How to Choose the Best 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 fulfilling career in legal services. However, it's important that you locate the best school so that you will receive the extensive training that you need to succeed. As you most likely understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more academic options are being offered, both at school and online. However with so many options to choose from, where does one begin? Some potential students start by looking for schools within commuting distance of their Northport homes. Of those choices, they try to find the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are necessary considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only qualifiers you need to consider. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the school need to be taken into consideration as well. Later in this post we will cover a list of concerns that you need to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare every one prior to making your choice. But first, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the instructional alternatives that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals basically both hold comparable job roles and responsibilities, only with different titles. On the other hand, 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 functions, including legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job duties are relevant to the type of practice where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice could assist with trial logistics or delivering documents to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is normally billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And just like attorneys, they must carry out their duties with a high level of professionalism and follow a strict code of professional ethics. As stated, their duties can be diverse in support of the practices where they are employed, but some of their daily activities may involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on related cases and laws
- Composing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping lawyers get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be complex and rather demanding. 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 administrative or clerical tasks more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the main support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys are able to handle a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The quickest way to begin your career as a paralegal in Northport AL is by obtaining a certificate, which may involve as little as 6 months to accomplish. Most entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more expansive education and may be acquired at numerous community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are an option also. Once you have acquired 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 practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help maximize your career 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 certificate or degree from an accredited program (we will discuss the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two crucial first steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Courses
Legal assistant and paralegal online programs have become more prevalent and may be a good option for students looking for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online programs can be especially appealing to Northport AL students who continue to work while earning a degree. As an added benefit, online programs can in some cases be less expensive than on campus options. Even supplementary expenses for such things as commuting or study materials can be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will address in more detail later. But at the very least 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 considering are accredited by a highly regarded organization, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less supervised and conventional environment, then obtaining your degree or certificate online could be the right choice for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Studies Programs
Once you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what academic options are offered, you can start the undertaking of evaluating schools. But considering that there are so many programs accessible at community and junior colleges in the Northport AL area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you need to learn what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is especially true when you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like the majority of prospective students, you will start by searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other important factors to research also, including accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at some of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are investigating so that you can effectively vet each one and make your final decision.
Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you choose need to be accredited by a reputable organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it can also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance education. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will get will be of the highest quality, but it will establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Many Northport AL law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited school. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are typically available only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the School? Research what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant schools you are contemplating. This is of special importance if you are new to the profession with no previous experience, since employers will need to rely on the caliber of your education exclusively. Verifying that the program you select is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating services, such as those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact several Northport AL law practices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask what schools they recommend. Remember that even when a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the School Sponsor Internships? Internship programs offer students a chance to experience working in a law firm or other legal operation while remaining in school. They can also offer a means for students to start developing contacts within the Northport AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal schools you are reviewing provide internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance provided? You will undoubtedly want to secure employment quickly after graduating, 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 placement programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good sign that the schools have substantial networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their students are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the Campus Located? Because laws vary from state to state, it might be advantageous to select a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you plan to work after graduating. In addition, it will be necessary to develop relationships in the neighboring legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is even more justification to acquire your education in the community where you choose to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most charge a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might need to first investigate those schools that are within the Northport AL area.
What is the Total Cost? Paralegal programs can differ in price based on the credential obtained and the length of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your training. Don't forget to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid may be obtainable to help offset some of the cost, so make sure to contact the school's financial aid department to find out what is offered in Northport AL. Of course if you opt to attend an online school, some of these supplementary costs, such as for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? Numerous paralegal students continue working while obtaining their training and need flexibility to schedule classes. If you can solely attend night or weekend classes near Northport AL, make sure classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, confirm that the school you choose provides that option. Last, find out what the protocol is for making up missed classes as a result of work, illness or family emergencies.
Choose the Right Northport Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Selecting the ideal paralegal studies degree program is a vital first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have addressed in this article, you have the choice of attending classes on-campus or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Northport residence. Paralegal academic programs are made available in many lengths and formats. Different kinds of private and public institutions make available paralegal education, including junior and community 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 prospects for success in your new profession. Since there is a broad range in the quality of schools, choose carefully. Give yourself the greatest possible opportunity to be successful in this rewarding profession. But no matter how you choose to obtain your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will have the ability to examine each program and make your final decision. And with the right training you can realize your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Northport Alabama.