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How to Select the Right Paralegal Studies Program Near Saraland Alabama

Saraland Alabama woman paralegal speaking with client on phoneCongratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Saraland AL and begin your journey that will lead to a gratifying career in legal services. Nevertheless, it's important that you locate the right school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you require to achieve success. As you most likely know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more academic alternatives are being offered, both on campus and online. However with numerous options to choose from, where does one begin? Many potential students begin by looking for schools within driving distance of their Saraland homes. Of those options, they try to find the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are important considerations when selecting a college, they are not the only factors you should 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 concerns that you should ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare every one before making your choice. But before we do, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the educational choices that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.

Legal Assistants and Paralegals

Saraland Alabama legal books

Paralegals and legal assistants basically both hold 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 different job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Saraland AL lawyers with a wide variety of job duties, such as maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job duties are based upon the type of practice where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm could assist with trial logistics or transferring documents to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is typically billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And the same as attorneys, they must conduct themselves with a high degree of professionalism and abide by a strict code of professional ethics. As mentioned, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they are employed, but some of their daily tasks can involve:

  • Researching and fact checking cases
  • Conducting research on pertinent cases and laws
  • Preparing correspondence and legal papers
  • Submitting legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
  • Assisting attorneys prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
  • Organizing and preserving legal documents, files and additional records

With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be complex and quite demanding. However, what they are not legally permitted to do is provide legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not restricted to administrative or clerical functions more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly 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 number of clients or cases than they could otherwise.

Paralegal Education and Certification

Saraland Alabama male paralegal speaking on phone writing notes

As we previously covered, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational requirements and opportunities will be the same. The fastest way to launch your career as a legal assistant in Saraland AL is by earning a certificate, which may require just 6 months to complete. Many 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 extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are an option also. When you have acquired either a certificate or degree, you might want to proceed and earn a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help boost your career opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. A few 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 school (we will cover the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two crucial first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.

Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Classes

Saraland Alabama female student enrolled in online paralegal trainingLegal assistant and paralegal online schools have become more common and may be a good option for students looking for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online schools can be particularly attractive to Saraland AL students who continue to work while obtaining a degree. As an added benefit, online programs can sometimes be less expensive than more traditional options. Even supplementary expenses for such things as commuting or study materials can be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will cover in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the education 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 organization, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less supervised and formal environment, then earning your degree or certificate online may be the right option for you.

Questions to Ask Paralegal Degree or Certificate Programs

Since you now you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what training options are available, you can begin the undertaking of evaluating schools. But since there are numerous programs accessible at community and junior colleges in the Saraland AL area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you must learn 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 also. If you are like the majority of potential students, you will start by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other crucial aspects to research 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 schools you are researching so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your ultimate selection.

Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you choose need to be accredited by a highly regarded accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it might also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets online or distance learning. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will get will be of the highest standard, but it will establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Numerous Saraland AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited school. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are typically obtainable only for accredited schools.

What's the School's Reputation? Research what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal programs you are looking at. This is of particular importance if you are new to the profession with no previous work history, since employers will have to make a decision based on the quality of your training exclusively. Confirming that the school you pick is accredited is a good 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 several Saraland 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 if a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an exceptional reputation.

Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law practice or other legal operation while attending school. They can also provide an avenue for students to begin creating contacts within the Saraland AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal programs you are considering offer internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing upon graduation.

Is Job Placement Help provided? You will most likely wish to hit the ground running after graduation, but getting that first job in a new profession can be difficult without help. Ask if the paralegal schools you are interviewing have job placement programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good sign that the schools have large networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their students are highly regarded and in demand.

Where is the Campus Located? Since laws differ from state to state, it may be advantageous to select a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you plan to work after graduation. Also, it will be important to create relationships in the neighboring legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is even more justification to receive your education in the community where you want to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most charge an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might want to initially look at those colleges that are within the Saraland AL area.

How Much is the Total Expense? Paralegal schools can vary in price based on the credential received and the length of training furnished. Having said that, 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 accessible to help minimize some of the cost, so be sure to talk to the school's financial aid office to find out what is available in Saraland AL. Naturally if you opt to attend an online school, a portion these supplementary costs, such as for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.

Do the Classes Match your Schedule? A number of legal students continue working while getting their training and must have flexibility in class scheduling. If you can solely attend night or weekend classes near Saraland AL, make certain classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make certain that the program you choose offers that option. Finally, find out what the procedure is for making-up classes missed due to sickness, work or family emergencies.

Find Out More About Saraland Paralegal Training

Enroll in the Right Saraland Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program

Selecting the best legal assistant degree school is a crucial first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have addressed in this article, you have the choice of attending classes on campus or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Saraland home. Paralegal academic programs are provided in many formats and lengths. Several types of private and public institutions offer paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four year colleges and universities, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a profound impact on your prospects for success in your new career. Since there is a broad range in the quality of schools, pick wisely. Afford yourself the greatest possible chance to be successful in this exciting profession. But regardless of how you choose to obtain your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to examine each school and make your final decision. And with the right training you can realize your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Saraland Alabama.


 

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