How to Find the Right Paralegal Studies Course Near Northport Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Northport AL and start your journey that will result in a rewarding profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's essential that you find the best school so that you will get the extensive training that you require to be successful. As you most likely understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more educational alternatives are becoming available, both on campus and online. But with numerous options to choose from, where does one start? Some potential students start by searching for schools within driving distance of their Northport homes. Of those choices, 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 qualifiers you should take into consideration. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the school should be taken into consideration also. Later on in this post we will cover a list of questions that you ought to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare every one prior to making your choice. But first, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the instructional options that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants for the most part both hold the same job positions and functions, only with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and are part of a separate job classification. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Northport AL attorneys with a diverse array of job duties, such as maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job duties are based upon the type of legal firm where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice might help with trial logistics or transporting files to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is typically billed by the hour as are the lawyer's. And the same as lawyers, they must carry out their duties with a high level of professionalism and follow a strict code of professional ethics. As mentioned, their duties can be diverse in support of the practices where they work, but some of their day-to-day activities might involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching related laws and cases
- Preparing correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping lawyers prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal files, documents and other records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be complicated and quite challenging. However, what they are not legally allowed to do is give legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not restricted to clerical or administrative tasks 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 preparation and ground work, lawyers have the ability to manage a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could on their own.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the academic requirements and job prospects will be the same. The quickest way to start your career as a legal assistant in Northport AL is by obtaining a certificate, which may take as little as six months to accomplish. Most entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which provide a more extensive education and can be earned at numerous community colleges in two years. For an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are offered also. After you have acquired either a degree or a certificate, you might choose to continue and receive a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help improve your employment opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. Some 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 program (we will address the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two essential first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Training
Legal assistant and paralegal online programs have become more prevalent and can be a good alternative for students looking for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online programs can be particularly appealing to Northport AL students who continue to work while earning a degree. As an additional benefit, online schools can sometimes be less costly than more traditional options. Even secondary expenses for such things as study materials or commuting can be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will cover in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the education you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the program and school you are reviewing are accredited by a respected organization, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less structured and formal setting, then earning your degree or certificate online could be the right option for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Studies Programs
Now that you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what training options are available, you can begin the process of evaluating schools. But because there are numerous programs available at community and junior colleges in the Northport AL area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you need to find out what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is particularly true if you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate 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 previously discussed, there are other significant factors to research as well, for instance the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's go over a few of the questions you should be asking the schools you are researching so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your final decision.
Is the Paralegal Training Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you choose need to be accredited by a respected accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it might also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online learning. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will obtain will be of the highest quality, but it will show future employers that you are a qualified professional also. Numerous Northport AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited school. Also, financial assistance and student loans are typically obtainable only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the School? Learn what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal schools you are looking at. This is of particular importance if you are entering the field with no prior experience, since employers will have to make a decision based on the caliber of your education exclusively. Confirming that the program you choose is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating reports, 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 a few Northport AL law practices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask what schools they recommend. Keep in mind that even if a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the Program Sponsor Internships? Internship programs offer students a chance to experience working in a law firm or other legal operation while attending school. They can also offer an avenue for students to begin developing contacts within the Northport AL legal field. Ask if the paralegal schools you are considering offer internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help offered? You will undoubtedly wish to hit the ground running after graduating, but finding that first job in a new profession can be challenging without support. Ask if the paralegal schools you are assessing have job placement programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have sizable networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their graduates are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the Campus Located? Considering that laws vary from one state to another, it may be a good idea to select a paralegal school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you plan to work after graduating. Also, it will be necessary to cultivate relationships in the neighboring legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is all the more reason to obtain your education in the community where you want to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most require a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might want to first consider those colleges that are within the Northport AL region.
How Much is the Entire Cost? Paralegal programs can differ in cost depending on the credential received and the amount of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your training. Remember to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance might be accessible to help minimize some of the cost, so be sure to contact the school's financial aid office to find out what is offered in Northport AL. Of course if you opt to attend an online school, some of these additional costs, for instance for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Match your Schedule? A number of legal students continue working while receiving their training and must have flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend weekend or evening classes near Northport AL, verify classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make certain that the program you choose offers that option. Last, ask what the process is for making up missed classes as a result of work, illness or family obligations.
Enroll in the Best Northport Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Choosing the best paralegal 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 choice of attending classes at school or you can attend them online in the comfort and privacy of your Northport residence. Paralegal academic programs are provided in many lengths and formats. Several types of private and public institutions make available paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four year colleges and universities, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a profound influence on your prospects for success in your new career. Considering that there is a wide range in the quality of programs, pick carefully. Give yourself the best possible opportunity to succeed in this exciting profession. But irrespective of how you decide 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 school and make your ultimate selection. And with the ideal education you can realize your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Northport Alabama.