How to Find the Right Paralegal Degree Program Near Southside Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Southside AL and start your journey that will result in a gratifying career in legal services. However, it's crucial that you locate the best school so that you will receive the extensive training that you need to be successful. As you probably know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more academic alternatives are becoming available, both on campus and online. However with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one start? A number of potential students start by searching for schools within traveling range of their Southside residences. Of those choices, they look for the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are important considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only qualifiers you ought to take into consideration. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the school should be taken into consideration as well. Later in this article we will review a list of concerns that you must ask potential paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare each one before making your decision. But before we do, let's have a look at exactly 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 roles 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 separate job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Southside AL attorneys with a wide range of job functions, including legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job duties are based upon the type of practice where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice may assist with the logistics of a trial or delivering files to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is usually billed hourly as are the lawyer'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 practices where they are employed, but some of their regular activities can include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching applicable cases and laws
- Drafting correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting lawyers get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal files, documents and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be involved 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 proceeding. But paralegals are not restricted to clerical or administrative tasks more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the right hand support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys have the ability to handle a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The fastest means to launch your career as a legal assistant in Southside AL is by earning a certificate, which may take just 6 months to accomplish. A large number of entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which provide a more comprehensive education and may be earned at numerous community colleges in two years. For an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are an option as well. When you have acquired either a certificate or degree, you may choose to proceed and obtain a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help increase your job opportunities, but help substantiate 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 school (we will address the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 important initial steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Programs
Online paralegal or legal assistant programs have become more prevalent and can be an excellent alternative for students searching for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be particularly appealing to Southside AL students who keep working while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an added benefit, online classes can sometimes be less costly than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenses for such items as commuting or study materials may be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all online schools are accredited, which we will cover in more detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the education you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the school and program you are considering are accredited by a reputable organization, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less supervised and conventional 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 understanding regarding what paralegals do and what educational options are available, you can start the process of evaluating schools. But because there are numerous programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Southside AL area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you need to know what questions to ask in order to evaluate 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 start by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other critical issues to think about as well, for instance accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at a few of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are researching so that you can effectively vet each one and make your ultimate choice.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you pick need to be accredited by a reputable accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it can also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets online or distance education. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will get will be of the highest quality, but it will demonstrate to future employers that you are a qualified professional also. Many Southside AL law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited program. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are typically obtainable only for accredited schools.
What's the School's Reputation? Find out what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal programs you are contemplating. This is of particular importance if you are new to the profession with no previous experience, since employers will have to make a decision based on the caliber of your training exclusively. Checking that the school you pick is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating reports, such as those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also call some Southside AL law practices that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask which schools they recommend. Remember that even when a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an excellent reputation.
Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs offer students a chance to experience working in a law practice or other legal enterprise while still in school. They can also present an avenue for students to start developing 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 have the most interest in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help offered? You will most likely wish to secure employment quickly after graduation, but finding that initial job in a new field can be challenging without help. Ask 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 large networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their graduates are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the School Located? Because laws differ from one state to another, it might be beneficial to choose a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you plan to work after graduation. In addition, it will be important to develop relationships in the local legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is even more justification to receive your education in the area where you desire 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 may want to first consider those schools that are within the Southside AL area.
What is the Total Expense? Paralegal programs can differ in price depending on the credential obtained and the length of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your training. Remember to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid might be obtainable to help offset some of the expense, so be sure to contact the school's financial aid department to see what is offered in Southside AL. Needless to say that if you choose to attend an online program, some of these supplementary costs, for instance for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? A number of paralegal students keep working while receiving their training and need flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only 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 certain that the program you select offers that option. Last, ask what the process is for making up classes missed as a result of sickness, work or family obligations.
Choose the Right Southside Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Choosing the right paralegal studies certificate program is an essential first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have discussed in this article, you have the choice of attending classes on campus or you can attend them online in the comfort and privacy of your Southside home. Paralegal academic programs are offered in many lengths and formats. Various kinds of public and private institutions make available paralegal training, including junior and community colleges, four year colleges and universities, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a pronounced influence on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Considering that there is a wide range in the quality of schools, pick carefully. Give yourself the greatest possible opportunity to succeed in this rewarding profession. But regardless of how you choose to obtain your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have provided you will have the ability to assess each program and make your final selection. And with the appropriate education you can accomplish your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Southside Alabama.