How to Choose the Best Paralegal Studies School Near Pell City Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Pell City AL and start your journey that will lead to a gratifying profession in legal services. However, it's crucial that you locate the ideal school so that you will receive the comprehensive 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 increasingly more academic choices are becoming available, both at school and online. But with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one start? Many prospective students start by searching for schools within driving distance of their Pell City homes. Of those alternatives, they look for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are necessary considerations when picking a school, they are not the only factors you need to consider. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the school must be considered as well. Later in this post we will cover a list of questions that you should ask potential paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare every one before making your choice. But before we do, let's take a look at what a paralegal does and the academic options that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals basically both hold the same job positions and responsibilities, only with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and are part of a separate job classification. Both legal assistants and paralegals help Pell City AL attorneys with a wide variety of job duties, such as legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job functions are based upon the type of practice where they work. As an 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, a paralegal's work is usually billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And just like attorneys, they must carry out their duties with a high degree of professionalism and follow a strict code of professional ethics. As stated, their responsibilities can be diverse in support of the practices where they are employed, but a few of their routine activities can include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching pertinent cases and laws
- Preparing correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping lawyers get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be complicated and very demanding. On the other hand, what they are not legally allowed to do is offer legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not restricted to administrative or clerical duties more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers are able to handle a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps 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 begin your career as a paralegal in Pell City AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can take as little as 6 months to accomplish. A large number of entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more extensive education and can be earned at many community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are an option as well. Once you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you might choose to continue and receive a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help improve your career opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. Some of the highly regarded 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 essential first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Programs
Paralegal and legal assistant online schools have become more popular and may be an excellent option for those searching for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online schools can be especially appealing to Pell City AL students who continue to work while obtaining a degree. As an added advantage, online programs can sometimes be less costly than on campus options. Even ancillary expenses for such items as study materials or commuting can be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all online schools are accredited, which we will cover in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the training you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the school and program you are looking into are accredited by a respected agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less structured and conventional environment, then earning your certificate or degree online could be the ideal option for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Degree or Certificate Programs
Since you now you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what educational options are available, you can start the undertaking of assessing schools. But since there are so many programs available at junior and community colleges in the Pell City AL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you need to know 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 also. If you are like many prospective students, you will begin by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other crucial factors to research as well, including the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's take a look at a few of the questions you should be asking the programs you are researching so that you can effectively vet each one and make your ultimate selection.
Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you choose should be accredited by a highly regarded organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it can also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online training. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will get will be of the highest standard, but it will demonstrate to future employers that you are a qualified professional also. Numerous Pell City AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited school. Also, financial aid and student loans are often obtainable only for accredited programs.
What's the School's Reputation? Research what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant programs you are contemplating. This is of particular importance if you are entering the field with no prior work history, since employers will have to rely on the caliber of your training exclusively. Confirming that the school you select is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating services, 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 contact several Pell City AL law offices that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask which schools they suggest. Remember that even though a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the Program Provide Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law practice or other legal operation while attending school. They can also present a means for students to begin creating contacts within the Pell City AL legal field. Ask if the paralegal programs you are considering provide internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will undoubtedly wish to hit the ground running after graduating, but getting that first job in a new profession can be challenging without assistance. Ask if the paralegal programs you are considering have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good sign that the schools have sizable networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their graduates are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the Campus Located? Since laws differ from state to state, it may be a good idea to enroll in a paralegal school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you plan to work after graduating. In addition, it will be necessary to establish relationships in the area legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is all the more justification to acquire your education in the area where you desire 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 wish to initially investigate those schools that are within the Pell City AL area.
What is the Entire Cost? Paralegal programs can vary in price based on the credential received and the amount 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 as well. Financial assistance may be available to help minimize some of the expense, so make sure to contact the school's financial aid department to find out what is offered in Pell City AL. Needless to say that if you choose to attend an online program, a portion these additional expenses, such as for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Fit your Schedule? Many paralegal students continue working while getting their training and require flexibility to schedule classes. If you can solely attend night or weekend classes near Pell City AL, make certain classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, confirm that the program you select offers that option. Last, find out what the procedure is for making-up missed classes because of sickness, work or family obligations.
Choose the Best Pell City Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Selecting the best paralegal studies degree program is a crucial first step toward your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have covered in this post, you have the option of attending classes on campus or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Pell City residence. Paralegal training programs are made available in many lengths and formats. Several types of private and public institutions make available paralegal training, including community colleges, four-year universities and colleges, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a profound influence on your prospects for success in your new career. Since there is a broad range in the quality of programs, pick wisely. Give yourself the best possible chance to succeed in this exciting profession. But irrespective of how you choose to receive your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have provided you will have the ability to examine each program and make your final decision. And with the ideal training you can realize your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Pell City Alabama.