How to Choose the Right Paralegal Studies School Near Robertsdale Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Robertsdale AL and begin your journey that will lead to a rewarding career in legal services. Nevertheless, it's crucial that you find the ideal school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you need to be successful. As you probably understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more educational alternatives are being offered, both on campus and online. But with numerous options to choose from, where does one begin? Many prospective students begin by searching for schools within driving range of their Robertsdale homes. Of those options, they try to find the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are necessary considerations when selecting a college, they are not the only factors you should take into consideration. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the school should be taken into account also. Later on in this article we will cover a list of concerns that you ought to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare each one before making your choice. But before we do, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the instructional options that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants for the most part both hold the same job roles and functions, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and are part of a separate job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Robertsdale AL lawyers with a diverse array of job functions, such as maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job functions are relevant to the type of legal firm where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice may help with the logistics of a trial or transporting documents to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is usually billed hourly as are the attorney's. And the same as lawyers, they must conduct themselves with a high degree of professionalism and adhere to a strict standard of professional ethics. As noted, their duties can be diverse in support of the firms where they are employed, but a few of their day-to-day tasks might include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on applicable cases and laws
- Composing correspondence and legal documents
- Filing 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 responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be complicated and rather demanding. However, what they are not legally authorized to do is offer legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not restricted to administrative or clerical functions more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers have the ability to manage a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Education 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 prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The quickest means to launch your career as a legal assistant in Robertsdale AL is by earning a certificate, which can take just six months to accomplish. Most entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more comprehensive education and may be obtained at numerous community colleges in two years. For an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are offered as well. Once you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you might choose to proceed and receive a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help maximize your job 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 cover the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two essential initial steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Programs
Online legal assistant or paralegal schools have become more prevalent and may be an excellent option for students searching for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online schools can be particularly attractive to Robertsdale AL students who continue to work while earning a certificate or degree. As an added benefit, online schools can sometimes be less costly than on campus options. Even ancillary expenditures for such items as study materials or commuting can be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all online programs are accredited, which we will cover in more detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the training you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the program and school you are thinking about are accredited by a reputable agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less supervised and conventional setting, then obtaining your degree or certificate online may be the ideal option for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Studies Programs
Now that you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what academic options are offered, you can begin the undertaking of assessing schools. But because there are so many programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Robertsdale AL area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you must know what questions to ask so that you can 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 potential students, you will start by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other important factors to think about also, such as 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 considering so that you can properly vet each one and make your ultimate decision.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you select need to be accredited by a reputable organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it may also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets online or distance training. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will get will be of the highest standard, but it will show future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Many Robertsdale AL law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited school. Also, financial aid and student loans are typically available only for accredited programs.
What's the School's Reputation? Research what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal programs you are looking at. This is of special importance if you are entering the profession with no prior experience, since employers will need to rely on the caliber of your education exclusively. Verifying that the program you pick is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating reports, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact several Robertsdale AL law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask which schools they suggest. Bear in mind that even though a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an excellent reputation.
Does the School Provide Internships? Internship programs provide students an opportunity to experience working in a law office or other legal establishment while attending school. They can also provide a means for students to start establishing contacts within the Robertsdale AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal schools you are considering offer internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help available? You will probably want to secure employment quickly after graduating, but getting that initial job in a new field can be difficult without support. Ask if the paralegal schools you are reviewing have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid 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 School's Location? Considering that laws differ from state to state, it might be beneficial to select a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you wish to practice after graduating. In addition, it will be important to cultivate relationships in the area legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is all the more reason to acquire your education in the area where you wish to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most charge a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may need to first investigate those colleges that are within the Robertsdale AL area.
What is the Entire Expense? Paralegal schools can differ in cost depending on the credential earned and the amount of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only expense for your training. Remember to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid might be obtainable to help minimize some of the expense, so make sure to consult with the school's financial aid office to see what is offered in Robertsdale AL. Needless to say that if you choose to attend an online program, some of these additional expenses, such as for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? Numerous paralegal students keep working while receiving their training and need flexibility to schedule classes. If you can solely attend weekend or evening classes near Robertsdale AL, make certain classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make certain that the program you select offers that option. Finally, find out what the procedure is for making-up classes missed due to work, illness or family obligations.
Choose the Right Robertsdale Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Selecting the right legal assistant degree program is an essential first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have discussed in this article, you have the choice of attending classes on campus or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Robertsdale home. Paralegal academic programs are made available in various formats and lengths. Several kinds of public and private institutions provide paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four year universities and colleges, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a profound impact on your prospects for success in your new profession. Considering that there is a wide range in the quality of schools, pick wisely. Afford yourself the best possible chance to succeed in this fascinating profession. But irrespective of how you elect to obtain your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will be able to assess each program and make your final selection. And with the right education you can achieve your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Robertsdale Alabama.