How to Choose the Right Paralegal School Near Pelham Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Pelham AL and begin your journey that will result in a gratifying career in legal services. However, it's essential that you find the best school so that you will get the extensive training that you need to be successful. As you most likely know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more academic alternatives are becoming available, both on campus and online. But with so many options to choose from, where does one start? Many prospective students begin by trying to find schools within driving distance of their Pelham homes. Of those options, they search for the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are prime considerations when selecting a college, they are not the only qualifiers you should take into consideration. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the school ought to be taken into account too. Later in this post we will cover a list of questions that you should ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare each one prior to making your decision. But before we do, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the instructional alternatives that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals for the most part both hold the same job positions and responsibilities, only with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and are part of a different job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Pelham AL attorneys with a diverse array of job duties, including maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job functions are relevant to the type of practice where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm may assist with trial logistics or transporting documents to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is normally billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And the same as lawyers, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and adhere to a strict code of professional ethics. As mentioned, their duties can be varied in support of the practices where they are employed, but a few of their regular tasks may include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching pertinent cases and laws
- Drafting correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting lawyers get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be complex and very demanding. However, what they are not legally permitted to do is provide legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not restricted to clerical or administrative functions more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys have the ability to handle a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could on their own.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the academic prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The quickest means to start your career as a legal assistant in Pelham AL is by earning a certificate, which can take as little as 6 months to accomplish. Most entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which offer a more comprehensive education and can be earned at many community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are offered as well. Once you have earned either a certificate or degree, you might want to continue and earn a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help increase your employment opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. A few of the highly respected 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 benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two important first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Courses
Paralegal and legal assistant online programs have become more popular and may be a good alternative for those searching for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be especially appealing to Pelham AL students who keep working while earning a degree. As an added advantage, online classes can in some cases be less costly than on campus options. Even secondary expenditures for such items as commuting or study materials may be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will discuss in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the training you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the program and school you are thinking about are accredited by a respected agency, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less supervised and formal environment, then earning your certificate or degree online may be the ideal option for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Degree or Certificate Programs
Since you now you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what training options are available, you can begin the process of evaluating schools. But considering that there are so many programs available at community and junior colleges in the Pelham AL area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you need to find out what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is particularly true if you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like many potential students, you will begin by searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other significant issues to research 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 programs you are researching so that you can effectively vet each one and make your ultimate selection.
Is the Paralegal Training Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you enroll in should be accredited by a reputable organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it might also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance education. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will receive will be of the highest quality, but it will show future employers that you are a qualified professional also. Numerous Pelham AL law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited school. Also, financial aid and student loans are typically available only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the School? Research what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal programs you are considering. This is of specific importance if you are entering the field with no previous experience, since employers will need to rely on the quality of your training exclusively. Checking 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 determine school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact some Pelham AL law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask which schools they suggest. Remember that even when a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the School Sponsor Internships? Internship programs offer students an opportunity to experience working in a law firm or other legal establishment while still in school. They can also provide a means for students to start establishing contacts within the Pelham AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal schools you are evaluating provide internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help provided? You will probably wish to secure employment quickly after graduation, but getting that first job in a new field can be challenging without support. Find out if the paralegal programs you are interviewing have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good indication 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 differ among states, it may be beneficial to enroll in a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you plan to work after graduating. Also, it will be valuable to build relationships in the area legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is all the more reason to acquire your education in the area where you wish to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many require a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may wish to first look at those schools that are within the Pelham AL region.
How Much is the Entire Expense? Paralegal schools can differ in price based on the credential earned and the length of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expense for your training. Remember to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid might be accessible to help minimize some of the cost, so make sure to check with the school's financial aid office to find out what is available in Pelham AL. Naturally if you decide to attend an online school, a portion these added expenses, such as for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Fit your Schedule? Many paralegal students continue working while getting their training and need flexibility to schedule classes. If you can just attend weekend or evening classes near Pelham AL, make certain classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make sure that the school you select provides that option. Finally, inquire what the protocol is for making up missed classes due to sickness, work or family emergencies.
Choose the Right Pelham Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Selecting the right legal assistant degree school is a crucial first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have covered in this post, you have the choice of attending classes at school or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Pelham home. Paralegal training programs are offered in numerous lengths and formats. Various types of public and private institutions provide paralegal training, including community and junior colleges, four-year colleges and universities, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a pronounced impact on your opportunities for success in your new career. Since there is a wide range in the quality of schools, pick carefully. Give yourself the greatest possible chance to succeed in this exciting profession. But irrespective of how you choose to obtain your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will have the ability to evaluate each school and make your ultimate decision. And with the right training you can realize your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Pelham Alabama.