How to Choose the Best Paralegal 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 satisfying profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's essential that you find the best school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you require to succeed. As you probably understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of educational alternatives are being offered, both on campus and online. However with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one start? A number of potential students begin by looking for schools within driving distance of their Northport homes. Of those choices, they look for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are prime considerations when choosing a college, they are not the only factors you ought to take into consideration. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the program must be taken into account too. Later in this post we will review a list of concerns that you ought to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare every one before making your selection. But before we do, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the instructional choices that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants for the most part both fill the same job roles and responsibilities, only 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 category. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Northport AL attorneys with a wide range of job functions, 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. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm might help with the logistics of a trial or transporting documents to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is usually billed by the hour as are the lawyer's. And just like lawyers, they must perform with a high level of professionalism and adhere to a strict code of professional ethics. As mentioned, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they work, but a few of their routine activities can involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching related cases and laws
- Composing 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 preserving legal documents, files and other records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be complicated and very challenging. However, what they are not legally authorized to do is provide legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not restricted to clerical or administrative functions more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the main support systems for attorneys. And since they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers have the ability to take on a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could alone.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational requirements and opportunities will be the same. The fastest way to start your career as a legal assistant in Northport AL is by obtaining a certificate, which may involve as little as 6 months to accomplish. Many entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more comprehensive education and can be earned at many community colleges in 2 years. For an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are offered as well. Once you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you may want to proceed and earn a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help increase your job opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. 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 certificate or degree from an accredited program (we will address the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two important first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Training
Online paralegal or legal assistant programs have become more common and may be an excellent option for individuals looking for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online schools can be especially appealing to Northport AL students who continue to work while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an added advantage, online classes can in some cases be less costly than on campus options. Even ancillary expenses for such things as commuting or study materials can be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all online schools are accredited, which we will discuss in greater 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 reviewing are accredited by a reputable agency, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less supervised and conventional setting, then earning your degree or certificate online may be the right option for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Studies Programs
Once you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what educational options are available, you can start the process of assessing schools. But because there are so many programs accessible at community and junior colleges in the Northport AL area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you must find out what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is particularly true when you add all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like many potential students, you will begin by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other significant factors to research as well, for instance accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's go over a few of the questions you should be asking the programs you are researching so that you can properly vet each one and make your final choice.
Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you pick need to be accredited by a respected accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it might also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets online or distance training. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will get will be of the highest standard, but it will demonstrate to potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. A number of Northport AL law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited program. Finally, financial aid and student loans are often accessible 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 specific importance if you are entering the profession with no previous experience, since employers will need to rely on the quality of your education exclusively. Checking that the program you pick is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating reports, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also call several Northport AL law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask which schools they suggest. Bear in mind that even if a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the Program Provide Internships? Internship programs provide students an opportunity to experience working in a law office or other legal establishment while still in school. They can also provide a means for students to begin developing contacts within the Northport AL legal field. Ask if the paralegal schools you are reviewing offer internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance provided? You will undoubtedly wish to secure employment quickly after graduation, but finding that first job in a new field can be difficult without help. Ask if the paralegal schools you are considering have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good sign that the schools have large networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their students are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the School's Location? Because laws differ from one state to another, it may be a good idea to enroll in a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you want to practice after graduation. In addition, it will be valuable to cultivate relationships in the area legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is even more reason to obtain your education in the community where you desire to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many require an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may need to first consider those colleges that are within the Northport AL area.
What is the Entire Cost? Paralegal programs can vary in cost depending on the credential earned and the length of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expense for your training. Don't forget to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance may be available to help offset some of the cost, so don't forget to talk to the school's financial aid department to find out what is available in Northport AL. Needless to say that if you opt to attend an online school, a portion these additional expenses, such as for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? Many paralegal students continue working while obtaining their training and require flexibility in class scheduling. If you can just attend night or weekend classes near Northport AL, verify classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make sure that the school you enroll in provides that option. Finally, inquire what the protocol is for making-up missed classes because of sickness, work or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Best Northport Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Selecting the best paralegal certificate program is an essential first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have covered in this article, you have the option of attending classes on-campus or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Northport residence. Paralegal education programs are offered in numerous formats and lengths. Different types of private and public institutions make available paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four-year universities and colleges, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a pronounced impact on your prospects for success in your new profession. Considering that there is a wide range in the quality of programs, choose wisely. Give yourself the best possible chance to succeed in this fascinating profession. But regardless of how you elect to acquire your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will be able to evaluate each school and make your ultimate decision. And with the appropriate education you can accomplish your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Northport Alabama.