How to Find 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 result in a gratifying profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's essential that you locate the ideal school so that you will receive the extensive training that you need to succeed. As you most likely understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more educational options are becoming available, both on campus and online. However with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one start? Some potential students start by trying to find schools within traveling range of their Northport residences. Of those alternatives, they try to find the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are very important considerations when selecting a college, they are not the only factors you need to take into consideration. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the school should be taken into account also. Later on in this post we will review a list of questions that you need to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare every one before making your choice. But first, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic choices that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals for the most part both fill comparable job positions and functions, only with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and belong to a separate job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals help Northport AL lawyers with a diverse array of job duties, such as legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job duties are relevant to the type of legal firm where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice could assist with the logistics of a trial or transporting files to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is usually billed by the hour as are the lawyer's. And just like lawyers, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and comply with a strict code of professional ethics. As mentioned, their duties can be diverse in support of the firms where they work, but some of their routine tasks can include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on related laws and cases
- Drafting correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting attorneys prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be complex and very demanding. However, what they are not legally allowed to do is give legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not limited to clerical or administrative tasks more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the right hand support systems for lawyers. 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 Certificates and Degrees and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the educational prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The quickest means to start your career as a legal assistant in Northport AL is by earning a certificate, which can involve as little as 6 months to complete. Most entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which offer a more expansive education and may be earned at many community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are offered also. After you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you may choose to proceed and obtain a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help boost your career 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 discuss the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 crucial initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Programs
Legal assistant and paralegal online schools have become more popular and can be a good option for individuals 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 certificate or degree. As an added advantage, online classes can in some cases be less costly than more traditional options. Even supplementary expenses for such items 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 certain that the program and school you are considering are accredited by a highly regarded agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less structured and formal setting, then obtaining your degree or certificate online may be the ideal option for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Programs
Once you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what training options are offered, you can begin the undertaking of evaluating schools. But considering that there are so many programs accessible at junior and community colleges in the Northport AL area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you must know what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is particularly true when you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. If you are like the majority of 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 important issues to research also, including 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 considering so that you can effectively vet each one and make your ultimate choice.
Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you select should be accredited by a highly regarded organization 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 online or distance education. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will obtain will be of the highest standard, but it will show future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Many Northport AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited program. Also, financial assistance and student loans are often obtainable 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 particular importance if you are entering the profession with no previous experience, since employers will have to rely on the quality of your education exclusively. Checking that the program you choose 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 contact a few Northport AL law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask which schools they recommend. Bear in mind that even when a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the Program Sponsor Internships? Internship programs provide students a chance to experience working in a law firm or other legal enterprise while still in school. They can also offer an avenue for students to start creating contacts within the Northport AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal schools you are evaluating provide internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will most likely wish to secure employment quickly after graduation, but finding that initial job in a new profession can be difficult without assistance. Find out if the paralegal schools you are assessing have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have large networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their graduates are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the School's Location? Since laws differ among states, it may be advantageous to choose a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you plan to practice after graduating. In addition, it will be necessary to cultivate relationships in the neighboring legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is all the more justification to acquire your education in the area where you desire to practice. 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 want to initially consider those colleges that are within the Northport AL area.
How Much is the Complete Cost? Paralegal schools can differ in price depending on the credential received and the length 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 as well. Financial assistance might be obtainable to help offset some of the expense, so be sure to talk to the school's financial aid office to find out what is offered in Northport AL. Of course if you decide to attend an online program, a portion these additional expenses, for instance for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Fit your Schedule? Numerous paralegal students keep working while receiving their training and must have flexibility to schedule classes. If you can solely attend night or weekend classes near Northport AL, make sure classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make sure that the program you choose offers that option. Finally, ask what the procedure is for making-up missed classes as a result of work, illness or family obligations.
Enroll in the Best Northport Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Enrolling in the right legal assistant certificate program is a crucial first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have covered in this post, you have the option of attending classes on-campus or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Northport home. Paralegal training programs are provided in various lengths and formats. Several kinds of public and private institutions offer paralegal training, including community and junior colleges, four-year universities and colleges, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a profound impact on your prospects for success in your new career. Considering that there is a wide range in the quality of schools, choose carefully. Afford yourself the best possible opportunity to be successful in this rewarding profession. But no matter how you decide to obtain your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will have the ability to review each program and make your final decision. And with the right training you can achieve your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Northport Alabama.