How to Enroll in the Right Paralegal Program Near Meadowbrook Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Meadowbrook AL and begin your journey that will result in a satisfying profession in legal services. However, it's important that you locate the ideal school so that you will get the extensive training that you require to achieve success. As you probably know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more academic alternatives are becoming available, both at school and online. But with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Some potential students begin by looking for schools within traveling distance of their Meadowbrook residences. Of those choices, they look for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are prime considerations when choosing a school, they are not the only qualifiers you need to consider. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the school should 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 examine and compare each one prior to making your decision. But before we do, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the educational alternatives that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals basically both fill comparable job roles and functions, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and belong to a separate job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Meadowbrook AL attorneys 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 relevant to the type of practice where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm could help with trial logistics or transporting files to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is usually billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And the same as attorneys, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and follow a strict standard of professional ethics. As stated, their responsibilities can be diverse in support of the firms where they are employed, but some of their regular activities might involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching pertinent cases and laws
- Drafting correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting lawyers get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be complex and quite challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally allowed to do is offer legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not confined to clerical or administrative functions more apropos 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 preparation and ground work, lawyers have the ability to handle a much larger number of clients or cases than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the academic prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The fastest way to launch your career as a legal assistant in Meadowbrook AL is by earning a certificate, which may require just six months to complete. Many entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which provide a more extensive education and may be earned at numerous community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are an option as well. When you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you may choose to continue and receive a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help boost your employment opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. 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 degree or certificate from an accredited school (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 legal assistant or a paralegal.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Courses
Paralegal and legal assistant online schools have become more common and may be an excellent option for those looking for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be especially attractive to Meadowbrook AL students who continue to work while obtaining a degree. As an additional advantage, online classes can often be less expensive than on campus options. Even supplementary expenditures for such items as study materials or commuting can be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, 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 certain that the program and school you are looking into are accredited by a reputable agency, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less structured and formal environment, then earning your certificate or degree online could be the right option for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Degree or Certificate Programs
Since you now you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what training options are offered, you can start the undertaking of evaluating schools. But because there are so many programs accessible at community and junior colleges in the Meadowbrook AL area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you must find out what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is particularly true if you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like many potential students, you will start by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other crucial aspects to research as well, including the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's take a look at some 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 decision.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you pick should be accredited by a reputable organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it can also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets online or distance education. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will receive will be of the highest quality, but it will establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. A number of Meadowbrook AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited school. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are often accessible only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the School? Research what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant programs you are contemplating. This is of particular importance if you are new to the profession with no prior work history, since employers will have to rely on the quality of your education exclusively. Confirming that the school you pick is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating services, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also call some Meadowbrook AL law practices that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask what schools they recommend. Bear in mind that even though a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an excellent reputation.
Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal establishment while attending school. They can also present an avenue for students to begin creating contacts within the Meadowbrook AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal programs you are reviewing provide internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance provided? You will probably want to secure employment quickly after graduating, but finding that initial job in a new field can be challenging without support. Ask if the paralegal programs you are interviewing have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have substantial networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their graduates are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the School's Location? Because laws differ from one state to another, it may be advantageous to select a paralegal school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you plan to practice after graduating. In addition, it will be valuable to build relationships in the area legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is even more justification to obtain your education in the area where you desire to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many require a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may wish to initially investigate those colleges that are within the Meadowbrook AL area.
How Much is the Total Expense? Paralegal programs can vary in price based on the credential received and the amount of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your training. Remember to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid might be obtainable to help offset some of the expense, so don't forget to consult with the school's financial aid office to see what is offered in Meadowbrook AL. Of course if you decide to attend an online program, some of these added expenses, such as for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? Numerous legal students keep working while receiving their training and need flexibility in class scheduling. If you can only attend night or weekend classes near Meadowbrook AL, make certain classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make certain that the school you select makes available that option. Finally, inquire what the protocol is for making up classes missed due to sickness, work or family obligations.
Enroll in the Right Meadowbrook Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Selecting the right legal assistant certificate school is an essential first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have covered in this article, you have the option of attending classes on-campus or you can attend them online in the comfort and privacy of your Meadowbrook residence. Paralegal education programs are provided in numerous lengths and formats. Various kinds of private and public institutions make available paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four year universities and colleges, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a pronounced impact on your prospects for success in your new profession. Since there is a wide range in the quality of programs, choose carefully. Afford yourself the best possible opportunity to succeed in this exciting profession. But irrespective of how you elect to acquire your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to review each school and make your final decision. And with the right education you can realize your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Meadowbrook Alabama.