How to Enroll in the Right Paralegal Studies Degree Program Near Sheffield Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Sheffield AL and start your journey that will result in a rewarding profession in legal services. However, it's essential that you locate the ideal school so that you will receive the extensive training that you need to achieve success. As you most likely understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more academic alternatives are being offered, both on campus and online. However with so many options to choose from, where does one start? A number of potential students begin by searching for schools within driving distance of their Sheffield residences. Of those alternatives, they search for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are very important considerations when picking a college, they are not the only factors you ought to take into consideration. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the program must be taken into account also. Later on in this article we will review a list of questions that you need to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare each one prior to making your decision. But first, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the educational options that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals essentially both hold the same job positions and responsibilities, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and belong to a different job classification. Both legal assistants and paralegals help Sheffield AL attorneys with a diverse array of job functions, including maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job functions are relevant to the type of practice where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice might help with trial logistics or transporting files to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is normally billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And just like attorneys, they must carry out their duties with a high degree of professionalism and abide by a strict code of professional ethics. As noted, their duties can be varied in support of the firms where they work, but a few of their day-to-day tasks may involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on relevant laws and cases
- Drafting correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping lawyers prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal files, documents and other records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be complicated and quite demanding. On the other hand, what they are not legally permitted to do is give legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not limited to clerical or administrative tasks more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the main support systems for lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers are able to handle a much larger number of clients or cases than they could on their own.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps 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 start your career as a legal assistant in Sheffield AL is by obtaining a certificate, which may require as little as 6 months to complete. A large number of entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which offer a more comprehensive education and may be acquired at many community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are offered as well. After you have acquired either a degree or a certificate, you might want to proceed and earn a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification may 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 benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two important first steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Programs
Online legal assistant or paralegal schools have become more common and can be a good option for individuals looking for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online programs can be especially appealing to Sheffield AL students who keep working while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an additional advantage, online schools can in some cases be less costly than on campus options. Even supplementary expenditures for such items as commuting or study materials may be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will address in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the education you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the program and school you are reviewing are accredited by a respected organization, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less structured and conventional setting, then obtaining your degree or certificate online may be the right choice for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Once you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what educational options are available, you can begin the undertaking of assessing schools. But since there are so many programs accessible at community and junior colleges in the Sheffield AL area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you must learn what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is particularly true when you include 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 covered, there are other crucial factors to consider also, for instance accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at a few of the questions you should 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 program and school that you select need to be accredited by a respected accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it might also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets distance or online education. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will receive will be of the highest standard, but it will show future employers that you are a qualified professional also. A number of Sheffield AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited school. Finally, financial aid and student loans are typically offered only for accredited schools.
What's the Program's Reputation? Research what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant programs you are contemplating. This is of particular importance if you are new to the field with no prior work history, since employers will need to rely on the quality of your education exclusively. Checking that the school you select is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating reports, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call some Sheffield AL law offices that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask what schools they recommend. Keep in mind that even though a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an excellent reputation.
Does the Program Offer Internships? Internship programs provide students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal operation while remaining in school. They can also provide an avenue for students to begin establishing contacts within the Sheffield AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal schools you are reviewing offer internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance provided? You will probably wish to hit the ground running after graduation, but getting that first job in a new profession can be challenging without support. Find out if the paralegal schools you are assessing 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 good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their students are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the School's Location? Because laws vary among states, it might be a good idea to choose a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you plan to work after graduating. Also, it will be important to establish relationships in the area legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is all the more justification to receive your education in the area where you choose to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many charge an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may want to first consider those schools that are within the Sheffield AL region.
How Much is the Entire Cost? Paralegal programs can vary in price based on the credential received and the amount of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only expense for your education. Remember to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid may be obtainable to help reduce part of the expense, so don't forget to consult with the school's financial aid office to see what is offered in Sheffield AL. Naturally if you decide to attend an online program, a portion these additional costs, such as for commuting, may be reduced 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 only 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 enroll in makes available that option. Last, inquire what the procedure is for making-up classes missed because of sickness, work or family obligations.
Enroll in the Right Sheffield Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Selecting the ideal paralegal studies certificate program is a vital first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have covered in this article, 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 training programs are made available in numerous formats and lengths. Different types of private and public institutions make available paralegal training, including junior and community colleges, four-year universities and colleges, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a pronounced impact on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Given that there is a broad range in the quality of programs, pick carefully. Afford yourself the best possible chance to succeed in this exciting profession. But regardless of how you elect to receive your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will have the ability to examine each school and make your ultimate decision. And with the ideal education you can realize your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Sheffield Alabama.