How to Select the Best Paralegal Degree 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 rewarding profession in legal services. However, it's important that you locate the ideal school so that you will receive the extensive training that you require to succeed. As you probably understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more educational choices are becoming available, both on campus and online. But with numerous options to choose from, where does one start? A number of prospective students start by looking for schools within driving range of their Southside homes. Of those alternatives, they look for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are important considerations when choosing a school, they are not the only factors you need to consider. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the program ought to be taken into account as well. Later in this article we will cover a list of questions that you need to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare each one prior to making your choice. But first, 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.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants essentially both fill comparable job positions and responsibilities, just with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and belong to a separate job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Southside AL attorneys with a wide range of job duties, including maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job functions are based upon the type of legal firm where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm may help with trial logistics or delivering files to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is typically billed hourly as are the attorney's. And the same as attorneys, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and adhere to a strict code of professional ethics. As noted, their duties can be varied in support of the firms where they are employed, but a few of their routine activities can involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching related laws and cases
- Preparing correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting 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 job of a paralegal can be involved and rather challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally allowed to do is provide legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not restricted to administrative or clerical duties more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers are able to handle a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could on their own.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the academic requirements and job prospects will be the same. The fastest means to start your career as a paralegal in Southside AL is by earning a certificate, which may require as little as six months to complete. Most entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more expansive education and can be acquired at numerous community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are available as well. After you have earned either a degree or a certificate, you might want to proceed and earn a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help maximize your career opportunities, but help establish you as a professional as well. 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 certificate or degree from an accredited program (we will discuss the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 essential first steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Training
Paralegal and legal assistant online schools have become more prevalent and may be a good option for those looking for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online schools can be particularly attractive to Southside AL students who continue to work while obtaining a degree. As an added benefit, online classes can in some cases be less expensive than on campus options. Even secondary expenditures for such things as commuting or study materials can be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will cover in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the education 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 respected agency, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to attend classes in a less structured and formal environment, then earning your degree or certificate online may be the ideal choice for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Studies Programs
Now that you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what educational choices are offered, you can begin the undertaking of evaluating schools. But since there are so many programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Southside AL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you must find out what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is especially true if you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like most potential students, you will begin by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other significant factors to research as well, such as the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's go over a few of the questions you should be asking the programs you are investigating so that you can effectively vet each one and make your ultimate selection.
Is the Paralegal School and Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you enroll in should be accredited by a reputable accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it can also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets online or distance education. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will get will be of the highest standard, but it will establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Numerous Southside AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited program. Finally, financial aid and student loans are typically accessible only for accredited schools.
What's the Program's Reputation? Learn what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal programs you are considering. This is of specific importance if you are entering the field with no prior work history, since employers will need to rely on the quality of your education exclusively. Confirming that the program you choose is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating services, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also call several Southside AL law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask which schools they recommend. Remember that even if a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the Program Offer Internships? Internship programs provide students an opportunity to experience working in a law firm or other legal establishment while attending school. They can also present a means for students to begin developing contacts within the Southside AL legal field. Ask if the paralegal schools you are reviewing provide internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance provided? You will undoubtedly want to hit the ground running after graduating, but getting that first job in a new field can be challenging without support. Find out if the paralegal programs you are interviewing have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have sizable networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their students are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the Campus Located? Since laws differ from state to state, it may be advantageous to select a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you want to work after graduating. In addition, it will be valuable to cultivate relationships in the local legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is all the more justification to acquire your education in the community where you desire to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most charge an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may want to initially investigate those schools that are within the Southside AL region.
What is the Complete Cost? Paralegal programs can differ in price based on the credential received and the amount of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only cost for your education. Don't forget to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance may be available to help minimize some of the expense, so be sure to contact the school's financial aid department to find out what is offered in Southside AL. Of course if you choose to attend an online school, a portion these additional expenses, for instance for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Accommodate your Schedule? A number of paralegal students keep working while receiving their training and require flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend weekend or evening classes near Southside AL, make sure 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. Last, ask what the process is for making up missed classes as a result of sickness, work or family obligations.
Enroll in the Right Southside Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Selecting the right paralegal studies training 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 participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Southside home. Paralegal education programs are made available in numerous lengths and formats. Different types of private and public institutions make available paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four-year colleges and universities, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal school 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 greatest possible chance to succeed in this exciting profession. But regardless of how you choose to acquire your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have provided you will have the ability to review each school and make your final selection. And with the right education you can achieve your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Southside Alabama.