How to Select the Right Paralegal Degree Program Near Rainbow City Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Rainbow City AL and start 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 one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more academic options are becoming available, both at school and online. But with numerous options to choose from, where does one start? Some prospective students begin by searching for schools within traveling distance of their Rainbow City residences. Of those options, they search for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are prime considerations when picking a college, they are not the only factors you should consider. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the school ought to be considered as well. Later in this article we will review a list of concerns that you ought to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare every one before making your selection. But first, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic options that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals essentially both hold the same 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 legal assistants and paralegals assist Rainbow City AL attorneys with a wide variety of job functions, such as legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job functions are relevant to the type of legal firm where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice could assist with the logistics of a trial or delivering files to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is normally billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And just like attorneys, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and adhere to a strict standard of professional ethics. As stated, their duties can be varied in support of the practices where they are employed, but some of their everyday tasks can involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching pertinent cases and laws
- Composing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting lawyers prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal documents, files and other records
With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be involved and very challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally authorized to do is give legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not confined to administrative or clerical functions more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the main support systems for lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys have the ability to take on a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could alone.
Paralegal Certificates and Degrees and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the academic requirements and opportunities will be the same. The fastest way to launch your career as a paralegal in Rainbow City AL is by earning a certificate, which can require just six months to accomplish. A large number of entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which provide a more comprehensive education and may be acquired at numerous community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are offered as well. After you have acquired either a certificate or degree, you may choose to continue and earn a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help increase your job opportunities, but help establish you as a professional as well. Some of the highly regarded certifying organizations in the profession 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 advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 important first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Programs
Online legal assistant or paralegal schools have become more available and may be a good option for students looking for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be especially attractive to Rainbow City AL students who keep working while earning a degree. As an additional benefit, online classes can in some cases be less costly than on campus options. Even secondary expenses for such items as commuting or study materials may be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all online schools are accredited, which we will cover in greater detail later. But at a minimum 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 thinking about are accredited by a reputable agency, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less supervised and conventional environment, then earning your degree or certificate online might be the right option for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Schools
Since you now you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what academic options are offered, you can begin the undertaking of assessing schools. But considering that there are numerous programs available at community and junior colleges in the Rainbow City AL area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you must find out what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is particularly true when you add all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like the majority of 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 significant factors to research also, such as accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at some 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 School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you enroll in should be accredited by a reputable accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it might also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online education. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will receive will be of the highest quality, but it will establish with future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Numerous Rainbow City AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited school. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are typically available only for accredited schools.
What's the School's Reputation? Research what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant programs you are considering. This is of particular importance if you are new to the profession with no prior work history, since employers will need to make a decision based on the caliber of your training exclusively. Checking that the program you pick is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating services, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact several Rainbow City AL law offices that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask which schools they suggest. Bear in mind that even when a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an excellent reputation.
Does the School Sponsor Internships? Internship programs give students an opportunity to experience working in a law practice or other legal operation while attending school. They can also offer an avenue for students to start developing contacts within the Rainbow City AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal schools you are evaluating provide internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help available? You will undoubtedly wish to secure employment quickly after graduation, but getting that initial job in a new field can be difficult without assistance. Ask if the paralegal programs you are interviewing have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good indication that the schools have substantial networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their graduates are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the School's Location? Since laws differ from one state to another, it might be a good idea to enroll in a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you want to practice after graduating. In addition, it will be valuable to cultivate relationships in the neighboring legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is even more justification to obtain your education in the area where you wish to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many charge a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may need to first look at those schools that are within the Rainbow City AL region.
What is the Total Cost? Paralegal schools can differ in cost depending on the credential earned and the amount of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your education. Don't forget to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial assistance might be obtainable to help minimize part of the expense, so don't forget to check with the school's financial aid office to see what is available in Rainbow City AL. Of course if you opt to attend an online school, some of these added costs, for instance for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? Numerous legal students continue working while obtaining their training and need flexibility in class scheduling. If you can just attend weekend or evening classes near Rainbow City AL, make sure classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make certain that the program you choose makes available that option. Last, inquire what the protocol is for making-up missed classes as a result of sickness, work or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Best Rainbow City Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Choosing the best paralegal studies degree school is a crucial first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding 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 Rainbow City home. Paralegal academic programs are provided in numerous lengths and formats. Various types of private and public institutions provide paralegal training, including community and junior colleges, four-year universities and colleges, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a profound impact on your opportunities for success in your new career. Given that there is a broad range in the quality of programs, choose carefully. Give yourself the greatest possible chance to succeed in this exciting profession. But irrespective of how you choose to obtain your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have presented you will be able to evaluate each program and make your ultimate selection. And with the ideal education you can achieve your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Rainbow City Alabama.