How to Find the Right Paralegal Studies Certificate 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 gratifying profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's crucial that you locate the right school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you require to be successful. As you probably understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of educational alternatives are being offered, both at school and online. But with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one start? A number of potential students start by trying to find schools within traveling range of their Tuscaloosa residences. Of those alternatives, they search for the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are prime considerations when choosing a school, they are not the only factors you must take into consideration. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the school ought to be considered as well. Later on in this post we will cover a list of concerns that you must ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare every one before making your choice. But before we do, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the instructional alternatives that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants for the most part both fill comparable job roles and responsibilities, just with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and belong to a different job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals help Tuscaloosa AL lawyers with a diverse array of job duties, including legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job duties are based upon the type of legal firm where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice may help with the logistics of a trial or transporting documents to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is usually billed by the hour as are the lawyer's. And the same as attorneys, they must carry out their duties with a high level of professionalism and adhere to a strict code of professional ethics. As stated, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they work, but a few of their routine activities may involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on applicable cases and laws
- Preparing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping attorneys prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal documents, files and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be complex and very demanding. On the other hand, what they are not legally permitted to do is offer legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not confined to clerical or administrative tasks more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the main support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys are able to take on a much larger number of cases or clients than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the educational requirements and job prospects will be the same. The fastest way to start your career as a legal assistant in Tuscaloosa AL is by earning a certificate, which may take as little as 6 months to complete. Most entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which offer a more comprehensive education and may be obtained at many community colleges in two years. For an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are offered also. Once you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you may want to continue and get a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help improve your job 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 certificate or degree 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.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Courses
Online paralegal or legal assistant schools have become more prevalent and may be an excellent option for students looking for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be particularly attractive to Tuscaloosa AL students who keep working while earning a degree. As an added benefit, online programs can sometimes be less expensive than more traditional options. Even supplementary expenses for such things as commuting or study materials can be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will address in more detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the training you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the program and school you are reviewing are accredited by a reputable agency, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less supervised and formal setting, then earning your degree or certificate online might be the ideal choice for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Degree or Certificate Programs
Once you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what academic options are offered, you can begin the process of evaluating schools. But considering that there are numerous programs offered at community and junior colleges in the Tuscaloosa AL area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you need to find out 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 also. If you are like the majority of prospective students, you will begin by searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other critical aspects 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 should be asking the schools you are researching so that you can properly vet each one and make your ultimate 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 program, it may also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets online or distance learning. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will get will be of the highest quality, but it will demonstrate to future 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. Also, financial aid and student loans are often obtainable only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the School? Research what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant programs you are looking at. This is of particular importance if you are new to the profession with no prior experience, since employers will need to make a decision based on the caliber of your education exclusively. Checking that the school you select is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating reports, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call a few Tuscaloosa AL law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask which schools they suggest. Keep in mind that even when a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an excellent reputation.
Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal enterprise while attending school. They can also offer an avenue for students to begin establishing contacts within the Tuscaloosa AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal schools you are considering provide internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing 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 challenging without support. Find out if the paralegal programs you are reviewing have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have large networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their students are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the Campus Located? Considering that laws differ among states, it might be beneficial to select a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you wish to practice after graduating. Also, it will be necessary to develop relationships in the neighboring legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is even more justification to acquire your education in the community where you desire to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most require an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might wish to initially investigate those colleges that are within the Tuscaloosa AL region.
What is the Entire Expense? Paralegal schools can vary in cost based on the credential received and the length of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your education. Don't forget to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid may be obtainable to help reduce part of the expense, so be sure to talk to the school's financial aid office to see what is offered in Tuscaloosa AL. Of course if you opt to attend an online school, some of these added costs, such as for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? Many paralegal students keep working while getting their training and require flexibility in class scheduling. If you can solely attend weekend or evening classes near Tuscaloosa AL, make certain classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, confirm that the program you choose provides that option. Last, ask what the process is for making up missed classes due to work, illness or family emergencies.
Choose the Best Tuscaloosa Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Selecting the ideal legal assistant degree school is an essential first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have covered in this post, you have the choice of attending classes on campus or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Tuscaloosa home. Paralegal education programs are provided in many lengths and formats. Several kinds of private and public institutions offer paralegal training, including junior and 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 opportunities for success in your new profession. Since there is a broad range in the quality of programs, choose wisely. Give yourself the greatest possible chance to succeed in this exciting profession. But irrespective of how you choose to receive your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to evaluate each program and make your ultimate decision. And with the right training you can realize your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Tuscaloosa Alabama.