How to Find the Best Paralegal Studies School Near Southside Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Southside AL and begin your journey that will result in a fulfilling career in legal services. However, it's essential that you find the ideal school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you need to achieve success. As you probably understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more educational choices are becoming available, both on campus and online. However with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Some potential students start by trying to find schools within commuting range of their Southside homes. Of those alternatives, they search for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are very important considerations when selecting a college, they are not the only qualifiers you should consider. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the program must be considered also. Later in this post we will review a list of questions that you must ask potential paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare every one before making your decision. But first, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic options that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants basically both hold the same job positions and functions, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and are part of a separate job classification. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Southside AL attorneys with a wide range of job duties, such as legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific 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 assist with trial logistics or transporting documents to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is typically billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And just like lawyers, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and comply with a strict standard of professional ethics. As mentioned, their duties can be diverse in support of the firms where they are employed, but some of their daily activities can include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching related laws and cases
- Preparing correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting attorneys prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal documents, files and other records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be complex and very demanding. On the other hand, what they are not legally allowed to do is provide legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not confined to administrative or clerical duties more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers are able to handle a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could alone.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the educational prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The quickest way to start your career as a legal assistant in Southside AL is by earning a certificate, which can require as little as 6 months to complete. Most entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more extensive education and may be obtained at many community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are an option also. When you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you may want to proceed and receive a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help boost your employment opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. A few of the highly respected 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 important first steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Certificates and Degrees
Online legal assistant or paralegal schools have become more popular and can be a good alternative for students searching for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online programs can be particularly appealing to Southside AL students who keep working while earning a degree. As an added advantage, online schools can often be less expensive than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenditures for such things as study materials or commuting may be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will cover in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the training you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the program and school you are considering are accredited by a reputable organization, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less structured and formal environment, then obtaining your certificate or degree online may be the right choice for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Degree or Certificate Programs
Now that you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what academic options are offered, you can start the undertaking of evaluating schools. But considering that there are numerous programs available at community and junior colleges in the Southside AL area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you need to learn what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is especially true when you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like most prospective students, you will begin by searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other important aspects to think about as well, such as the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's go over some of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are researching so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your final choice.
Is the Paralegal School and Program 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 school, it can also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets distance or online learning. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will get will be of the highest standard, but it will demonstrate to future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Numerous Southside AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited program. Finally, financial aid and student loans are often available only for accredited programs.
What's the Program's Reputation? Investigate what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant programs you are looking at. This is of specific importance if you are entering the profession with no previous work history, since employers will have to make a decision based on the quality of your training exclusively. Checking that the school you select is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating reports, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call some Southside AL law offices that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask which schools they suggest. Remember that even though a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the School Provide Internships? Internship programs provide students a chance to experience working in a law firm or other legal operation while remaining in school. They can also provide a pathway for students to begin establishing contacts within the Southside AL legal field. Ask if the paralegal schools you are considering provide internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance offered? You will probably want to secure employment quickly after graduation, but finding that first job in a new field can be challenging without assistance. Find out if the paralegal programs you are assessing have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good indication that the schools have sizable networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their students are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the Campus Located? Because laws differ from one state to another, it may be beneficial to select a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you want to practice after graduation. Also, it will be valuable to build relationships in the area legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is all the more justification to acquire your education in the area where you want to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many charge a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might wish to first investigate those schools that are within the Southside AL region.
How Much is the Entire Expense? Paralegal schools can differ in cost based on the credential received and the amount of training furnished. Having said that, 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 aid may be accessible to help minimize part of the cost, so make sure to contact the school's financial aid office to find out what is offered in Southside AL. Of course if you decide to attend an online school, some of these supplementary expenses, such as for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Fit your Schedule? Many legal students continue working while obtaining their training and require flexibility to schedule classes. If you can just attend weekend or evening classes near Southside AL, make certain classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, confirm that the program you enroll in offers that option. Last, ask what the process is for making-up missed classes as a result of sickness, work or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Best Southside Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Selecting the ideal paralegal studies training school is an essential first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have covered in this post, you have the choice of attending classes on campus or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Southside residence. Paralegal education programs are offered in many formats and lengths. Various types of public and private institutions provide paralegal training, including junior and community colleges, four year colleges and universities, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a profound influence on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Considering that there is a wide range in the quality of schools, choose carefully. Afford yourself the best possible opportunity to succeed in this exciting profession. But irrespective of how you elect to receive your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have provided you will have the ability to evaluate each school and make your final decision. And with the ideal training you can achieve your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Southside Alabama.