How to Choose the Best Paralegal Degree Program Near Sheffield Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Sheffield AL and begin your journey that will result in a satisfying profession in legal services. However, it's important that you locate the right school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you need to achieve success. As you most likely know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more academic choices are becoming available, both at school and online. However with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one start? A number of potential students start by trying to find schools within driving range of their Sheffield residences. Of those alternatives, they search for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are important considerations when selecting a college, they are not the only factors you need to consider. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the program must be taken into consideration as well. Later in this article we will review a list of concerns that you must ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare each one before making your selection. But first, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the instructional choices that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals essentially both hold comparable job roles and functions, only 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 category. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Sheffield AL attorneys with a wide range of job duties, such as legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job functions are relevant to the type of practice where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm could help with trial logistics or transferring documents to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work 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 follow a strict standard of professional ethics. As mentioned, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they work, but some of their regular activities may include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching applicable laws and cases
- Preparing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting lawyers prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal documents, files and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be complex and rather demanding. However, what they are not legally permitted to do is offer legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not limited to clerical or administrative tasks more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the main support systems for attorneys. And since they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys are able to handle a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly 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 Sheffield AL is by obtaining a certificate, which may involve just six months to accomplish. Most entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which offer a more comprehensive education and can be earned at many community colleges in 2 years. For an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are offered also. After you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you may want to continue 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 as well. Some 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 discuss the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 crucial first steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Programs
Paralegal and legal assistant online programs have become more popular and may be a good option for individuals searching for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online programs can be particularly appealing to Sheffield AL students who keep working while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an added advantage, online programs can often be less costly than on campus options. Even secondary expenditures for such things as study materials or commuting can be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will cover in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the training you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the program and school you are reviewing are accredited by a reputable agency, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less structured and conventional environment, then earning your certificate or degree online could be the right choice for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Certificate or Degree Programs
Since you now you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what educational choices are available, you can begin the undertaking of assessing schools. But because there are so many programs accessible at junior and community colleges in the Sheffield AL area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you must know what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is especially true when you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like most potential students, you will begin by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other crucial aspects to consider also, including accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at some of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are researching so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your final choice.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you pick should be accredited by a reputable accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it may also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance education. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will get will be of the highest standard, but it will establish with future employers that you are a qualified professional also. Many Sheffield AL law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited program. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are often available only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Investigate what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal schools you are contemplating. This is of particular importance if you are new to the field with no previous experience, since employers will need to make a decision based on the quality of your training exclusively. Checking that the school you choose is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating reports, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call several Sheffield AL law practices that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask what schools they suggest. Bear in mind that even though a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the Program Offer Internships? Internship programs give students an opportunity to experience working in a law office or other legal establishment while remaining in school. They can also present an avenue for students to begin creating contacts within the Sheffield AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal programs you are considering offer internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will probably want to secure employment quickly after graduation, but getting that first job in a new profession can be challenging without assistance. Ask if the paralegal schools you are reviewing have job placement programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have sizable networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their students are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the School Located? Because laws differ among states, it might be advantageous to select a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you wish to work after graduating. Also, it will be necessary to create relationships in the area legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is all the more justification to receive your education in the area where you choose to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most charge an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may wish to initially look at those colleges that are within the Sheffield AL region.
How Much is the Total Cost? Paralegal schools can vary in cost depending on the credential received and the amount of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only expense for your education. Don't forget to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance may be available to help reduce some of the cost, so don't forget to contact the school's financial aid office to find out what is offered in Sheffield AL. Naturally if you decide to attend an online school, some of these supplementary expenses, for instance for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? A number of legal students keep working while obtaining their training and need flexibility to schedule classes. If you can solely attend night or weekend classes near Sheffield AL, make sure classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make sure that the program you choose offers that option. Finally, ask what the protocol is for making up classes missed due to sickness, work or family obligations.
Choose the Best Sheffield Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Choosing the best paralegal studies certificate school is a vital first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have addressed in this article, you have the option of attending classes at school or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Sheffield home. Paralegal education programs are made available in many lengths and formats. Various types of public and private institutions provide paralegal training, including community and junior 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 opportunities for success in your new profession. Given that there is a broad range in the quality of schools, choose carefully. Afford yourself the greatest possible opportunity to be successful in this rewarding profession. But regardless of how you decide to obtain your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have presented you will have the ability to evaluate each school and make your final decision. And with the appropriate training you can accomplish your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Sheffield Alabama.