How to Select the Best Paralegal Studies Training Program Near Saraland Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Saraland AL and begin your journey that will result in a gratifying profession in legal services. However, it's important that you find the best school so that you will receive the extensive 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 increasingly more academic alternatives are being offered, both at school and online. But with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Some prospective students begin by trying to find schools within traveling distance of their Saraland homes. Of those alternatives, they try to find the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are prime considerations when selecting a college, they are not the only qualifiers you should consider. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the program should be considered too. Later in this article we will cover a list of questions that you should ask potential paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare every one prior to making your selection. But first, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the instructional alternatives that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals 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 different job classification. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Saraland AL attorneys with a diverse array of job duties, including legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job functions are based upon the type of practice where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm could help with the logistics of a trial or transferring documents to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is normally billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And the same as lawyers, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and follow a strict standard of professional ethics. As noted, their duties can be diverse in support of the firms where they are employed, but some of their daily tasks may include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on pertinent laws and cases
- Composing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping lawyers get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal files, documents and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be complicated and very demanding. However, what they are not legally permitted to do is provide legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not confined to administrative or clerical duties more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the main support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers are able to handle a much larger number of clients or cases than they could alone.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the academic requirements and job prospects will be the same. The fastest means to begin your career as a paralegal in Saraland AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can take just six months to accomplish. Most entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more extensive education and may be obtained at numerous community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are offered as well. After you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you may want to continue and get a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help maximize your career opportunities, but help establish you as a professional as well. A few of the highly respected certifying organizations 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 address the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 crucial initial steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Courses
Online legal assistant or paralegal schools have become more prevalent and can be a good option for those looking for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online schools can be particularly attractive to Saraland AL students who keep working while earning a degree. As an added advantage, online classes can sometimes be less costly than on campus options. Even supplementary expenditures for such items as commuting or study materials can be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will discuss 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 program and school you are considering are accredited by a reputable agency, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to attend classes in a less structured and conventional setting, then obtaining your certificate or degree online may be the right option for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Studies Programs
Since you now you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what academic choices are offered, you can begin the process of evaluating schools. But considering that there are numerous programs accessible at junior and community colleges in the Saraland AL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you must know what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is especially true when you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like the majority of potential students, you will start by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other significant factors to research as well, such as the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's take a look at some 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 selection.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you enroll in need to be accredited by a respected accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it may also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance learning. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will get will be of the highest quality, but it will show potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Many Saraland AL law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited program. Finally, financial aid and student loans are often available only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the School? Find out what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal schools you are looking at. This is of special importance if you are new to the field with no previous experience, since employers will have to make a decision based on the caliber of your education exclusively. Verifying that the program you select is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating services, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact some Saraland AL law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask which schools they recommend. Keep in mind that even though a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the School Provide Internships? Internship programs provide students an opportunity to experience working in a law practice or other legal establishment while still in school. They can also offer a means for students to begin creating contacts within the Saraland AL legal field. Ask if the paralegal schools you are reviewing offer internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help available? You will undoubtedly want to secure employment quickly after graduating, but getting that first job in a new profession can be difficult without help. 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 great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their graduates are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the School's Location? Since laws vary among states, it might be a good idea to select a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you want to practice after graduating. In addition, it will be important to develop relationships in the neighboring legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is all the more reason to obtain your education in the community where you want to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many charge a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may want to first consider those colleges that are within the Saraland AL area.
What is the Total Cost? Paralegal programs can differ in price based on the credential received and the amount of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expense for your training. 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 offset part of the cost, so don't forget to consult with the school's financial aid office to see what is available in Saraland AL. Of course if you opt to attend an online program, some of these additional expenses, such as for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? Numerous legal students keep working while getting their training and must have flexibility to schedule classes. If you can just attend weekend or evening classes near Saraland AL, make sure classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, confirm that the school you choose provides that option. Finally, inquire what the procedure is for making-up classes missed as a result of work, illness or family emergencies.
Choose the Right Saraland Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Choosing the ideal paralegal studies certificate school is a vital first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have addressed in this article, you have the choice of attending classes at school or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Saraland home. Paralegal academic programs are offered in many formats and lengths. Different kinds of public and private institutions offer paralegal education, including community colleges, four-year universities and colleges, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a pronounced influence on your opportunities for success in your new career. Since there is a wide range in the quality of programs, choose wisely. Afford yourself the best possible opportunity to be successful in this exciting profession. But no matter how you decide to obtain your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have presented you will be able to examine each school and make your ultimate selection. And with the right training you can achieve your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Saraland Alabama.