How to Enroll in the Best Paralegal School Near Pelham Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Pelham AL and begin your journey that will lead to a fulfilling career in legal services. However, it's crucial that you locate the ideal school so that you will get the extensive training that you require to succeed. As you probably understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more academic alternatives are becoming available, both at school and online. But with so many options to choose from, where does one start? A number of potential students begin by trying to find schools within driving range of their Pelham homes. Of those choices, they look for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are very important considerations when choosing a school, they are not the only qualifiers you ought to consider. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the program ought to be taken into consideration as well. Later in this article we will cover a list of questions that you must ask potential paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare every one prior to making your decision. But first, let's take a look at what a paralegal does and the academic options that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals essentially both hold comparable job roles and functions, just with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and are part of a different job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Pelham AL attorneys with a wide range of job functions, such as legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job functions are based upon the type of legal firm where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm may assist with the logistics of a trial or transporting files to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is usually billed hourly as are the attorney's. And the same as lawyers, they must carry out their duties with a high degree of professionalism and follow a strict code of professional ethics. As noted, their duties can be diverse in support of the firms where they are employed, but a few of their everyday tasks might involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on pertinent laws and cases
- Drafting correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting lawyers prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal files, documents and other records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be complicated and very challenging. On the other hand, 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 confined to clerical or administrative tasks more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the right hand support systems for attorneys. And since they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys are able to manage a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could otherwise.
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. As a result, for either position the academic prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The fastest means to launch your career as a paralegal in Pelham AL is by obtaining a certificate, which may involve as little as 6 months to accomplish. A large number of entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which offer a more extensive education and can be obtained at numerous community colleges in two years. For an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are offered also. When you have earned either a certificate or degree, you may want to continue and obtain a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help boost your job opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. A few of the highly respected certifying organizations 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 degree or certificate from an accredited school (we will cover 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
Online legal assistant or paralegal schools have become more common and can be a good alternative for those looking for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online schools can be particularly appealing to Pelham AL students who keep working while earning a certificate or degree. As an added benefit, online programs can in some cases be less expensive than on campus options. Even ancillary expenses for such things as study materials or commuting can be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will address in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the training you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the program and school you are reviewing are accredited by a highly regarded agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less supervised and conventional setting, then obtaining your degree or certificate online could be the right choice for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Programs
Now that you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what academic options are offered, you can begin the undertaking of assessing schools. But since there are numerous programs accessible at junior and community colleges in the Pelham AL area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you need to know what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is especially true if you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate 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 covered, there are other crucial aspects to consider as well, for instance the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's go over several of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are investigating so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your final choice.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you pick should be accredited by a recognized accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it might also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance education. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will obtain will be of the highest quality, but it will show future employers that you are a qualified professional also. Many Pelham AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited school. Also, financial aid and student loans are typically accessible only for accredited programs.
What's the School's Reputation? Investigate 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 prior work history, since employers will need to rely on the quality of your training exclusively. Verifying that the program you pick is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating services, such as those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact some Pelham AL law practices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask which schools they suggest. Keep in mind that even though a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the Program Offer Internships? Internship programs give students an opportunity to experience working in a law firm or other legal enterprise while remaining in school. They can also present a means for students to start establishing contacts within the Pelham AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal schools you are considering offer internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will most likely wish to hit the ground running after graduation, but finding that first job in a new profession can be difficult without help. Find out if the paralegal programs you are interviewing have job placement programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have large networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their graduates are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the School's Location? Since laws differ from state to state, it may be a good idea to enroll in a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you wish to practice after graduating. Also, it will be necessary to create relationships in the neighboring legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is all the more justification to obtain your education in the community where you wish to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many require an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might want to initially consider those colleges that are within the Pelham AL region.
What is the Complete Cost? Paralegal schools can vary in price depending on the credential earned and the length of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only expense for your education. Remember to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid may be accessible to help offset some of the cost, so be sure to talk to the school's financial aid department to see what is offered in Pelham AL. Needless to say that if you choose to attend an online school, a portion these additional costs, for instance for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Fit your Schedule? Many paralegal students continue working while obtaining their training and require flexibility in class scheduling. If you can only attend night or weekend classes near Pelham AL, make sure classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make certain that the school you choose offers that option. Finally, ask what the process is for making-up classes missed because of work, illness or family obligations.
Choose the Best Pelham Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Enrolling in the best legal assistant certificate program is an important first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have addressed in this article, you have the option of attending classes on-campus or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Pelham home. Paralegal academic programs are made available in many lengths and formats. Different kinds of public and private institutions make available paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four-year universities and colleges, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a pronounced influence on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Considering that there is a wide range in the quality of programs, pick carefully. Afford yourself the best possible chance to succeed in this fascinating profession. But no matter how you elect to obtain your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to review each program and make your ultimate decision. And with the ideal education you can accomplish your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Pelham Alabama.