How to Enroll in the Best Paralegal Studies School Near Vestavia Hills Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Vestavia Hills AL and start your journey that will result in a gratifying profession in legal services. However, it's important that you find the right school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you need to be successful. As you probably understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more academic alternatives are being offered, both at school and online. But with numerous options to choose from, where does one begin? Some potential students begin by looking for schools within driving range of their Vestavia Hills residences. Of those options, they try to find the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are important considerations when picking a school, they are not the only qualifiers you must take into consideration. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the school ought to be considered as well. Later in this post we will cover 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 first, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the academic alternatives that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants essentially both fill the same job positions and responsibilities, only with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and are part of a different job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals help Vestavia Hills AL attorneys with a wide range of job functions, including maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job functions are based upon the type of legal firm where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm may help with trial logistics or delivering files to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is typically billed by the hour as are the lawyer's. And the same as attorneys, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and comply with a strict code of professional ethics. As mentioned, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they are employed, but some of their routine activities may involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching related laws and cases
- 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 managing legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be complex and very demanding. On the other hand, what they are not legally permitted to do is provide legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not restricted to administrative or clerical duties more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the main support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers are able to handle a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Training 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 educational prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The fastest means to start your career as a paralegal in Vestavia Hills AL is by earning a certificate, which may take as little as 6 months to accomplish. Many entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which offer a more expansive education and may be earned at many community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are an option also. Once you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you may want to proceed and get a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help boost your career opportunities, but help establish you as a professional as well. A few of the highly regarded certifying agencies 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 school (we will cover the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 important initial steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Programs
Paralegal and legal assistant online schools have become more common and can be a good option for individuals searching for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online programs can be especially attractive to Vestavia Hills AL students who keep working while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an additional advantage, online classes can sometimes be less expensive than on campus options. Even secondary expenditures for such items as commuting or study materials may be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all online schools are accredited, which we will discuss in more detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the training you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the program and school you are reviewing are accredited by a respected organization, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less structured and conventional environment, then earning your degree or certificate online could be the ideal option for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Studies Programs
Now that you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what academic choices are offered, you can start the process of evaluating schools. But considering that there are so many programs accessible at community and junior colleges in the Vestavia Hills AL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you need to learn what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is particularly true if you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like most potential students, you will begin by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other crucial factors to consider as well, for instance accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's go over some of the questions you should be asking the programs you are investigating so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your final choice.
Is the Paralegal Training Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you select need to be accredited by a reputable accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it may also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online education. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will receive will be of the highest quality, but it will show future employers that you are a qualified professional also. Many Vestavia Hills AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited school. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are usually accessible only for accredited schools.
What's the School's Reputation? Find out what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal schools you are considering. This is of particular importance if you are new to the profession with no prior work history, since employers will need to make a decision based on the quality of your training exclusively. Confirming that the program you select is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating services, such as those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact some Vestavia Hills AL law practices that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask which schools they suggest. Keep in mind that even when a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an excellent reputation.
Does the Program Provide Internships? Internship programs provide students an opportunity to experience working in a law practice or other legal establishment while remaining in school. They can also present a means for students to begin developing contacts within the Vestavia Hills AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal programs you are reviewing offer internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance provided? You will probably wish to hit the ground running after graduating, but finding that initial job in a new profession can be challenging without help. Ask if the paralegal programs you are considering have job placement programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good indication that the schools have substantial networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their graduates are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the School's Location? Because laws vary from one state to another, it may be a good idea to enroll in a paralegal school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you plan to work after graduating. Also, it will be important to develop relationships in the neighboring legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is even more reason to acquire your education in the area where you choose to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many require an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may want to first investigate those schools that are within the Vestavia Hills AL area.
How Much is the Total Cost? Paralegal programs can differ in price depending on the credential obtained and the length of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expense for your education. Remember to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance may be available to help reduce some of the cost, so make sure to check with the school's financial aid department to find out what is offered in Vestavia Hills AL. Naturally if you opt to attend an online program, a portion these additional costs, such as for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? A number of paralegal students continue working while obtaining their training and must have flexibility in class scheduling. If you can solely attend weekend or evening classes near Vestavia Hills AL, make sure classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make sure that the school you choose makes available that option. Finally, inquire what the protocol is for making up missed classes as a result of sickness, work or family obligations.
Choose the Best Vestavia Hills Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Enrolling in the right 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 option of attending classes on campus or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Vestavia Hills residence. Paralegal training programs are offered in numerous formats and lengths. Several types of private and public institutions provide paralegal training, including community and junior colleges, four year universities and colleges, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a pronounced impact on your prospects for success in your new career. Considering that there is a broad range in the quality of schools, pick carefully. Give yourself the greatest possible opportunity to succeed in this exciting profession. But no matter how you elect to receive your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will have the ability to evaluate each school and make your final selection. And with the right training you can realize your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Vestavia Hills Alabama.