How to Pick the Right Paralegal Training Program Near Southside Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Southside AL and begin your journey that will lead to a fulfilling profession in legal services. However, it's essential that you find the ideal school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you require to be successful. As you probably understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more academic alternatives are becoming available, both at school and online. However with numerous options to choose from, where does one begin? A number of prospective students start by trying to find schools within driving distance of their Southside homes. Of those alternatives, they try to find the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are necessary considerations when picking a school, they are not the only factors you should take into consideration. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the program should be considered as well. Later on in this post we will review a list of questions that you must ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare every one prior to making your decision. But before we do, let's take a look at what a paralegal does and the educational options that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals essentially both fill comparable job positions and functions, only with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and belong to a different job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Southside AL lawyers with a wide variety of job duties, including 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 may help with the logistics of a trial or transporting documents to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is typically billed hourly as are the attorney's. And just like lawyers, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and adhere to a strict standard of professional ethics. As stated, their responsibilities can be diverse in support of the firms where they work, but some of their everyday activities may include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on relevant laws and cases
- Preparing correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping lawyers prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal documents, files and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be complicated and quite challenging. On the other hand, 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 administrative or clerical functions more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the main support systems for attorneys. And since they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys have the ability to take on a much larger number of cases or clients than they could alone.
Paralegal Certificates and Degrees and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps 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 legal assistant in Southside AL is by obtaining a certificate, which may require as little as six months to accomplish. Many entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which provide a more expansive education and may be acquired at numerous community colleges in 2 years. For an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are offered as well. After you have earned either a certificate or degree, you might want to proceed and obtain a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help boost your employment opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. A few of the highly regarded 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 address the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining 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 Schools
Online legal assistant or paralegal schools have become more common and can be a good option for those searching for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be particularly appealing to Southside AL students who continue to work while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an added advantage, online programs can sometimes be less expensive than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenditures for such things as study materials or commuting can be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will address in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the education you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the school and program you are considering are accredited by a highly regarded agency, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to attend classes in a less supervised and formal setting, then earning your certificate or degree online might be the ideal choice for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Certificate or Degree Programs
Now that you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what educational options are available, you can start the process of assessing schools. But considering that there are so many programs available at junior and community colleges in the Southside AL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you need to learn what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is particularly true if you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. If you are like most prospective students, you will begin by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other critical aspects to consider as well, including accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at some of the questions you should be asking the schools you are researching so that you can properly vet each one and make your ultimate decision.
Is the Paralegal School and Program Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you select need to be accredited by a highly regarded organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it may also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance education. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will obtain will be of the highest standard, but it will demonstrate to potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. Many Southside AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited program. Finally, financial aid and student loans are usually accessible only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the School? Learn what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant schools you are considering. This is of special importance if you are entering the field with no previous experience, since employers will need to rely on the caliber of your training exclusively. Confirming that the school you choose is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating services, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact a few Southside AL law offices that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask which schools they recommend. Keep in mind that even though a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs offer students a chance to experience working in a law firm or other legal enterprise while remaining in school. They can also present a means for students to begin developing contacts within the Southside AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal schools you are evaluating provide internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help provided? You will most likely wish to secure employment quickly after graduating, but getting that initial job in a new profession can be challenging without assistance. Ask if the paralegal programs you are reviewing have job placement programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good sign that the schools have large networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their graduates are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the Campus Located? Because laws differ among states, it might be beneficial to enroll in a paralegal school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you want to practice after graduation. In addition, it will be important to build relationships in the area legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is even more justification to obtain your education in the community where you want to work. 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 might wish to initially look at those schools that are within the Southside AL area.
What is the Complete Cost? Paralegal programs can vary in price based on the credential received and the length of training provided. 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 assistance may be accessible to help minimize some of the cost, so don't forget to talk to the school's financial aid department to see what is offered in Southside AL. Naturally if you opt to attend an online school, some of these added expenses, for instance for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Match your Schedule? A number of paralegal students keep working while obtaining their training and require flexibility to schedule classes. If you can just attend night or weekend classes near Southside AL, verify classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make sure that the program you select makes available that option. Finally, find out what the procedure is for making-up missed classes because of work, illness or family emergencies.
Choose the Right Southside Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Selecting the right legal assistant degree program is a crucial first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have discussed in this post, you have the choice of attending classes on campus or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Southside residence. Paralegal academic programs are offered in many formats and lengths. Various types of private and public institutions provide paralegal training, including junior and community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a pronounced impact on your opportunities for success in your new career. Since there is a wide range in the quality of schools, pick wisely. Afford yourself the best possible opportunity to succeed in this exciting profession. But irrespective of how you choose to acquire your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to assess each school and make your ultimate decision. And with the appropriate education you can accomplish your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Southside Alabama.