How to Choose the Best Paralegal Studies Course Near Southside Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Southside AL and begin your journey that will result in a rewarding profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's crucial that you find the best school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you need to achieve success. As you probably know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more academic alternatives are being offered, both on campus and online. However with numerous options to choose from, where does one start? Some prospective students begin by looking for schools within commuting range of their Southside homes. Of those alternatives, they try to find the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are prime considerations when selecting a college, they are not the only factors you must consider. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the school ought to be considered also. Later on in this article we will review a list of questions that you ought to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare every one prior to making your selection. But first, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the educational choices that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants basically both fill comparable job positions and responsibilities, only with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and are part of a different job classification. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Southside AL attorneys with a wide range of job functions, such as legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job duties are relevant to the type of legal firm where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm might help with the logistics of a trial or transporting files to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is normally billed by the hour as are the lawyer's. And the same as attorneys, they must carry out their duties with a high degree of professionalism and abide by a strict standard of professional ethics. As stated, their responsibilities can be diverse in support of the firms where they are employed, but a few of their daily activities might involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on pertinent cases and laws
- Preparing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting attorneys get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal files, documents and other records
With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be complicated and quite challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally permitted to do is give legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not restricted to clerical or administrative tasks more applicable 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 ground work and preparation, lawyers are able to manage a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could on their own.
Paralegal Certificates and Degrees and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the academic prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The quickest way to start your career as a paralegal in Southside AL is by obtaining a certificate, which may take as little as 6 months to complete. A large number of entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which provide a more extensive education and can be obtained at many community colleges in two years. For an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are offered as well. Once you have earned either a certificate or degree, you may want to continue and get a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help increase your employment opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. Some of the highly regarded 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 certificate or degree from an accredited school (we will cover the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two important initial steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Schools
Online paralegal or legal assistant programs have become more common and can be an excellent alternative for individuals looking for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be particularly appealing to Southside AL students who keep working while earning a degree. As an added advantage, online programs can in some cases be less costly than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenses for such things as study materials or commuting may be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all online programs are accredited, which we will cover in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the training you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the program and school you are considering are accredited by a respected organization, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less supervised and formal environment, then earning your certificate or degree online may be the right choice for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Since you now you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what academic options are offered, you can start the undertaking of evaluating schools. But because there are so many programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Southside AL area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you must find out what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is particularly true if you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like most prospective 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 issues to research as well, including accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's go over several of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are researching so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your final decision.
Is the Paralegal Training Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you enroll in need to be accredited by a reputable organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it can also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets online or distance training. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will get will be of the highest standard, but it will show future employers that you are a qualified professional also. Many Southside AL law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited program. Finally, financial aid and student loans are often accessible only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Learn what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal schools you are considering. This is of specific importance if you are new to the field with no prior work history, since employers will have to make a decision based on the quality of your education exclusively. Checking that the school you choose is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating reports, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact some Southside AL law practices that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask which schools they recommend. Bear in mind that even when a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an excellent reputation.
Does the Program Sponsor Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law practice or other legal establishment while attending school. They can also provide a pathway for students to start establishing contacts within the Southside AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal programs you are assessing provide internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help offered? You will undoubtedly want to hit the ground running after graduation, but getting that initial job in a new profession can be difficult without assistance. 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 an excellent sign that the schools have sizable networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their students are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the Campus Located? Since laws vary among states, it might be beneficial to select a paralegal school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you plan to work after graduating. In addition, it will be important to establish relationships in the neighboring legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is even more justification to acquire your education in the community where you choose to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many require a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might wish to initially consider those colleges that are within the Southside AL region.
How Much is the Entire Cost? Paralegal programs can vary in cost depending on the credential obtained and the amount of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your education. Remember to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial assistance may be accessible to help minimize part of the cost, so make sure to check with the school's financial aid department to see what is available in Southside AL. Of course if you choose to attend an online school, a portion these additional costs, for instance for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Fit your Schedule? A number of paralegal students keep working while receiving their training and require flexibility in class scheduling. If you can just attend night or weekend classes near Southside AL, verify classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make sure that the program you select offers that option. Last, inquire what the procedure is for making-up missed classes due to work, illness or family obligations.
Choose the Best Southside Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Selecting the best paralegal certificate program is a vital first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have discussed in this post, you have the choice of attending classes at school or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Southside home. Paralegal academic programs are offered in various lengths and formats. Several types of public and private institutions provide paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four year colleges and universities, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a profound influence on your prospects for success in your new career. Considering that there is a broad range in the quality of schools, pick wisely. Give yourself the greatest possible opportunity to succeed in this fascinating profession. But regardless of how you elect to obtain your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have presented you will be able to evaluate each program and make your ultimate decision. And with the right education you can accomplish your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Southside Alabama.