferring documents to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is typically billed hourly as are the attorney's. And just like lawyers, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and follow a strict code of professional ethics. As mentioned, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they are employed, but a few of their regular activities might include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching applicable laws and cases
- Preparing correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping lawyers prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal documents, files and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be involved and very demanding. On the other hand, what they are not legally allowed to do is give legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not limited to clerical or administrative duties more apropos 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 ground work and preparation, lawyers have the ability to handle a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could on their own.
Paralegal Education 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 educational prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The fastest means to launch your career as a legal assistant in Leeds AL is by earning a certificate, which may involve just 6 months to accomplish. Most entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which offer a more expansive education and can be acquired at numerous community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are an option also. Once you have earned either a certificate or degree, you may want to continue and earn a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help boost your job opportunities, but help establish 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 degree or certificate from an accredited program (we will address the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 essential first steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Courses
Paralegal and legal assistant online programs have become more common and can be an excellent option for students looking for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be particularly attractive to Leeds AL students who keep working while earning a degree. As an additional benefit, online programs can often be less costly than more traditional options. Even secondary expenses for such items as study materials or commuting can be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will cover in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the education you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the school and program you are looking into are accredited by a respected organization, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less supervised and conventional setting, then earning your certificate or degree online could be the right choice for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Once you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what educational options are available, you can begin the undertaking of assessing schools. But because there are so many programs offered at community and junior colleges in the Leeds AL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you must know what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is especially true if you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like most prospective students, you will start by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other crucial issues to consider as well, including the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's take a look at a few of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are researching so that you can properly vet each one and make your ultimate choice.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you select should be accredited by a reputable accrediting agency 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 targets online or distance education. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will receive will be of the highest standard, but it will show potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. A number of Leeds AL law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited program. Finally, financial aid and student loans are often available only for accredited programs.
What's the School's Reputation? Research what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant programs you are contemplating. This is of specific 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 school you select is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating services, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact several Leeds AL law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask what schools they recommend. Remember that even though a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the School Sponsor Internships? Internship programs offer students a chance to experience working in a law practice or other legal operation while attending school. They can also offer a pathway for students to start establishing contacts within the Leeds AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal programs you are considering offer internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help offered? You will most likely want to hit the ground running after graduation, but getting that initial job in a new field can be challenging without assistance. Find out if the paralegal programs you are considering have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have substantial networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their graduates are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the School Located? Because laws vary from one state to another, it might be beneficial to choose a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you want to practice after graduating. In addition, it will be valuable to create relationships in the neighboring legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is even more reason to receive your education in the area where you desire to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most charge a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may wish to initially consider those schools that are within the Leeds AL area.
What is the Total Cost? Paralegal schools can differ in price based on the credential obtained and the length of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only cost for your education. Don't forget to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid may be available to help offset some of the expense, so don't forget to contact the school's financial aid office to see what is available in Leeds AL. Needless to say that if you opt to attend an online program, a portion these added costs, such as for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Accommodate your Schedule? Many legal students continue working while getting their training and must have flexibility to schedule classes. If you can just attend night or weekend classes near Leeds AL, verify classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, confirm that the school you enroll in provides that option. Last, find out what the protocol is for making up missed classes due to work, illness or family obligations.
Enroll in the Best Leeds Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Enrolling in the best legal assistant degree program is a vital first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have discussed 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 Leeds home. Paralegal academic programs are made available in numerous formats and lengths. Several kinds of private and public institutions offer paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four-year colleges and universities, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a profound impact on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Given that there is a wide range in the quality of schools, pick wisely. Afford yourself the greatest possible opportunity to succeed in this fascinating profession. But regardless of how you decide to receive your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have presented you will be able to examine each program and make your ultimate decision. And with the right education you can achieve your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Leeds Alabama.