How to Pick the Right Paralegal Degree Program Near Pinson Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Pinson AL and begin your journey that will result in a fulfilling profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's essential that you locate the right school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you require to succeed. As you probably know, the legal field is one of 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 numerous options to choose from, where does one start? A number of prospective students start by looking for schools within traveling range of their Pinson residences. Of those alternatives, they search for the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are important considerations when choosing a college, they are not the only factors you should take into consideration. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the school must be taken into consideration too. Later on in this article we will review a list of concerns that you should ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare each one before making your decision. But before we do, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic alternatives that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants essentially both hold comparable job positions and functions, just with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and belong to a separate job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Pinson AL lawyers with a wide variety of job functions, including legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job duties are based upon the type of practice where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm could help with trial logistics or transferring documents to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is normally billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And just like lawyers, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and adhere to a strict code of professional ethics. As mentioned, their responsibilities can be varied in support of the firms where they are employed, but a few of their daily tasks might involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on relevant laws and cases
- Composing correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping lawyers get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be complex and quite challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally allowed to do is provide legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not limited to clerical or administrative functions more suited 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 ground work and preparation, lawyers are able to handle a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could alone.
Paralegal Certificates and Degrees and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the academic prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The fastest way to start your career as a legal assistant in Pinson AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can take just 6 months to accomplish. Many entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which offer a more comprehensive education and may 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 acquired either a certificate or degree, you might choose to proceed and receive a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help maximize your employment opportunities, but help establish you as a professional as well. A few 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 obtaining a certification, you will have taken two essential first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Certificates and Degrees
Online legal assistant or paralegal programs have become more prevalent and can be an excellent option for individuals looking for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online schools can be especially appealing to Pinson AL students who continue to work while obtaining a degree. As an added benefit, online schools can in some cases be less expensive than on campus options. Even ancillary expenses for such items as study materials or commuting may be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all online schools are accredited, which we will cover in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the education you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the program and school you are looking into are accredited by a reputable agency, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to attend classes in a less supervised and formal environment, then earning your degree or certificate online might be the ideal option for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Programs
Now that you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what training choices are available, you can begin the process of assessing schools. But since there are numerous programs offered at community and junior colleges in the Pinson AL area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you must find out what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is particularly true when you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like most prospective students, you will start by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other critical factors to consider as well, including accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's go over a few of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are investigating so that you can effectively vet each one and make your final selection.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you choose should be accredited by a reputable organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it may also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online learning. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will get will be of the highest quality, but it will establish with future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Numerous Pinson AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited program. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are often obtainable only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the School? Research what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant schools you are looking at. This is of special importance if you are entering the field with no prior experience, since employers will have to make a decision based on the caliber of your education exclusively. Confirming that the program you pick is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating services, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact some Pinson AL law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask which schools they suggest. Bear in mind that even if a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an excellent reputation.
Does the School Sponsor Internships? Internship programs offer students an opportunity to experience working in a law office or other legal establishment while attending school. They can also offer an avenue for students to start establishing contacts within the Pinson AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal programs you are evaluating offer internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help available? You will most likely want to secure employment quickly after graduating, but finding that initial job in a new field can be difficult without help. Ask 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 great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their students are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the School's Location? Considering that laws differ among states, it may be a good idea to select a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you want to work after graduation. In addition, it will be valuable to cultivate relationships in the area legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is all the more reason to acquire your education in the community where you desire to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most require an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may want to first look at those schools that are within the Pinson AL area.
What is the Entire Cost? Paralegal schools can vary in cost depending on the credential obtained and the amount of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only expense for your education. Don't forget to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial assistance may be obtainable to help reduce some of the cost, so be sure to consult with the school's financial aid department to see what is offered in Pinson AL. Of course if you decide to attend an online program, a portion these supplementary costs, such as for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Fit your Schedule? Numerous paralegal students continue working while obtaining their training and need flexibility in class scheduling. If you can just attend weekend or evening classes near Pinson AL, make sure classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make certain that the program you choose offers that option. Finally, ask what the procedure is for making up missed classes due to sickness, work or family obligations.
Enroll in the Best Pinson Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Enrolling in the ideal paralegal studies certificate school is a crucial first step toward your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have discussed in this post, you have the choice of attending classes on-campus or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Pinson residence. Paralegal education programs are provided in numerous lengths and formats. Different types of private and public institutions provide paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four-year colleges and universities, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a profound impact on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Since there is a wide range in the quality of schools, pick wisely. Give yourself the best possible opportunity to be successful in this rewarding profession. But no matter how you decide to receive your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to review each school and make your final selection. And with the ideal education you can realize your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Pinson Alabama.