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How to Select the Right Paralegal Studies School Near Spanish Fort Alabama

Spanish Fort Alabama female paralegal speaking with client on phoneCongratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Spanish Fort AL and start your journey that will result in a fulfilling career in legal services. Nevertheless, it's important that you find the ideal school so that you will get the extensive 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 choices are being offered, both on campus and online. But with so many options to choose from, where does one begin? Many prospective students begin by looking for schools within traveling distance of their Spanish Fort homes. Of those choices, they try to find the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are important considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only qualifiers you should take into consideration. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the program need to be taken into account too. Later in this post we will cover a list of concerns that you need to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare every one before making your choice. But first, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the instructional alternatives that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.

Legal Assistants and Paralegals

Spanish Fort Alabama legal library

Legal assistants and paralegals essentially both fill comparable job roles and functions, only with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and are part of a different job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Spanish Fort AL lawyers with a wide range of job duties, such as maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job duties are based upon the type of legal firm where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm may help with the logistics of a trial or delivering files to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is usually billed by the hour as are the lawyer's. And just like attorneys, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and adhere to a strict standard of professional ethics. As noted, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they are employed, but a few of their everyday activities can include:

  • Investigating and fact checking cases
  • Researching applicable laws and cases
  • Drafting correspondence and legal documents
  • Submitting legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
  • Assisting lawyers 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 complicated and rather demanding. However, what they are not legally authorized to do is offer legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not restricted to administrative or clerical functions more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the main support systems for attorneys. And since they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys are able to take on a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could on their own.

Paralegal Training and Certification

Spanish Fort Alabama male legal assistant speaking on cellphone taking notes

As we discussed earlier, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the academic prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The fastest means to launch your career as a legal assistant in Spanish Fort AL is by earning a certificate, which may require as little as six months to complete. Most entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which provide a more extensive 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 also. After you have acquired either a certificate or degree, you might want to proceed and get a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help increase your career opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. Some 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 cover the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two crucial first steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.

Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Classes

Spanish Fort Alabama female student enrolled in online paralegal classesLegal assistant and paralegal online programs have become more prevalent and may be an excellent alternative for those looking for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online programs can be particularly attractive to Spanish Fort AL students who continue to work while obtaining a degree. As an additional advantage, online schools can often be less expensive than on campus options. Even secondary expenses for such things as study materials or commuting may be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will address in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee 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 respected agency, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less structured and formal setting, then obtaining your certificate or degree online may be the ideal option for you.

What to Ask Paralegal Certificate or Degree Programs

Since you now you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what academic options are available, you can start the process of assessing schools. But since there are numerous programs accessible at junior and community colleges in the Spanish Fort AL area, as well as vocational and trade 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 degree and certificate programs also. If you are like the majority of prospective students, you will begin by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other crucial issues to research also, such as 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 effectively vet each one and make your ultimate choice.

Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you select need to be accredited by a reputable organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it can also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets online or distance training. 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. Numerous Spanish Fort AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited program. Finally, financial assistance 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 prior experience, since employers will have to make a decision based on the quality of your education exclusively. Checking that the program you select is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating reports, 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 call a few Spanish Fort AL law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask which schools they suggest. Remember that even if a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an exceptional reputation.

Does the School Provide Internships? Internship programs give students an opportunity to experience working in a law firm or other legal establishment while attending school. They can also present a pathway for students to begin creating contacts within the Spanish Fort AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal programs you are evaluating provide internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering after graduation.

Is Job Placement Help provided? You will most likely want to hit the ground running after graduation, but getting that initial job in a new field can be difficult without help. Ask if the paralegal programs you are assessing have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have substantial networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their graduates are well regarded and in demand.

Where is the Campus Located? Considering that laws vary from state to state, it might be a good idea to enroll in a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you want to practice after graduation. In addition, it will be necessary to cultivate relationships in the local legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is even more justification to receive your education in the area where you want to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many require an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might wish to initially consider those colleges that are within the Spanish Fort AL region.

What is the Complete Cost? Paralegal schools can vary in cost depending on the credential earned and the amount of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your education. Remember to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid may be available to help offset part of the cost, so don't forget to consult with the school's financial aid office to find out what is available in Spanish Fort AL. Needless to say that if you decide to attend an online school, some of these supplementary costs, such as for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.

Do the Class Times Fit your Schedule? Many paralegal students keep working while receiving their training and need flexibility in class scheduling. If you can only attend night or weekend classes near Spanish Fort 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 choose provides that option. Last, inquire what the procedure is for making-up missed classes as a result of work, illness or family obligations.

Find Out More About Spanish Fort Paralegal Studies

Choose the Best Spanish Fort Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program

Selecting the ideal paralegal certificate program is a crucial first step toward your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have discussed in this article, you have the option of attending classes on campus or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Spanish Fort residence. Paralegal academic programs are made available in various formats and lengths. Various types of private and public institutions provide paralegal training, including community colleges, four-year universities and colleges, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a pronounced impact on your prospects for success in your new career. Considering that there is a wide range in the quality of schools, pick wisely. Afford yourself the best possible chance to succeed in this rewarding profession. But regardless of how you choose to obtain your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have presented you will have the ability to examine each school and make your final decision. And with the appropriate education you can accomplish your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Spanish Fort Alabama.


 

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