How to Choose the Right Paralegal Studies Program Near Sheffield Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Sheffield AL and start your journey that will lead to a rewarding career in legal services. Nevertheless, it's crucial that you locate the best school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you need to be successful. As you probably know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more academic alternatives are becoming available, both on campus and online. But with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? A number of potential students start by searching for schools within commuting range of their Sheffield homes. Of those choices, they look for the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are prime considerations when choosing a college, they are not the only factors you must take into consideration. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the school should be taken into account as well. Later in this post we will cover a list of questions that you ought to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare every one before making your decision. But before we do, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the educational choices that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants basically both hold the same 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 separate job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Sheffield AL lawyers with a wide range 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 legal firm where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice may assist with trial logistics or transferring documents to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is typically billed hourly as are the attorney's. And just like lawyers, they must perform with a high level of professionalism and comply with a strict code of professional ethics. As noted, their duties can be diverse in support of the firms where they are employed, but a few of their routine tasks may include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching pertinent laws and cases
- Composing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting attorneys get ready for trial and stay 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 complicated and very challenging. However, what they are not legally authorized to do is provide legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not confined to clerical or administrative functions more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the main support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys are able to handle a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could alone.
Paralegal Certificates and Degrees and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The fastest means to launch your career as a paralegal in Sheffield AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can require as little as 6 months to complete. Most entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more expansive education and can be obtained at many community colleges in two years. For an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are an option also. After you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you might choose to proceed and receive a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help improve your job opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. 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 certificate or degree from an accredited school (we will discuss the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 important first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Courses
Paralegal and legal assistant online schools have become more common and may be an excellent option for individuals searching for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be especially attractive to Sheffield AL students who continue to work while earning a degree. As an additional benefit, online schools can often be less costly than more traditional options. Even secondary expenses for such things as commuting or study materials may be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will address in more 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 highly regarded agency, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less structured and formal environment, then obtaining your certificate or degree online might be the ideal choice for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Studies Programs
Now that you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what academic options are available, you can begin the undertaking of assessing schools. But considering that there are numerous programs offered at community and junior colleges in the Sheffield AL area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you need to find out what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is especially true if you add all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. If you are like the majority of prospective students, you will begin by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other critical factors to consider also, including accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's go over 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 choice.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you pick should be accredited by a reputable organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it might also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets online or distance training. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will obtain will be of the highest standard, but it will show future employers that you are a qualified professional also. Numerous Sheffield AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited school. Also, financial aid and student loans are usually accessible only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the School? Investigate what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant programs you are looking at. This is of special importance if you are entering the profession with no previous experience, since employers will need to rely on the caliber of your training exclusively. Verifying that the program you choose is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating services, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact several Sheffield AL law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask what schools they suggest. Keep in mind that even though a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the Program Sponsor Internships? Internship programs provide students an opportunity to experience working in a law firm or other legal enterprise while still in school. They can also provide an avenue for students to begin establishing contacts within the Sheffield AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal schools you are assessing offer internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help offered? You will undoubtedly wish to hit the ground running after graduating, but getting that initial job in a new field can be challenging without assistance. Ask if the paralegal schools you are interviewing have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good indication that the schools have substantial networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their graduates are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the School's Location? Considering that laws vary among states, it may be beneficial to choose a paralegal school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you want to practice after graduating. Also, it will be necessary to cultivate relationships in the local legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is all the more reason to receive your education in the area where you want to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many require a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may need to first investigate those schools that are within the Sheffield AL region.
How Much is the Complete Cost? Paralegal schools can differ in cost depending on the credential obtained and the amount of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only cost for your education. Don't forget to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid may be accessible to help reduce part of the expense, so be sure to check with the school's financial aid office to see what is offered in Sheffield AL. Needless to say that if you decide to attend an online school, a portion these supplementary expenses, for instance for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? Many legal students keep working while receiving their training and require flexibility in class scheduling. If you can only attend weekend or evening classes near Sheffield AL, make certain classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make sure that the school you enroll in makes available that option. Last, inquire what the protocol is for making up missed classes due to sickness, work or family obligations.
Choose the Right Sheffield Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Selecting the best paralegal studies training school is a vital first step toward your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have covered in this article, you have the choice of attending classes on campus or you can attend them online in the comfort and privacy of your Sheffield residence. Paralegal academic programs are offered in various lengths and formats. Different kinds of public and private institutions provide paralegal education, including community colleges, four year colleges and universities, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a pronounced impact on your prospects for success in your new profession. Since there is a broad range in the quality of programs, choose wisely. Afford yourself the greatest possible chance to be successful in this exciting profession. But regardless of how you choose to receive your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will be able to assess each program and make your final selection. And with the appropriate training you can achieve your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Sheffield Alabama.