How to Choose the Right Paralegal School Near Pelham Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Pelham AL and begin your journey that will result in a gratifying profession in legal services. However, 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 most likely understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of educational choices are being offered, both at school and online. However with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Many potential students begin by trying to find schools within driving distance of their Pelham residences. Of those alternatives, they try to find the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are prime considerations when picking a school, they are not the only qualifiers you ought to take into consideration. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the program should be taken into account too. Later in this article we will cover a list of concerns that you must ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare each one before making your choice. But first, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the educational choices that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals basically both hold comparable 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 help Pelham AL attorneys with a wide range of job duties, including 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 are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice could assist with trial logistics or delivering files to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is usually billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And just like attorneys, they must conduct themselves with a high degree of professionalism and comply with 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 daily activities may involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching related cases and laws
- Preparing correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping lawyers get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be involved and quite challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally authorized to do is provide legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not restricted to administrative or clerical tasks more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the main support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers have the ability to handle a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could on their own.
Paralegal Certificates and Degrees and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the academic requirements and opportunities will be the same. The quickest means to start your career as a paralegal in Pelham AL is by obtaining a certificate, which may involve just six months to accomplish. Many entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which offer a more expansive education and may be obtained at numerous community colleges in two years. For an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are available as well. After you have earned either a certificate or degree, you may want to proceed and get a certification. Although it is not a mandatory 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. Some 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 degree or certificate from an accredited school (we will discuss the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two important first steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Classes
Legal assistant and paralegal online programs have become more popular and can be an excellent option for individuals searching for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online programs can be particularly attractive to Pelham AL students who keep working while earning a degree. As an added advantage, online programs can in some cases be less costly than on campus options. Even ancillary expenses for such things as study materials or commuting can be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all online schools are accredited, which we will address in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the training you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the program and school you are thinking about are accredited by a reputable organization, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less supervised and formal setting, then obtaining your certificate or degree online may be the ideal option for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Degree or Certificate Programs
Since you now you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what educational options are available, you can begin the process 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 compare each one. This is especially true when you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. 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 already covered, there are other important issues to think about as well, including accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at some of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are investigating so that you can properly vet each one and make your final choice.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you select should be accredited by a respected organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it can also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance education. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will get will be of the highest standard, but it will demonstrate to future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Many Pelham AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited school. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are typically offered only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the School? Research what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant schools you are looking at. This is of specific importance if you are new to the field with no previous experience, since employers will have to rely on the quality of your training exclusively. Confirming that the school 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 rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call some Pelham AL law offices that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask what schools they suggest. Bear in mind that even when a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an excellent reputation.
Does the School Sponsor Internships? Internship programs provide students a chance to experience working in a law practice or other legal operation while still in school. They can also offer a pathway for students to begin establishing contacts within the Pelham AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal schools you are reviewing provide internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help provided? You will probably want to secure employment quickly after graduation, but getting that initial job in a new field can be challenging without help. Ask if the paralegal schools you are considering have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good sign that the schools have sizable networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their graduates are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the Campus Located? Since laws differ among states, it may be a good idea to select a paralegal school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you want to practice after graduating. Also, it will be important to develop relationships in the local legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is even more reason to acquire your education in the area where you desire to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most charge an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may need to initially investigate those schools that are within the Pelham AL region.
What is the Total Expense? Paralegal schools can vary in cost depending on the credential obtained and the length of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your education. Remember to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid may be available to help offset some of the cost, so be sure to contact the school's financial aid department to see what is offered in Pelham AL. Of course if you decide to attend an online program, some of these added expenses, such as for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Accommodate your Schedule? Many paralegal students continue working while getting their training and require flexibility to schedule classes. If you can solely 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 certain that the school you enroll in offers that option. Last, ask what the procedure is for making-up classes missed as a result of work, illness or family emergencies.
Choose the Right Pelham Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Selecting the right paralegal studies training program is a vital first step toward your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have discussed in this post, you have the option of attending classes on campus or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Pelham residence. Paralegal academic programs are offered in various formats and lengths. Different kinds of private and public institutions provide paralegal education, including community colleges, four year colleges and universities, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a pronounced impact on your prospects for success in your new profession. Considering that there is a wide range in the quality of schools, choose carefully. Give yourself the best possible opportunity to succeed in this rewarding profession. But irrespective of how you choose to acquire your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will have the ability to examine each school and make your ultimate selection. And with the ideal education you can achieve your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Pelham Alabama.