How to Find the Right Paralegal Degree Program Near Tuscaloosa Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Tuscaloosa AL and start your journey that will result in a rewarding profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's crucial that you locate the best school so that you will receive the extensive training that you require to succeed. As you most likely know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of educational choices are becoming available, both at school and online. But with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one start? A number of potential students begin by trying to find schools within driving range of their Tuscaloosa homes. Of those options, they try to find the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are prime considerations when picking a college, they are not the only factors you must take into consideration. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the school ought to be taken into account too. Later in this article we will review a list of questions that you should ask potential paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare every one before making your choice. But first, let's take a look at what a paralegal does and the educational options that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants basically both hold comparable job roles and functions, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and belong to a separate job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Tuscaloosa AL lawyers with a wide variety of job functions, such as maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job duties are based upon the type of practice where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice might assist with trial logistics or delivering files to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is usually billed hourly as are the attorney's. And just like lawyers, they must carry out their duties with a high level of professionalism and follow a strict code of professional ethics. As noted, their responsibilities can be varied in support of the firms where they are employed, but a few of their day-to-day activities can involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching applicable laws and cases
- Preparing correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting attorneys prepare for trial and keep 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 very challenging. However, what they are not legally authorized to do is provide legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not confined to clerical or administrative functions more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the main support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers are able to handle a much larger number of cases or clients than they could alone.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the academic requirements and job prospects will be the same. The fastest way to begin your career as a paralegal in Tuscaloosa AL is by earning a certificate, which may require as little as 6 months to accomplish. Many entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which provide a more expansive education and may 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. After you have acquired either a degree or a certificate, you might want to continue and earn a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help boost your job opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. A few of the highly regarded 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 certificate or degree from an accredited school (we will discuss the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 important initial steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Certificates and Degrees
Legal assistant and paralegal online 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 Tuscaloosa AL students who continue to work while earning a certificate or degree. As an added benefit, online programs can often be less costly than on campus options. Even secondary expenditures for such items as study materials or commuting can be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will address in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the education you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the school and program you are reviewing are accredited by a respected organization, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less structured and formal environment, then obtaining your degree or certificate online may be the ideal choice for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Schools
Now that you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what training options are offered, you can start the process of assessing schools. But considering that there are numerous programs accessible at junior and community colleges in the Tuscaloosa AL area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you must find out what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is particularly true when you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like the majority of prospective students, you will start by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other crucial issues to research as well, such as accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at a few of the questions you should be asking the programs you are investigating so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your final selection.
Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you select need to be accredited by a highly regarded accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it can also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online learning. 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 also. Numerous Tuscaloosa AL law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited program. Also, financial aid and student loans are usually available only for accredited schools.
What's the Program's Reputation? Learn what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal schools you are looking at. This is of specific importance if you are new to the profession with no prior work history, since employers will have to rely on the quality of your education exclusively. Checking that the school you pick is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating reports, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also call several Tuscaloosa AL law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask what schools they suggest. Keep 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 give students a chance to experience working in a law practice or other legal establishment while remaining in school. They can also provide a means for students to begin establishing contacts within the Tuscaloosa AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal schools you are reviewing offer internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help available? You will undoubtedly want to hit the ground running after graduation, but getting that first job in a new field can be difficult without assistance. Ask if the paralegal schools you are interviewing have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have sizable networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their students are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the Campus Located? Since laws differ among states, it may be a good idea to enroll in a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you wish to practice after graduating. In addition, it will be valuable to establish relationships in the local legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is all the more justification to obtain your education in the community where you choose to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most charge a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might want to first investigate those colleges that are within the Tuscaloosa AL area.
How Much is the Complete Expense? Paralegal programs can differ in price based on the credential received and the amount 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 assistance may be obtainable to help offset part of the expense, so be sure to consult with the school's financial aid office to see what is available in Tuscaloosa AL. Of course if you decide to attend an online program, a portion these added expenses, for instance for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Match your Schedule? A number of paralegal students continue working while getting their training and must have flexibility in class scheduling. If you can only attend weekend or evening 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 choose makes available that option. Last, inquire what the process is for making-up classes missed due to sickness, work or family obligations.
Enroll in the Best Tuscaloosa Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Choosing the ideal paralegal studies degree school is a vital first step toward your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have addressed in this article, you have the option of attending classes at school or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Tuscaloosa residence. Paralegal education programs are offered in many lengths and formats. Various kinds of public and private institutions provide paralegal education, including community colleges, four-year universities and colleges, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a pronounced impact on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Given that there is a broad range in the quality of schools, choose carefully. 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 certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to evaluate each school and make your final selection. And with the right training you can accomplish your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Tuscaloosa Alabama.