How to Enroll in the Best Paralegal Program Near Vestavia Hills Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Vestavia Hills AL and begin your journey that will lead to a gratifying profession in legal services. However, it's crucial that you find the best school so that you will receive the extensive training that you need to achieve success. As you most likely know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more educational options are becoming available, both at school and online. But with so many options to choose from, where does one begin? Many potential students start by looking for schools within traveling distance of their Vestavia Hills homes. Of those choices, they search for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are necessary considerations when choosing a school, they are not the only factors you need to take into consideration. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the school ought to be taken into consideration 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 selection. But before we do, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the educational alternatives that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals for the most part both hold the same job roles and responsibilities, only with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and are part of a different job classification. Both legal assistants and paralegals help Vestavia Hills AL attorneys with a diverse array of job duties, such as legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job functions are relevant to the type of practice where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice might assist with the logistics of a trial or delivering files to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is usually billed by the hour as are the lawyer's. And the same as attorneys, they must perform with a high level of professionalism and adhere to a strict code of professional ethics. As mentioned, their duties 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
- Conducting research on related laws and cases
- Preparing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping lawyers get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be complicated and rather challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally allowed to do is give legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not confined to administrative or clerical functions more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the main support systems for lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys are able to take on a much larger number of clients or cases than they could on their own.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The fastest means to begin your career as a paralegal in Vestavia Hills AL is by obtaining a certificate, which may require as little as 6 months to complete. A large number of entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which offer a more expansive education and can be obtained at many community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are available also. Once you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you might choose to continue and earn 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 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 benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two important first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Classes
Paralegal and legal assistant online schools have become more common and can be an excellent option for those looking for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online schools can be particularly attractive to Vestavia Hills AL students who continue to work while obtaining a degree. As an added advantage, online programs can sometimes be less costly than on campus options. Even secondary expenditures for such things as study materials or commuting may be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all online programs are accredited, which we will discuss in more detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the training you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the program and school you are reviewing are accredited by a respected agency, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less structured and conventional environment, then earning your certificate or degree online may be the right choice for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Schools
Now that you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what educational choices are available, you can start the undertaking of evaluating schools. But since there are numerous programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Vestavia Hills AL area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you need to know what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is particularly true when you add all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. If you are like the majority of potential students, you will begin by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other important issues to think about as well, 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 programs you are considering so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your final choice.
Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you select should be accredited by a reputable organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it might also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance education. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will receive will be of the highest standard, but it will establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. Many Vestavia Hills AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited program. Finally, financial aid and student loans are typically offered only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the School? Investigate what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal programs you are looking at. This is of special importance if you are new to the field with no previous experience, since employers will have to make a decision based on the caliber of your training exclusively. Verifying that the school you pick is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating reports, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also call a few Vestavia Hills AL law offices that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask which schools they suggest. Keep in mind that even though a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the School Offer 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 offer an avenue for students to start creating contacts within the Vestavia Hills AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal programs you are evaluating provide internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help offered? You will undoubtedly wish to hit the ground running after graduation, but getting that first job in a new profession can be challenging without support. Ask if the paralegal programs you are interviewing have job placement programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good indication that the schools have large networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their graduates are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the Campus Located? Considering that laws differ from state to state, it might be a good idea to select a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you want to work after graduation. Also, it will be important to develop relationships in the neighboring legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is all the more reason to receive your education in the area where you choose to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many require a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may need to first consider those schools that are within the Vestavia Hills AL region.
What is the Entire Cost? Paralegal programs can vary in price based on the credential obtained and the length of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only cost for your education. 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 some of the expense, so don't forget to talk to the school's financial aid department to see what is available in Vestavia Hills AL. Of course if you choose to attend an online school, a portion these additional expenses, such as for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? Many legal students continue working while getting their training and need flexibility in class scheduling. If you can just attend weekend or evening classes near Vestavia Hills AL, verify classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make certain that the program you choose makes available that option. Finally, inquire what the protocol is for making-up missed classes because of work, illness or family emergencies.
Choose the Right Vestavia Hills Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Selecting the best paralegal training school is a vital first step toward your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have addressed in this post, you have the option of attending classes at school or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Vestavia Hills home. Paralegal education programs are made available in numerous formats and lengths. Various types of public and private institutions offer paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four-year colleges and universities, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a profound influence on your prospects for success in your new career. Considering that there is a broad range in the quality of schools, choose wisely. Afford yourself the greatest possible chance to succeed in this fascinating profession. But irrespective of how you decide to obtain your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have presented you will have the ability to examine each school and make your ultimate decision. And with the ideal training you can achieve your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Vestavia Hills Alabama.