How to Select the Right Paralegal Studies School Near Tuscaloosa Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Tuscaloosa AL and start your journey that will result in a gratifying profession in legal services. However, it's crucial that you locate the best school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you require to be successful. As you most likely know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more academic options are becoming available, both at school and online. But with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one start? Many potential students start by looking for schools within traveling distance of their Tuscaloosa residences. Of those alternatives, they search for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are prime considerations when selecting a college, they are not the only qualifiers you should consider. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the school ought to be taken into consideration too. Later in this article we will review a list of questions that you must ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare every one prior to making your decision. But before we do, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the educational options that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants basically both fill the same 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 are part of a separate job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals help Tuscaloosa AL lawyers with a diverse array of job functions, such as legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job duties are relevant to the type of practice where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice might help with trial logistics or transporting documents to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is normally billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And the same as attorneys, they must conduct themselves with a high level 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 are employed, but a few of their routine activities may include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching related laws and cases
- Drafting correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping lawyers prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be complicated and rather challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally permitted to do is give legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not restricted to clerical or administrative functions more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the right hand support systems for attorneys. And since they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers are able to handle a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the academic requirements and job prospects will be the same. The quickest means to launch your career as a paralegal in Tuscaloosa AL is by earning a certificate, which can take as little as six months to complete. A large number of entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which provide a more extensive education and may be obtained at numerous community colleges in 2 years. For an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are available as well. When you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you may want to continue and receive a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help maximize your employment opportunities, but help establish you as a professional as well. A few of the highly regarded certifying organizations 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 program (we will address the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two important initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Classes
Online legal assistant or paralegal programs have become more common and can be a good option for students searching for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online programs can be especially appealing to Tuscaloosa AL students who continue to work while earning a certificate or degree. As an added benefit, online programs can sometimes be less expensive than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenses for such items as commuting or study materials may be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will cover in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the education you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the school and program you are considering are accredited by a respected agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less supervised and formal setting, then earning your degree or certificate online may be the ideal choice for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Certificate or Degree Programs
Once you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what educational options are offered, you can begin the undertaking of evaluating schools. But since there are so many programs available at community and junior colleges in the Tuscaloosa AL area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you need to know what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is especially true if you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like the majority of potential students, you will begin by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other significant factors to think about also, including 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 programs you are investigating so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your final choice.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you pick need to be accredited by a highly regarded organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it may also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online training. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will obtain will be of the highest quality, but it will show potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Numerous Tuscaloosa AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited program. Finally, financial aid and student loans are typically available only for accredited schools.
What's the Program's Reputation? Find out what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal schools you are contemplating. This is of special importance if you are entering the field with no prior work history, since employers will need to rely on the quality of your training exclusively. Checking that the school you select is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating services, 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 contact several Tuscaloosa AL law firms that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask which schools they suggest. Bear in mind that even when a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the School Sponsor Internships? Internship programs provide students an opportunity to experience working in a law practice or other legal operation while remaining in school. They can also present a pathway for students to begin developing contacts within the Tuscaloosa AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal programs you are assessing offer internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help available? You will undoubtedly wish to hit the ground running after graduating, but finding that initial job in a new profession can be difficult without help. Find out if the paralegal schools you are assessing have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good sign that the schools have sizable networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their students are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the School Located? Since laws vary among states, it might be beneficial to enroll in a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you plan to work after graduation. Also, it will be necessary to develop relationships in the area legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is all the more justification to receive your education in the area where you want to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most charge a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may need to first look at those colleges that are within the Tuscaloosa AL area.
How Much is the Entire Expense? Paralegal schools can vary in cost based on the credential earned and the length of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expense for your training. Remember to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial assistance might be obtainable to help offset part of the expense, so don't forget to check with the school's financial aid office to find out what is available in Tuscaloosa AL. Of course if you choose to attend an online program, some of these supplementary expenses, for instance for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Fit your Schedule? Many paralegal students keep working while getting their training and must have flexibility in class scheduling. If you can solely attend weekend or evening classes near Tuscaloosa AL, make sure classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, confirm that the program you select provides that option. Finally, ask what the protocol is for making-up missed classes because of work, illness or family obligations.
Choose the Best Tuscaloosa Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Selecting the right paralegal certificate program is an important first step toward your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have discussed in this post, you have the option of attending classes at school or you can attend them online in the comfort and privacy of your Tuscaloosa residence. Paralegal education programs are offered in numerous lengths and formats. Various types of private and public institutions provide paralegal education, including community colleges, four year colleges and universities, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a pronounced influence on your opportunities for success in your new career. Given that there is a broad range in the quality of schools, pick carefully. Afford yourself the greatest possible chance to succeed in this rewarding profession. But irrespective of how you choose to obtain your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have presented you will have the ability to review each school and make your final decision. And with the ideal education you can realize your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Tuscaloosa Alabama.