How to Select the Best Paralegal Studies Training 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 gratifying profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's essential that you find the best school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you require 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 educational choices are becoming available, both at school and online. But with so many options to choose from, where does one start? Many prospective students begin by trying to find schools within traveling distance of their Sheffield homes. Of those choices, they search for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are prime considerations when choosing a college, they are not the only factors you ought to take into consideration. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the program must be taken into consideration also. Later on in this article we will cover a list of questions that you need to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare each one prior to making your selection. But before we do, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic options that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals for the most part both fill comparable job positions and functions, only with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and belong to a separate job classification. Both legal assistants and paralegals help Sheffield AL attorneys with a wide variety of job functions, including legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job duties are relevant to the type of legal firm where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice could assist with the logistics of a trial or delivering files to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is usually billed hourly 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 mentioned, their responsibilities can be varied in support of the practices where they are employed, but a few of their day-to-day tasks can include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching pertinent laws and cases
- Composing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping lawyers prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be involved and quite challenging. However, what they are not legally permitted to do is offer legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not limited to clerical or administrative functions more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys are able to manage 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 possibly having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the educational requirements and opportunities will be the same. The quickest way to begin your career as a paralegal in Sheffield AL is by obtaining a certificate, which may involve as little as 6 months to complete. A large number of entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more extensive education and can be acquired at many community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are an option as well. After you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you might choose to proceed and obtain a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help increase your career opportunities, but help establish you as a professional as well. Some 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 advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two crucial first steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Certificates and Degrees
Online legal assistant or paralegal schools have become more popular and may be a good alternative for individuals searching for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online schools can be especially attractive to Sheffield AL students who keep working while earning a certificate or degree. As an added benefit, online schools can often be less costly than on campus options. Even secondary expenses for such things as commuting or study materials can be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will cover in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the training you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the school and program you are thinking about are accredited by a reputable organization, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to attend classes in a less supervised and formal environment, then obtaining your degree or certificate online may be the ideal choice for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Studies Programs
Since you now you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what academic options are offered, you can start the undertaking of evaluating schools. But since there are so many programs offered at community and junior colleges in the Sheffield AL area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you need to learn what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is especially true when you include 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 commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other significant aspects to research also, for instance 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 effectively vet each one and make your ultimate choice.
Is the Paralegal Training Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you pick need to be accredited by a respected 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 focuses on distance or online education. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will get will be of the highest standard, but it will show future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. A number of Sheffield AL law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited school. Also, financial aid and student loans are often available only for accredited schools.
What's the Program's Reputation? Learn what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal schools you are looking at. This is of special importance if you are new to the profession with no prior work history, since employers will need to rely on the quality of your education exclusively. Verifying that the school you select is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating services, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call a few Sheffield AL law practices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask what schools they recommend. Bear in mind that even though a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs provide students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal operation while attending school. They can also provide a means for students to start developing contacts within the Sheffield AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal schools you are reviewing provide internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help available? You will undoubtedly want to secure employment quickly after graduation, but getting that first job in a new field can be difficult without help. Find out if the paralegal schools you are reviewing have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good indication that the schools have large networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their graduates are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the Campus Located? Considering that laws differ among states, it may be a good idea to select a paralegal school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you plan to practice after graduation. Also, it will be important to create relationships in the neighboring legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is even more justification to acquire your education in the area where you desire to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most require a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might need to initially look at those colleges that are within the Sheffield AL region.
How Much is the Complete Cost? Paralegal programs can differ in cost depending on the credential obtained and the amount of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your training. Remember to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial assistance may be accessible to help reduce part of the cost, so don't forget to check with the school's financial aid office to find out what is available in Sheffield AL. Of course if you choose to attend an online school, a portion these additional costs, for instance for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Match your Schedule? A number of legal students keep working while getting their training and need flexibility to schedule classes. If you can solely attend weekend or evening classes near Sheffield AL, make certain classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, confirm that the school you select offers that option. Last, inquire what the procedure is for making up missed classes as a result of sickness, work or family obligations.
Enroll in the Best Sheffield Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Choosing the right paralegal studies certificate program is a vital first step toward your success in the rewarding 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 privacy and comfort of your Sheffield residence. Paralegal academic programs are offered in numerous lengths and formats. Several kinds of private and public institutions offer paralegal education, including junior and community colleges, four year colleges and universities, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a pronounced influence on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Considering that there is a broad range in the quality of programs, pick carefully. Afford yourself the greatest possible opportunity to succeed in this exciting profession. But irrespective of how you choose to receive your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have presented you will have the ability to examine each program and make your ultimate decision. And with the right education you can realize your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Sheffield Alabama.