How to Choose the Right Paralegal Studies Degree Program Near Tuscaloosa Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Tuscaloosa AL and begin your journey that will lead to a gratifying profession 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 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 being offered, both at school and online. However with numerous options to choose from, where does one begin? A number of prospective students start by searching for schools within traveling range of their Tuscaloosa residences. Of those alternatives, they look for the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are prime considerations when choosing a school, they are not the only factors you need to consider. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the school need to be considered also. Later on in this post we will cover a list of concerns that you ought to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare every one prior to making your choice. But before we do, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the instructional options that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants essentially both hold the same job roles and functions, just with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and belong to a separate job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals help Tuscaloosa AL attorneys with a wide range of job duties, such as legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job functions are based upon the type of practice where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice may assist with trial logistics or transferring documents to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is usually billed hourly as are the attorney's. And just like lawyers, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and follow a strict standard of professional ethics. As mentioned, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they are employed, but a few of their everyday tasks might include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching relevant laws and cases
- Composing correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping attorneys get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal files, documents and other records
With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be complex and quite demanding. On the other hand, what they are not legally allowed to do is offer legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not confined to administrative or clerical 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 ground work and preparation, attorneys are able to handle a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could alone.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the academic prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The quickest means to launch your career as a paralegal in Tuscaloosa AL is by earning a certificate, which can involve as little as six months to complete. Many entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which offer a more extensive education and can be obtained at numerous community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are available also. When you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you might want to proceed and get 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 substantiate you as a professional as well. A few of the highly respected certifying organizations 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 address the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 essential initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Certificates and Degrees
Legal assistant and paralegal online programs have become more available and may be a good alternative for those searching for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be particularly attractive to Tuscaloosa AL students who keep working while earning a certificate or degree. As an additional advantage, online programs can often be less expensive than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenses for such things as study materials or commuting can be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all online schools are accredited, which we will cover in more detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the education you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the program and school you are considering are accredited by a respected agency, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less structured and formal setting, then earning your certificate or degree online could be the ideal choice for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Studies Programs
Since you now you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what training options are offered, you can begin the undertaking of assessing schools. But since there are numerous programs available at junior and community colleges in the Tuscaloosa AL area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you must know what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is especially true if you add all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like most prospective 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 crucial aspects to think about as well, such as accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's go over several of the questions you should be asking the schools you are considering so that you can effectively vet each one and make your final choice.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you choose should be accredited by a respected organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it might also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online education. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will receive will be of the highest standard, but it will demonstrate to potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. A number of Tuscaloosa AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited program. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are typically obtainable only for accredited programs.
What's the Program's Reputation? Learn what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal programs you are looking at. This is of particular importance if you are new to the field with no prior work history, since employers will need to rely on the caliber of your education exclusively. Confirming that the school you pick is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating services, such as those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact some Tuscaloosa AL law firms that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask which schools they suggest. Keep in mind that even though a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the Program Offer Internships? Internship programs offer students an opportunity to experience working in a law firm or other legal operation while still in school. They can also provide an avenue for students to start establishing contacts within the Tuscaloosa AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal schools you are considering offer internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help provided? You will undoubtedly want to hit the ground running after graduation, but finding that first job in a new profession can be difficult without assistance. Find out if the paralegal schools you are considering have job placement programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have large networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their graduates are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the School Located? Because laws vary from state to state, it may be a good idea to select a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you want to work after graduation. Also, it will be important to build relationships in the local legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is all the more reason to receive your education in the area where you wish to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most require an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may wish to initially consider those colleges that are within the Tuscaloosa AL area.
What is the Entire Cost? Paralegal schools can vary in cost depending on the credential received and the amount of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your training. Remember to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid might be accessible to help offset part of the cost, so be sure to talk to the school's financial aid office to see what is available in Tuscaloosa AL. Needless to say that if you choose to attend an online school, a portion these supplementary expenses, such as for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? A number of legal students keep working while obtaining their training and must have flexibility in class scheduling. If you can just attend night or weekend classes near Tuscaloosa AL, make sure classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, confirm that the program you enroll in provides that option. Finally, ask what the procedure is for making-up classes missed because of sickness, work or family obligations.
Choose the Best Tuscaloosa Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Choosing the best legal assistant training program is a vital first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have addressed 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 Tuscaloosa residence. Paralegal education programs are offered in many formats and lengths. Various kinds of private and public institutions make available paralegal training, including community and junior colleges, four year universities and colleges, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a profound impact on your prospects for success in your new profession. Considering that there is a wide range in the quality of schools, pick carefully. Afford yourself the best possible chance to succeed in this rewarding profession. But no matter how you elect to acquire your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will have the ability to review each school and make your final decision. And with the right education you can accomplish your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Tuscaloosa Alabama.