How to Find the Best Paralegal Degree Program 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 satisfying profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's essential that you locate the ideal school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you need to be successful. As you probably understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of educational choices are becoming available, both at school and online. However with so many options to choose from, where does one begin? Many prospective students begin by searching for schools within commuting range of their Orange Beach homes. Of those alternatives, they search for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are prime considerations when picking a college, they are not the only factors you must take into consideration. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the program must be taken into consideration as well. Later in this article we will cover a list of questions that you should ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare each one prior to making your decision. But first, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the instructional options that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals essentially both hold the same job positions and functions, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and belong to a different job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Orange Beach AL attorneys with a diverse array of job duties, such as legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job duties are based upon the type of practice where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice could help with trial logistics or delivering files to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is usually billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And just like attorneys, they must perform with a high level of professionalism and follow a strict standard of professional ethics. As mentioned, their duties can be varied in support of the firms where they work, but a few of their routine activities can involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on relevant cases and laws
- Composing correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting attorneys get ready 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 involved and rather challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally authorized to do is provide legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not limited to administrative or clerical functions more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the main support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers have the ability 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 requirements and opportunities will be the same. The quickest way to launch your career as a paralegal in Orange Beach AL is by obtaining a certificate, which may require just 6 months to complete. A large number of 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 two years. For an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are available as well. When you have earned either a degree or a certificate, you might choose 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 increase your employment opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. Some 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 address the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 essential first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Programs
Legal assistant and paralegal online schools have become more prevalent and may be an excellent option for those looking for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be especially appealing to Orange Beach AL students who continue to work while obtaining a degree. As an additional benefit, online schools can in some cases be less expensive than on campus options. Even secondary expenses for such things as study materials or commuting may be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will address in more detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the education you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the school and program you are considering are accredited by a respected organization, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to attend classes in a less supervised and formal setting, then obtaining your certificate or degree online could be the right option for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Now that you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what educational choices are offered, 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, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you must find out what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is particularly true when you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. If you are like many prospective students, you will begin by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other important factors to research also, such as the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's go over some of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are investigating so that you can effectively vet each one and make your final selection.
Is the Paralegal School and Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you select need to be accredited by a recognized 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 online or distance training. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will obtain will be of the highest quality, but it will show future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. A number of Orange Beach AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited program. Finally, financial aid and student loans are usually available only for accredited programs.
What's the Program's Reputation? Learn what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant schools you are looking at. This is of particular importance if you are new to the profession with no previous work history, since employers will need to make a decision based on the quality of your training exclusively. Confirming that the program you choose is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating services, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact several Orange Beach AL law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask which schools they suggest. Remember that even if a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an excellent reputation.
Does the Program Sponsor Internships? Internship programs provide students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal operation while attending school. They can also present an avenue for students to start developing contacts within the Orange Beach AL legal field. Ask if the paralegal programs you are evaluating offer internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help provided? You will most likely want to hit the ground running after graduation, but finding that initial job in a new field can be challenging without support. Find out if the paralegal schools you are considering have job placement programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have sizable networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their students are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the Campus Located? Considering that laws vary from state to state, it may be a good idea to enroll in a paralegal school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you wish to practice after graduating. In addition, it will be important to establish relationships in the neighboring legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is even more justification to acquire your education in the area where you wish to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most require an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might need to first consider those schools that are within the Orange Beach AL area.
How Much is the Complete Cost? Paralegal schools can differ in cost depending on the credential earned and the amount of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only expense for your education. Remember to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid may be available to help minimize some of the cost, so be sure to contact the school's financial aid office to see what is offered in Orange Beach AL. Naturally if you decide to attend an online school, a portion these supplementary expenses, such as for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Match your Schedule? Numerous legal students continue working while getting their training and require flexibility in class scheduling. If you can solely attend weekend or evening classes near Orange Beach AL, verify classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make certain that the school you enroll in offers that option. Finally, ask what the protocol is for making up classes missed due to work, illness or family obligations.
Enroll in the Right Orange Beach Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Choosing the best paralegal certificate program is an important first step toward your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have covered in this post, you have the choice of attending classes at school or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Orange Beach residence. Paralegal training programs are provided in numerous formats and lengths. Various types of public and private institutions make available paralegal training, including junior and community colleges, four-year universities and colleges, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a pronounced impact on your opportunities for success in your new career. Considering that there is a broad range in the quality of schools, pick wisely. Afford yourself the greatest possible opportunity to be successful in this fascinating profession. But irrespective of how you elect to obtain your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have presented you will be able to assess each school and make your final selection. And with the appropriate education you can achieve your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Orange Beach Alabama.