How to Select the Right Paralegal Program Near Tarrant Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Tarrant AL and start your journey that will lead to a rewarding career in legal services. However, it's crucial that you locate the right school so that you will get the extensive 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 a growing number of academic choices are being offered, both at school and online. But with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Many prospective students start by trying to find schools within traveling range of their Tarrant homes. Of those alternatives, they look for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are very important considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only factors you should consider. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the program ought to be taken into consideration as well. Later on in this post we will review a list of concerns that you should ask potential paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare each one before making your selection. But before we do, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the instructional options that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals basically both fill comparable job positions 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 classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Tarrant AL attorneys with a wide variety of job duties, such as legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job functions are relevant to the type of practice where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice could assist with the logistics of a trial or delivering documents to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is usually billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And the same as attorneys, they must conduct themselves with a high degree of professionalism and comply with a strict code of professional ethics. As mentioned, their responsibilities can be diverse in support of the firms where they work, but some of their everyday activities can involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on related laws and cases
- Preparing correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping attorneys prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be involved and very demanding. However, what they are not legally permitted to do is give legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not limited to clerical or administrative tasks more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the right hand support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers have the ability to handle a much larger number of cases or clients than they could on their own.
Paralegal Certificates and Degrees and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the academic requirements and opportunities will be the same. The quickest way to launch your career as a legal assistant in Tarrant AL is by earning a certificate, which can involve just 6 months to complete. Most entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more comprehensive education and can be acquired at numerous community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are offered as well. Once you have acquired 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 can not only help maximize your career 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 discuss the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two important first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Courses
Online legal assistant or paralegal schools have become more popular and may be a good alternative for those searching for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be particularly attractive to Tarrant AL students who continue to work while obtaining a degree. As an additional advantage, online programs can in some cases be less expensive than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenditures for such items as study materials or commuting can be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all online schools are accredited, which we will address in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the training you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the program and school you are thinking about are accredited by a highly regarded agency, for instance 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 could 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 begin the process of evaluating schools. But because there are numerous programs available at junior and community colleges in the Tarrant AL area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you must learn what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is especially true when you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. If you are like many prospective students, you will begin by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other critical factors to think about also, such as accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's go over some of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are investigating so that you can effectively vet each one and make your ultimate choice.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you enroll in need to be accredited by a highly regarded organization 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 distance or online learning. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will obtain will be of the highest standard, but it will establish with future employers that you are a qualified professional also. Many Tarrant 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 obtainable only for accredited schools.
What's the School's Reputation? Learn what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant schools you are considering. This is of specific importance if you are entering the profession with no prior experience, since employers will need to rely on the caliber of your education exclusively. Confirming that the school you choose is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating services, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact several Tarrant AL law practices that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask which schools they suggest. Remember that even when a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an excellent reputation.
Does the School Provide Internships? Internship programs give students an opportunity to experience working in a law practice or other legal operation while still in school. They can also offer a means for students to start creating contacts within the Tarrant AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal programs you are evaluating provide internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will most likely wish to secure employment quickly after graduating, but finding that initial job in a new profession 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 a good sign that the schools have sizable networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their students are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the School Located? Considering that laws differ from one state to another, it might be beneficial to select a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you want to work after graduating. Also, it will be necessary to develop relationships in the local legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is even more reason to obtain your education in the area where you desire to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many require a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might wish to first consider those colleges that are within the Tarrant AL region.
How Much is the Total Expense? Paralegal schools can vary in price based on the credential obtained and the length of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your training. Don't forget to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid might be available to help reduce part of the expense, so make sure to talk to the school's financial aid office to see what is available in Tarrant 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 Classes Accommodate your Schedule? Many legal students keep working while obtaining their training and must have flexibility to schedule classes. If you can solely attend night or weekend classes near Tarrant AL, make certain classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make certain that the school you select provides that option. Last, find out what the process is for making-up classes missed because of sickness, work or family obligations.
Enroll in the Right Tarrant Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Choosing the best paralegal studies training program is a vital first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have discussed in this post, you have the choice of attending classes at school or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Tarrant residence. Paralegal education programs are made available in numerous formats and lengths. Various types of public and private institutions offer paralegal education, including community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your choice 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 programs, pick carefully. Afford yourself the best possible opportunity to succeed in this exciting profession. But irrespective of how you decide to acquire your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to assess each program and make your ultimate selection. And with the ideal training you can achieve your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Tarrant Alabama.