How to Select the Best Paralegal Degree Program Near Spanish Fort Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Spanish Fort AL and start your journey that will result in a gratifying career in legal services. However, it's essential that you locate the right school so that you will get the extensive training that you need to achieve success. As you probably know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more academic alternatives are being offered, both at school and online. However with numerous options to choose from, where does one start? Some prospective students start by looking for schools within driving distance of their Spanish Fort residences. Of those choices, they search for the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are important considerations when picking a college, they are not the only qualifiers you need to consider. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the school must be taken into account too. Later on in this article we will review a list of questions that you must ask potential paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare each one before making your selection. But first, let's take a look at what a paralegal does and the educational alternatives that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants essentially both hold comparable job roles and responsibilities, only with different titles. However, 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 assist Spanish Fort AL attorneys with a wide range of job functions, such as legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job duties are relevant to the type of practice where they are employed. 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 comply with a strict code of professional ethics. As noted, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they work, but a few of their everyday activities can include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching pertinent cases and laws
- Preparing correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping attorneys get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be involved and quite demanding. However, what they are not legally permitted to do is provide legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not limited to clerical or administrative duties more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the main support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers have the ability to handle a much larger number of clients or cases than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the educational requirements and job prospects will be the same. The fastest way to start your career as a paralegal in Spanish Fort AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can involve as little as 6 months to complete. A large number of entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which offer a more comprehensive education and can be obtained at many community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are available as well. Once you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you might choose to continue and earn a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help increase your employment opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. Some of the highly respected 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 certificate or degree from an accredited school (we will cover the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 important first steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Certificates and Degrees
Online paralegal or legal assistant programs have become more popular and can be a good alternative for students looking for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be especially attractive to Spanish Fort AL students who continue to work while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an additional advantage, online programs can in some cases be less costly than more traditional options. Even supplementary expenditures for such things as commuting or study materials can be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will address in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the training you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the program and school you are reviewing are accredited by a highly regarded agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less structured and conventional setting, then obtaining your degree or certificate online may be the ideal option for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Degree or Certificate Programs
Once you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what training options are available, you can start the undertaking of evaluating schools. But considering that there are numerous programs accessible at community and junior colleges in the Spanish Fort AL area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you need to learn what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is particularly true when you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like most prospective students, you will start by searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other critical issues to consider also, for instance 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 thoroughly vet each one and make your ultimate selection.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you enroll in need to be accredited by a highly regarded accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it might also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online training. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will receive will be of the highest standard, but it will show potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Numerous Spanish Fort AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited school. Finally, financial aid and student loans are usually offered only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the School? Research what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal schools you are contemplating. This is of specific importance if you are entering the profession with no prior work history, since employers will have to rely on the caliber of your training exclusively. Verifying that the program you select is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating services, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also call a few Spanish Fort AL law practices that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask what schools they suggest. Remember that even if a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an excellent reputation.
Does the Program Sponsor Internships? Internship programs offer students an opportunity to experience working in a law firm or other legal establishment while remaining in school. They can also present a pathway for students to begin developing contacts within the Spanish Fort AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal schools you are evaluating offer internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help offered? You will probably wish to hit the ground running after graduation, but finding that initial job in a new field can be difficult without support. Ask if the paralegal schools you are interviewing have job placement programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good indication that the schools have substantial networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their students are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the School's Location? Because laws differ from state to state, it might be advantageous to select a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you plan to work after graduating. Also, it will be necessary to cultivate relationships in the neighboring legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is even more reason to obtain your education in the community where you wish to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many require an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might wish to first investigate those colleges that are within the Spanish Fort AL region.
What is the Total Expense? Paralegal schools can differ in cost depending on the credential received and the length of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only expense for your education. Don't forget to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid may be available to help minimize part of the expense, so make sure to talk to the school's financial aid office to see what is offered in Spanish Fort AL. Needless to say that if you opt to attend an online program, a portion these additional expenses, such as for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Match your Schedule? Numerous paralegal students keep working while receiving their training and need flexibility in class scheduling. If you can just attend night or weekend classes near Spanish Fort AL, make sure classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, confirm that the school you enroll in makes available that option. Finally, inquire what the protocol is for making-up classes missed as a result of sickness, work or family emergencies.
Choose the Right Spanish Fort Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Selecting the right paralegal studies certificate school is a crucial first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have covered in this article, you have the option of attending classes at school or you can attend them online in the comfort and privacy of your Spanish Fort residence. Paralegal training programs are made available in various formats and lengths. Several kinds of public and private institutions provide paralegal education, including community colleges, four-year universities and colleges, 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 profession. Considering that there is a broad range in the quality of programs, choose wisely. Give yourself the best possible chance to be successful in this rewarding profession. But regardless of how you elect to acquire your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have provided you will have the ability to evaluate each program and make your final decision. And with the ideal education you can accomplish your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Spanish Fort Alabama.