How to Select the Best Paralegal Degree Program Near Vestavia Hills Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Vestavia Hills AL and start your journey that will lead to a gratifying career in legal services. However, it's important that you find the right school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you require to succeed. As you probably understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more academic alternatives are being offered, both on campus and online. However with numerous options to choose from, where does one begin? A number of prospective students begin by searching for schools within traveling distance of their Vestavia Hills homes. Of those choices, they look for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are very important considerations when picking a college, they are not the only factors you need to take into consideration. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the program should be taken into account as well. Later in this post we will review a list of questions that you need to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare each one prior to making your choice. But first, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic choices that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals for the most part both hold comparable job positions and responsibilities, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and belong to a different job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Vestavia Hills AL lawyers with a wide range of job duties, such as maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job functions are based upon the type of practice where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm may assist with trial logistics or transporting documents to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is typically billed by the hour as are the lawyer's. And the same as attorneys, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and follow a strict code of professional ethics. As stated, their responsibilities can be diverse in support of the firms where they are employed, but a few of their regular activities can involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching applicable laws and cases
- Preparing correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping lawyers prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be complex and rather challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally allowed to do is give legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not limited to administrative or clerical 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 preparation and ground work, attorneys are able to manage a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Certificates and Degrees and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the academic prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The quickest way to launch your career as a legal assistant in Vestavia Hills AL is by obtaining a certificate, which may involve as little as 6 months to complete. Many entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which provide a more comprehensive education and can be obtained at many community colleges in two years. For an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are offered as well. Once you have earned either a degree or a certificate, you might want to continue and obtain a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help improve your job opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. A few of the highly respected 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 program (we will cover the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 essential initial steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Training
Paralegal and legal assistant online schools have become more prevalent and can be an excellent option for individuals searching for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be particularly appealing to Vestavia Hills AL students who continue to work while obtaining a degree. As an additional benefit, online programs can sometimes be less expensive than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenses for such items as commuting or study materials may be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all online schools are accredited, which we will cover in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the education you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the school and program you are thinking about are accredited by a respected agency, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less supervised and conventional environment, then obtaining your degree or certificate online might be the ideal choice for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Degree or Certificate Programs
Once you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what educational choices are available, you can start the undertaking of evaluating schools. But because there are so many programs offered at community and junior colleges in the Vestavia Hills AL area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you must find out what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is especially true if you add all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like the majority of prospective students, you will begin by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other important issues to think about 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 considering so that you can effectively vet each one and make your final decision.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you pick need to 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 focuses on distance or online education. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will obtain will be of the highest standard, but it will show future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. A number of Vestavia Hills AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited school. Finally, financial aid and student loans are usually offered only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the School? Learn what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal programs you are considering. This is of particular importance if you are entering the profession with no prior work history, since employers will have to make a decision based on the caliber of your training exclusively. Checking that the program you choose is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing 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 several Vestavia Hills AL law firms that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask what schools they recommend. 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 Program Provide Internships? Internship programs give students an opportunity to experience working in a law practice or other legal enterprise while still in school. They can also offer an avenue for students to begin establishing contacts within the Vestavia Hills AL legal field. Ask if the paralegal programs you are reviewing provide internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will most likely want to secure employment quickly after graduation, but finding that initial job in a new profession can be difficult without support. Find out if the paralegal programs you are reviewing have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good sign that the schools have sizable networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their students are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the School Located? Because laws vary among states, it may be advantageous to enroll in a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you want to work after graduating. In addition, it will be valuable to develop relationships in the area legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is all the more justification to acquire your education in the community where you want to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most charge a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might want to initially investigate those schools that are within the Vestavia Hills AL region.
How Much is the Complete Cost? Paralegal programs can vary in cost based on the credential earned and the amount of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only expense for your training. Remember to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance may be accessible to help reduce part of the expense, so make sure to check with the school's financial aid department to see what is offered in Vestavia Hills AL. Naturally if you choose to attend an online school, a portion these added expenses, for instance for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Fit your Schedule? Numerous paralegal students continue working while getting their training and require flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend weekend or evening classes near Vestavia Hills AL, verify classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, confirm that the program you select offers that option. Last, find out what the process is for making-up missed classes due to sickness, work or family obligations.
Choose the Right Vestavia Hills Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Enrolling in the ideal legal assistant certificate school is an essential first step toward your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have discussed in this article, you have the option of attending classes on-campus or you can attend them online in the comfort and privacy of your Vestavia Hills residence. Paralegal training programs are provided in numerous lengths and formats. Different kinds of public and private institutions offer paralegal education, including junior and community colleges, four year colleges and universities, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a pronounced influence on your opportunities for success in your new career. Considering that there is a wide range in the quality of schools, choose carefully. Afford yourself the best possible chance to succeed in this fascinating profession. But irrespective of how you decide to acquire your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have provided you will have the ability to review each program and make your final decision. And with the appropriate education you can achieve your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Vestavia Hills Alabama.