How to Select the Right Paralegal School Near Northport Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Northport AL and start your journey that will lead to a rewarding profession in legal services. However, it's crucial that you locate the right school so that you will receive the extensive training that you require to achieve success. As you probably know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more educational alternatives are being offered, both on campus and online. However with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Some prospective students start by searching for schools within traveling range of their Northport homes. Of those options, they try to find the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are important considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only qualifiers you must take into consideration. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the program ought to be considered as well. Later in this post we will cover a list of questions that you must ask potential paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare every one before making your selection. But first, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic alternatives that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants basically both fill the same 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 are part of a different job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Northport AL attorneys with a wide variety of job functions, such as legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job duties are relevant to the type of practice where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice may assist with trial logistics or transporting documents to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is usually billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And the same as attorneys, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and follow a strict code of professional ethics. As stated, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they work, but a few of their everyday tasks may include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching pertinent laws and cases
- Composing correspondence and legal papers
- 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 other records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be complex and very demanding. However, what they are not legally allowed to do is provide legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not limited to administrative or clerical functions more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And since 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 alone.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The fastest means to begin your career as a legal assistant in Northport AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can involve just 6 months to accomplish. Many entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which provide a more expansive education and may be acquired at many community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are available as well. When you have earned either a degree or a certificate, you may choose to proceed and earn a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help maximize your job opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. Some of the highly regarded 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 benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 crucial first steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Schools
Online legal assistant or paralegal programs have become more available and may be an excellent alternative for students looking for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online programs can be especially attractive to Northport AL students who continue to work while obtaining a degree. As an additional advantage, online classes can often be less costly than more traditional options. Even secondary expenditures for such things as study materials or commuting may be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all online schools are accredited, which we will discuss in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the training you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the school and program you are thinking about are accredited by a respected agency, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to attend classes in a less supervised and formal environment, then obtaining your certificate or degree online could be the right option for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Once you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what educational choices are available, you can start the undertaking of assessing schools. But considering that there are so many programs available at junior and community colleges in the Northport AL area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you need to know what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is especially true when you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like many potential students, you will begin by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other important aspects to consider as well, such as accreditation and the reputation 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 properly vet each one and make your ultimate choice.
Is the Paralegal School and Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you enroll in need to be accredited by a respected accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it might also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets distance or online education. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will receive will be of the highest standard, but it will establish with future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. A number of Northport AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited school. Finally, financial aid and student loans are usually offered only for accredited schools.
What's the Program's Reputation? Learn what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal programs you are considering. This is of specific importance if you are new to the field with no prior work history, since employers will need to make a decision based on the caliber of your education exclusively. Verifying that the school you choose is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating services, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact several Northport AL law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask which schools they recommend. Remember that even though a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an excellent reputation.
Does the Program Sponsor Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law firm or other legal operation while attending school. They can also offer a pathway for students to begin creating contacts within the Northport AL legal community. 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 Assistance provided? You will undoubtedly wish to hit the ground running after graduation, but finding that first job in a new profession can be difficult without support. Find out 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 good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their students are highly regarded and in demand.
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 work after graduating. Also, it will be important to establish relationships in the neighboring legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is all the more justification to obtain your education in the area where you choose to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many charge an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may want to first consider those colleges that are within the Northport AL area.
What is the Entire Expense? Paralegal schools can differ in price based on the credential earned and the amount of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only cost for your training. Remember to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance might be obtainable to help reduce part of the expense, so be sure to consult with the school's financial aid office to see what is offered in Northport AL. Naturally if you decide to attend an online school, some of these supplementary expenses, such as for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Accommodate your Schedule? Numerous legal students continue working while getting their training and require flexibility to schedule classes. If you can solely attend weekend or evening classes near Northport AL, make certain classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make sure that the school you enroll in provides that option. Finally, find out what the process is for making-up missed classes due to work, illness or family obligations.
Enroll in the Right Northport Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Enrolling in the ideal paralegal certificate school is a crucial first step to guarantee 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 attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Northport home. Paralegal education programs are provided in various lengths and formats. Several kinds of private and public institutions make available paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four-year colleges and universities, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a pronounced impact on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Considering that there is a wide range in the quality of programs, choose carefully. Give yourself the best possible chance to succeed in this fascinating profession. But regardless of how you choose to obtain your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to evaluate each school and make your ultimate selection. And with the appropriate education you can realize your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Northport Alabama.