How to Enroll in the Right Paralegal Studies School Near Orange Beach Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Orange Beach AL and begin your journey that will lead to a fulfilling career in legal services. However, it's crucial that you find the best school so that you will get the extensive training that you need to achieve success. As you probably know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of educational choices are being offered, both on campus and online. However with numerous options to choose from, where does one start? Some prospective students start by looking for schools within driving distance of their Orange Beach homes. Of those alternatives, they try to find the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are prime considerations when choosing a school, they are not the only factors you must take into consideration. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the program should be taken into consideration too. Later in this article we will review a list of questions that you should ask potential paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare every one prior to making your choice. But first, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the educational choices that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals basically both hold the same job roles and responsibilities, 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 help Orange Beach AL attorneys with a wide variety of job functions, such as maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job functions are based upon the type of legal firm where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice might assist with the logistics of a trial or delivering documents to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is typically billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And the same as lawyers, they must carry out their duties with a high level of professionalism and abide by a strict code of professional ethics. As stated, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they are employed, but some of their day-to-day activities may involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on relevant laws and cases
- Composing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping attorneys get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal documents, files and other records
With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be complex and rather demanding. On the other hand, what they are not legally authorized to do is offer legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not restricted to clerical or administrative functions more suited 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 preparation and ground work, lawyers are able to handle a much larger number of clients or cases than they could on their own.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the academic prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The quickest way to launch your career as a paralegal in Orange Beach AL is by earning a certificate, which can require just six months to complete. A large number of entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which offer a more comprehensive education and may be obtained at numerous community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are an option as well. Once you have earned either a certificate or degree, you might want to proceed and get a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help boost your career opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. 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 earning a certification, you will have taken 2 important initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Certificates and Degrees
Paralegal and legal assistant online schools have become more common and can be a good option for students looking for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be especially attractive to Orange Beach AL students who keep working while obtaining a degree. As an added benefit, online classes can in some cases be less costly than on campus options. Even supplementary expenses for such items as commuting or study materials may be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all online programs are accredited, which we will discuss in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the education you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the school and program you are considering are accredited by a highly regarded organization, for instance 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.
Things to Ask Paralegal Schools
Since you now you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what training choices are available, you can start the undertaking of assessing schools. But since there are so many programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Orange Beach AL area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you must learn what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is particularly true if you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like many potential students, you will start by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other critical factors to consider also, including the reputation and accreditation 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 ultimate selection.
Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you select need to be accredited by a reputable organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it can also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on 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. Many Orange Beach AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited school. Also, financial assistance and student loans are typically available only for accredited programs.
What's the School's Reputation? Research what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal schools you are considering. This is of particular importance if you are new to the profession with no prior experience, since employers will have to rely on the quality of your training exclusively. Checking that the program you pick is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating reports, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call several Orange Beach AL law offices that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask which schools they suggest. Keep in mind that even though a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an excellent reputation.
Does the Program Offer Internships? Internship programs give students an opportunity to experience working in a law practice or other legal enterprise while attending school. They can also present a means for students to start creating contacts within the Orange Beach AL legal field. Ask if the paralegal programs you are assessing offer internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance offered? You will probably want to secure employment quickly after graduation, but getting that initial job in a new profession can be challenging without assistance. Ask if the paralegal programs you are interviewing have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have substantial networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their graduates are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the School's Location? 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 wish to work after graduation. Also, it will be important to establish relationships in the area legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is all the more justification to receive your education in the area where you wish to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most require a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might need to initially look at those schools that are within the Orange Beach AL region.
What is the Total Expense? Paralegal schools can vary in cost depending on the credential obtained and the amount of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your education. Remember to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance might be available to help minimize part of the cost, so be sure to talk to the school's financial aid office to find out what is offered in Orange Beach AL. Of course if you choose to attend an online school, some of these supplementary expenses, such as for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Fit your Schedule? Numerous paralegal students continue working while receiving their training and need flexibility to schedule classes. If you can solely attend weekend or evening classes near Orange Beach AL, verify classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, confirm that the program you choose makes available that option. Finally, find out what the protocol is for making up classes missed as a result of sickness, work or family obligations.
Enroll in the Best Orange Beach Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Selecting the ideal paralegal certificate school is an important first step toward your success in the rewarding 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 privacy and comfort of your Orange Beach residence. Paralegal training programs are offered in many lengths and formats. Several kinds of public and private institutions provide paralegal education, including junior and community colleges, four-year universities and colleges, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a profound impact on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Since there is a broad range in the quality of programs, choose carefully. Give yourself the best possible opportunity to be successful in this exciting profession. But irrespective of how you elect to receive your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to examine each school and make your ultimate decision. And with the right education you can realize your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Orange Beach Alabama.