How to Enroll in the Right Paralegal 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 career in legal services. Nevertheless, it's important that you find the ideal school so that you will get the extensive training that you require to be successful. As you most likely know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of educational choices are being offered, both at school and online. However with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Some prospective students start by trying to find schools within driving range of their Sheffield residences. Of those options, they search for the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are very important considerations when choosing a college, they are not the only qualifiers you need to take into consideration. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the program need to be taken into account also. Later on in this post we will cover a list of questions that you need to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare each one prior to making your choice. But before we do, let's take a look at what a paralegal does and the educational choices that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals essentially both fill comparable job roles and responsibilities, only with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and belong to a different job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Sheffield AL lawyers with a wide variety of job functions, including maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job duties are relevant to the type of legal firm where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice could help with trial logistics or delivering files to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is normally billed hourly as are the attorney's. And just like lawyers, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and follow a strict standard of professional ethics. As noted, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they work, but a few of their regular activities can involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on relevant laws and cases
- Composing correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping attorneys prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be complicated and very demanding. However, what they are not legally allowed to do is offer legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not limited to administrative or clerical tasks more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys have the ability to manage a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could alone.
Paralegal Education 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 prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The quickest way to launch your career as a legal assistant in Sheffield AL is by obtaining a certificate, which may involve as little as 6 months to accomplish. Most entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which offer a more extensive education and can be earned at many community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are an option also. Once you have acquired either a degree or a certificate, you may want to continue and receive a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help improve your career opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. Some of the highly respected certifying agencies 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 advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two crucial initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Courses
Legal assistant and paralegal online schools have become more available and may be a good alternative for students looking for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be especially appealing to Sheffield AL students who continue to work while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an additional benefit, online programs can often be less costly than on campus options. Even secondary expenditures for such items as study materials or commuting may be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will address in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the training you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the school and program you are considering are accredited by a respected agency, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less structured and conventional environment, then earning your degree or certificate online could be the ideal option for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Programs
Once you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what academic choices are offered, you can start the undertaking of assessing schools. But because there are so many programs accessible at junior and community colleges in the Sheffield AL area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you need to learn what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is particularly true when you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like the majority of potential students, you will start by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other significant factors to think about also, including the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's take a look at several of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are considering so that you can effectively vet each one and make your ultimate choice.
Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you select need to be accredited by a reputable accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it can also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets distance or online learning. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will obtain will be of the highest standard, but it will demonstrate to future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Numerous Sheffield AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited program. Also, financial aid and student loans are often accessible only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the School? Research what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant schools you are considering. This is of particular importance if you are new to the field with no prior work history, since employers will have to rely on the caliber of your education exclusively. Verifying that the school you select is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating services, such as those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also call some Sheffield AL law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask which schools they suggest. Remember that even though a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the School Sponsor Internships? Internship programs offer students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal enterprise while still in school. They can also provide a pathway for students to start developing contacts within the Sheffield AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal schools you are reviewing offer internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance provided? You will probably wish to hit the ground running after graduation, but getting that initial job in a new field can be challenging without assistance. Ask if the paralegal schools you are considering have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good indication that the schools have sizable networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their graduates are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the School Located? Since laws vary from one state to another, it might be a good idea to select a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you plan to practice after graduation. In addition, it will be important to create relationships in the local legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is even more reason to receive your education in the area where you want to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most require an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might wish to initially look at those schools that are within the Sheffield AL region.
How Much is the Total Cost? Paralegal programs can vary in price based on the credential received and the amount of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only cost for your training. Don't forget to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance may be obtainable to help minimize some of the cost, so be sure to consult with the school's financial aid department to find out what is available in Sheffield AL. Naturally if you decide to attend an online program, some of these added expenses, for instance for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Fit your Schedule? Numerous paralegal students continue working while obtaining their training and need flexibility in class scheduling. If you can solely 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 certain that the school you enroll in offers that option. Finally, ask what the process is for making up classes missed due to sickness, work or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Right Sheffield Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Enrolling in the ideal paralegal studies degree school is an important first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have addressed in this post, you have the option of attending classes on-campus or you can attend them online in the comfort and privacy of your Sheffield home. Paralegal education programs are made available in many lengths and formats. Various types of private and public institutions offer paralegal education, including community colleges, four year universities and colleges, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a pronounced impact on your prospects for success in your new career. Considering that there is a wide range in the quality of programs, pick carefully. Afford yourself the best possible chance to be successful in this fascinating profession. But no matter how you choose to acquire your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will have the ability to assess each program and make your ultimate decision. And with the ideal education you can achieve your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Sheffield Alabama.