How to Choose the Best Paralegal Studies Program Near Pleasant Grove Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Pleasant Grove AL and start your journey that will lead to a fulfilling career in legal services. Nevertheless, it's essential that you find the ideal 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 a growing number of educational alternatives are becoming available, both on campus and online. But with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? A number of potential students start by searching for schools within driving distance of their Pleasant Grove residences. 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 factors you need to take into consideration. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the school need to be considered as well. Later in this article we will cover a list of concerns that you ought to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare every one prior to making your choice. But first, 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 fill 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 separate job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Pleasant Grove AL lawyers with a wide variety of job duties, including maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job duties are based upon the type of practice where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm may help with the logistics of a trial or delivering files to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is typically billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And just like attorneys, they must conduct themselves with a high degree of professionalism and abide by a strict standard of professional ethics. As stated, their responsibilities can be varied in support of the firms where they are employed, but a few of their routine tasks might involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on related laws and cases
- Drafting correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting attorneys get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal documents, files and other records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be complicated and very demanding. However, what they are not legally allowed to do is provide legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not restricted to clerical or administrative functions more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the main support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers are able to manage a much larger number of clients or cases than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we discussed earlier, 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 fastest means to start your career as a paralegal in Pleasant Grove AL is by earning a certificate, which can involve as little as 6 months to accomplish. Most entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which provide a more extensive education and may be obtained at many community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are an option also. Once you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you might want to proceed and obtain a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help maximize your job opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. 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 degree or certificate from an accredited program (we will discuss the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two crucial initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Schools
Online legal assistant or paralegal schools have become more popular and may be a good option for students searching for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online schools can be particularly appealing to Pleasant Grove AL students who keep working while obtaining a degree. As an additional advantage, online programs can often be less costly than on campus options. Even ancillary expenditures for such items as commuting or study materials can be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will cover in more detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the training you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the program and school you are reviewing are accredited by a respected organization, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to attend classes in a less supervised and conventional environment, then earning your certificate or degree online could be the right choice for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Studies Programs
Once you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what educational options are offered, you can begin the process of assessing schools. But because there are so many programs offered at community and junior colleges in the Pleasant Grove AL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you need to find out what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is especially true when you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. If you are like many prospective students, you will begin by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other important aspects to think about also, such as 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 thoroughly vet each one and make your final choice.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you choose should be accredited by a respected accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it can also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets online or distance education. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will obtain will be of the highest quality, but it will demonstrate to potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. A number of Pleasant Grove AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited program. Also, financial aid and student loans are usually available only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the School? Research what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal schools you are considering. This is of particular importance if you are entering the profession with no prior work history, since employers will have to make a decision based on the caliber of your training exclusively. Verifying 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 quality of education and rankings as well. You can also call a few Pleasant Grove AL law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask which schools they recommend. Remember that even when a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs offer students an opportunity to experience working in a law firm or other legal establishment while attending school. They can also provide an avenue for students to begin creating contacts within the Pleasant Grove AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal schools you are evaluating provide internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance offered? You will probably want to secure employment quickly after graduation, but getting that initial job in a new field can be challenging without assistance. Find out if the paralegal schools you are assessing have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have sizable networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their graduates are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the School Located? Considering that laws vary 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 important to establish relationships in the area legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is even more reason to receive your education in the area where you wish to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many require an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might wish to initially investigate those colleges that are within the Pleasant Grove AL region.
What is the Total Expense? Paralegal programs can differ in price depending on the credential earned and the amount of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your training. Remember to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid may be available to help reduce some of the cost, so don't forget to talk to the school's financial aid office to see what is available in Pleasant Grove AL. Of course if you choose to attend an online school, some of these additional costs, such as for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? Many paralegal students keep working while getting their training and require flexibility in class scheduling. If you can only attend night or weekend classes near Pleasant Grove AL, make sure 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 makes available that option. Finally, inquire what the procedure is for making-up classes missed because of sickness, work or family obligations.
Enroll in the Right Pleasant Grove Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Selecting the right paralegal studies training school is an important first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have covered in this article, you have the option of attending classes on-campus or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Pleasant Grove residence. Paralegal training programs are provided in many lengths and formats. Various kinds of private and public institutions provide paralegal education, including junior and community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a profound impact on your prospects for success in your new profession. Since there is a broad range in the quality of programs, pick carefully. Give yourself the best possible chance to succeed in this exciting profession. But no matter how you choose to receive your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to evaluate each school and make your ultimate selection. And with the right education you can accomplish your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Pleasant Grove Alabama.