How to Enroll in the Best Paralegal Studies Training Program Near Vestavia Hills Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Vestavia Hills AL and start your journey that will lead to a gratifying career in legal services. Nevertheless, it's essential that you find the best school so that you will receive the extensive 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 increasingly more educational choices are becoming available, both at school and online. However with numerous options to choose from, where does one begin? A number of potential students start by trying to find schools within traveling distance of their Vestavia Hills homes. Of those choices, they search for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are very important considerations when choosing a college, they are not the only factors you need to take into consideration. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the school need to be taken into account too. Later on in this post we will review a list of questions that you need to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare every one prior to making your choice. But first, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the instructional choices that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants essentially both hold the same job positions and responsibilities, only with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and belong to a separate job classification. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Vestavia Hills AL lawyers with a wide variety of job duties, such as legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job functions are based upon the type of practice where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice may assist with the logistics of a trial or transferring files to court. In private practices, 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 level of professionalism and follow a strict code of professional ethics. As stated, their responsibilities can be varied in support of the firms where they work, but some of their day-to-day tasks can involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching pertinent cases and laws
- Preparing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting lawyers get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be complex and rather challenging. However, what they are not legally permitted to do is offer legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not restricted to administrative or clerical duties more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the main support systems for lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers are able to handle a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could on their own.
Paralegal Certificates and Degrees and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the academic prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The fastest way to begin your career as a paralegal in Vestavia Hills AL is by earning a certificate, which may involve as little as 6 months to complete. Most entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which offer a more comprehensive education and can be obtained at many community colleges in 2 years. For an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are available also. After you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you might want 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 career opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. Some of the highly regarded 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 degree or certificate from an accredited school (we will cover the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two important first steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Classes
Online legal assistant or paralegal schools have become more prevalent and can be an excellent alternative for students looking for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be particularly attractive to Vestavia Hills AL students who keep working while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an added advantage, online classes can in some cases be less expensive than on campus options. Even secondary expenses for such things as commuting or study materials can be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will cover in more detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the training you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the school and program you are thinking about are accredited by a respected organization, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less structured and formal setting, then earning your degree or certificate online could be the ideal choice for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Programs
Since you now you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what academic options are offered, you can start the undertaking of assessing schools. But because 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 must learn what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is especially true when you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree 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 previously covered, there are other critical factors to consider also, for instance accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's go over some of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are investigating so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your ultimate decision.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you enroll in should be accredited by a respected organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it might also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance training. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will receive will be of the highest quality, but it will demonstrate to potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Numerous Vestavia Hills AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited school. Also, financial aid and student loans are often available only for accredited programs.
What's the School's Reputation? Find out what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant schools you are considering. This is of particular importance if you are new to the profession with no prior experience, since employers will have to make a decision based on the quality of your education exclusively. Confirming that the program 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 rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact some Vestavia Hills AL law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask which schools they suggest. Remember that even though a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the School Sponsor Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal operation while attending school. They can also present a pathway for students to begin developing contacts within the Vestavia Hills AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal programs you are considering provide internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help available? You will probably want to secure employment quickly after graduation, but finding that initial job in a new profession can be difficult without assistance. Find out if the paralegal schools you are interviewing have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have large 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's Location? Because laws vary among states, it might be advantageous to enroll in a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you plan to work after graduating. In addition, it will be important to create relationships in the neighboring legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is all the more justification to obtain your education in the community where you wish to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most require a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may need to first investigate those schools that are within the Vestavia Hills AL region.
How Much is the Entire Cost? Paralegal schools can vary in price based on the credential earned and the amount of training furnished. Having said that, 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 assistance might be accessible to help offset part 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. Needless to say that if you opt to attend an online school, a portion these added expenses, for instance for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Fit your Schedule? Numerous paralegal students continue working while obtaining their training and require flexibility in class scheduling. If you can only 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, confirm that the school you select offers that option. Finally, find out what the procedure is for making-up classes missed because of sickness, work or family obligations.
Enroll in the Best Vestavia Hills Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Enrolling in the right legal assistant degree program is an essential first step toward your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have discussed in this post, you have the option of attending classes at school or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Vestavia Hills residence. Paralegal training programs are provided in numerous formats and lengths. Different types of public and private institutions make available paralegal education, including community colleges, four year colleges and universities, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a pronounced impact on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Since there is a broad range in the quality of schools, pick wisely. Afford yourself the greatest possible opportunity to succeed in this rewarding profession. But no matter how you decide to obtain your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to assess each school and make your final decision. And with the appropriate training you can achieve your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Vestavia Hills Alabama.