How to Pick the Best Paralegal Studies Program Near Vestavia Hills Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Vestavia Hills AL and begin your journey that will result in a gratifying career in legal services. However, it's essential that you locate the right school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you require to achieve success. As you probably know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more academic alternatives are being offered, both at school and online. But with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one start? Many prospective students begin by trying to find schools within commuting distance of their Vestavia Hills homes. Of those choices, they try to find the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are prime considerations when choosing a college, they are not the only factors you ought to consider. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the program must be taken into consideration also. Later in this post we will review a list of questions that you must ask potential paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare each one prior to making your decision. But before we do, let's have a look at exactly 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 for the most part both hold comparable 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 classification. Both legal assistants and paralegals help Vestavia Hills AL attorneys with a wide range of job functions, including legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job functions are based upon the type of practice where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm could help with the logistics of a trial or transferring documents to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is typically billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And just like lawyers, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and comply with a strict code of professional ethics. As mentioned, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they are employed, but a few of their regular activities may involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on relevant cases and laws
- Composing correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping attorneys prepare for trial and stay 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 complicated and rather challenging. However, what they are not legally authorized to do is give 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 lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys have the ability to manage a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could on their own.
Paralegal Programs 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 academic prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The quickest way to start your career as a paralegal in Vestavia Hills AL is by earning a certificate, which may involve just 6 months to complete. A large number of entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which offer a more comprehensive education and may be earned at numerous community colleges in two years. For an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are available as well. Once you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you might choose to continue and receive a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help improve your career opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. A few of the highly regarded certifying organizations 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 two crucial first steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Training
Online legal assistant or paralegal schools have become more popular and can be a good option for individuals searching for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be especially attractive to Vestavia Hills AL students who continue to work while obtaining a degree. As an additional benefit, online programs can in some cases be less expensive than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenses for such things as study materials or commuting may be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all online programs are accredited, which we will cover in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the training you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the school and program you are considering are accredited by a reputable organization, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to attend classes in a less structured and conventional environment, then earning your certificate or degree online could be the ideal choice for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Programs
Since you now you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what educational choices are offered, you can start the undertaking of assessing schools. But considering that there are so many programs accessible at junior and community colleges in the Vestavia Hills AL area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you need to know what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is particularly true when you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like many prospective students, you will start by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other important factors to research also, such as the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's take a look at several of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are researching so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your final decision.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you enroll in should be accredited by a highly regarded organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it may also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online training. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will get will be of the highest standard, but it will demonstrate to future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. A number of Vestavia Hills AL law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited program. Also, financial assistance and student loans are usually accessible only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the School? Find out 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 previous work history, since employers will need to make a decision based on the caliber of your education exclusively. Confirming that the program you select is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating reports, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also call some Vestavia Hills AL law practices that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask which schools they suggest. Keep in mind that even if a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an excellent reputation.
Does the School Offer 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 offer a means for students to start creating contacts within the Vestavia Hills AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal programs you are evaluating offer internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance provided? You will undoubtedly wish to hit the ground running after graduation, but getting that initial job in a new profession can be challenging without help. Ask if the paralegal programs you are interviewing have job placement programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have large networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their students are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the School Located? Considering that laws differ from state to state, it may be a good idea to enroll in a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you wish 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 even more justification to acquire your education in the area where you wish to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many charge an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might want to first consider those schools that are within the Vestavia Hills AL region.
How Much is the Complete Cost? Paralegal programs can vary in price depending on the credential obtained and the length of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only expense for your training. Don't forget to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid may be accessible to help reduce part of the cost, so don't forget to consult with the school's financial aid department to see what is available in Vestavia Hills AL. Of course if you decide to attend an online school, a portion these added costs, such as for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Match your Schedule? A number of legal students keep working while obtaining their training and require flexibility to schedule classes. If you can solely attend night or weekend classes near Vestavia Hills AL, verify classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make sure that the program you select makes available that option. Last, inquire what the protocol is for making up classes missed as a result of sickness, work or family emergencies.
Choose the Best Vestavia Hills Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Selecting the right paralegal degree program is an important first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have covered in this article, you have the option of attending classes on campus or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Vestavia Hills home. Paralegal education programs are made available in various formats and lengths. Several kinds of private and public institutions make available paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four-year colleges and universities, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a pronounced impact on your opportunities for success in your new career. Since there is a wide range in the quality of schools, choose wisely. Give yourself the best possible opportunity to succeed in this exciting profession. But no matter how you decide to acquire your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will be able to examine each school and make your final decision. And with the right training you can accomplish your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Vestavia Hills Alabama.