How to Select the Right Paralegal Studies Degree Program Near Saraland Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Saraland AL and start your journey that will result in a rewarding career in legal services. However, it's important that you find the best school so that you will receive the extensive training that you need to succeed. As you most likely know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more academic choices are being offered, both at school and online. But with numerous options to choose from, where does one start? A number of prospective students start by looking for schools within traveling distance of their Saraland residences. Of those choices, they try to find the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are necessary considerations when selecting a college, they are not the only qualifiers you must take into consideration. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the program should be considered as well. Later on 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 choice. But before we do, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the educational alternatives that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants basically both hold comparable job roles and functions, only with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and belong to a different job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Saraland AL lawyers with a wide variety of job duties, such as legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job duties are relevant to the type of practice where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice may assist with the logistics of a trial or transferring documents to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is usually billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And the same as lawyers, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and comply with 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 may include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on pertinent laws and cases
- Composing correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping lawyers get ready for trial and stay 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 demanding. 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 tasks more suited 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 ground work and preparation, lawyers have the ability to manage a much larger number of cases or clients than they could alone.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are essentially 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 means to begin your career as a paralegal in Saraland AL is by earning a certificate, which may take just six months to complete. A large number of entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more expansive education and may be obtained at numerous community colleges in 2 years. For an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are an option also. When you have acquired either a degree or a certificate, you might choose to proceed and obtain a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help improve your career opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. A few of the highly regarded certifying agencies 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 cover the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 essential first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Classes
Legal assistant and paralegal online programs have become more popular and may be a good option for students looking for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online programs can be especially appealing to Saraland AL students who keep working while earning a degree. As an added benefit, online programs can often be less expensive than on campus options. Even ancillary expenditures for such items as study materials or commuting may be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all online programs are accredited, which we will cover in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the education 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 highly regarded organization, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less supervised and conventional setting, then obtaining your degree or certificate online could be the ideal option for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Schools
Since you now you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what training options are offered, you can begin the process of assessing schools. But because there are so many 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 compare each one. This is especially true if you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. 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 previously discussed, there are other critical issues to consider as well, including the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's go over several of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are investigating 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 select need to be accredited by a highly regarded accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it can also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets distance or online training. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will receive will be of the highest standard, but it will show potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. Many Saraland AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited program. Finally, financial aid and student loans are typically available only for accredited schools.
What's the Program's Reputation? Learn what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant programs you are contemplating. This is of special importance if you are new to the field with no previous work history, since employers will have to make a decision based on the caliber of your training exclusively. Verifying that the school you choose is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating reports, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact several Saraland AL law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask what schools they suggest. Remember that even when a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the School Sponsor Internships? Internship programs offer students an opportunity to experience working in a law practice or other legal operation while remaining in school. They can also present a pathway for students to begin establishing contacts within the Saraland AL legal field. Ask if the paralegal programs you are considering offer internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance provided? You will most likely want to secure employment quickly after graduating, but finding that first job in a new field can be challenging without assistance. Ask if the paralegal programs you are reviewing have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good sign that the schools have sizable networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their students are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the Campus Located? Considering that laws differ from one state to another, it might be advantageous to enroll in a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you want to work after graduating. In addition, it will be necessary to develop relationships in the local legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is even more justification to receive your education in the community where you desire to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many charge an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may want to initially consider those schools that are within the Saraland AL region.
How Much is the Entire Cost? Paralegal schools can differ in cost based on the credential earned and the length of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only expense for your training. Don't forget to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid might be obtainable to help minimize part of the cost, so don't forget to talk to the school's financial aid department to find out what is offered in Saraland AL. Needless to say that if you opt to attend an online school, a portion these supplementary expenses, for instance for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Fit your Schedule? Numerous paralegal students continue working while getting their training and need flexibility in class scheduling. If you can just attend weekend or evening classes near Saraland AL, verify classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, confirm that the program you choose provides that option. Finally, inquire what the protocol is for making-up missed classes as a result of work, illness or family obligations.
Enroll in the Best Saraland Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Choosing the best paralegal studies degree program is a crucial first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have discussed in this article, you have the option of attending classes on campus or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Saraland home. Paralegal training programs are offered in many formats and lengths. Various types of private and public institutions make available paralegal education, including junior and community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a profound impact on your prospects for success in your new profession. Given that there is a broad range in the quality of schools, choose wisely. Afford yourself the best possible opportunity to succeed in this rewarding profession. But no matter how you elect to receive your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will be able to review each school and make your final decision. And with the ideal training you can realize your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Saraland Alabama.