How to Select a Paralegal Training Program near Northport Alabama
Best Wishes regarding your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Northport AL and begin your journey that will lead to a rewarding profession in legal services. However, it’s important that you find the ideal school so that you will get the extensive training that you require to be successful. As you most likely know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more educational alternatives are being offered, both on campus and online. But with so many options to choose from, where does one begin? Many potential students begin by trying to find schools within traveling range of their Northport homes. Of those alternatives, they search for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are very important considerations when choosing a college, they are not the only qualifiers you should consider. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the program need to be taken into consideration too. Later in this post we will cover a list of questions that you need to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare every one before making your decision. But before we do, let’s take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic options that are offered to earn a paralegal certificate or degree.
Alabama Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants essentially both hold comparable job roles and responsibilities, only with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and belong to a different job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Northport AL attorneys with a wide variety of job duties, including maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job functions are based upon the type of legal firm where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm could help with trial logistics or transporting files to court. In private practices, a paralegal’s work is typically billed hourly as are the attorney’s. And the same as lawyers, they must carry out their duties 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 practices where they are employed, but a few of their daily activities can include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching applicable cases and laws
- Drafting correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping attorneys get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal documents, files and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be involved and rather challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally authorized to do is provide legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not restricted to clerical or administrative duties more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the main support systems for Northport AL lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys are able to take on a much larger number of cases or clients than they could on their own.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we previously covered, 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 requirements and job prospects will be the same. The fastest way to begin your career as a legal assistant is by earning a certificate, which can take just 6 months to accomplish. Many entry level positions do require an Associate’s Degree, which furnish a more extensive education and may be obtained at many Northport AL area community colleges in two years. For an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor’s Degrees are an option also. When you have earned either a degree or a certificate, you might choose to proceed and get a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help maximize your career opportunities, but help establish you as a professional as well. 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 degree or certificate from an accredited Northport AL area program (we will cover the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 essential initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Programs
Online legal assistant or paralegal programs have become more available in Northport AL and can be a good alternative for students looking for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be especially attractive to students who keep working while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an additional benefit, online schools can sometimes be less costly than on campus options. Even ancillary expenses for such things as commuting or study materials can be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will discuss in more detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the education you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the program and school you are reviewing are accredited by a reputable agency, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less supervised and formal environment, then obtaining your certificate or degree online might be the ideal choice for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Studies Programs
Once you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what academic choices are available, you can start the undertaking of assessing schools. But because there are so many programs available at Northport AL area community and junior colleges, 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 add all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like most potential students, you will start by searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other significant factors to think about 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 programs you are investigating so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your final decision.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you select should be accredited by a highly regarded accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it can also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance learning. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will get will be of the highest quality, but it will establish with future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Numerous Northport AL law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited program. Finally, 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 Alabama legal assistant schools you are looking at. This is of particular importance if you are new to the profession with no previous work history, since Northport AL employers will have to make a decision based on the caliber of your education exclusively. Checking that the school you select is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating services, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact a few law practices that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask what schools they recommend. Remember that even though a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an excellent reputation.
Does the Program Provide Internships? Internship programs provide students a chance to experience working in a law practice or other Northport AL legal enterprise while still in school. They can also present an avenue for students to begin establishing contacts within the legal field. Find out if the paralegal schools you are assessing provide internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance provided? You will undoubtedly want to hit the ground running after graduation, but getting that initial job in a new profession can be difficult without help. Find out if the paralegal programs you are considering have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good indication that the schools have sizable networks and good relationships with Northport AL legal services employers. It also substantiates that their students are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the School Located? Considering that laws vary from state to state, it may be advantageous to choose a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you plan to work after graduation. In addition, it will be important to cultivate relationships in the neighboring Northport AL legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is all the more reason to acquire your education in the community where you desire to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most require an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might want to initially look at those colleges that are within your local region.
What is the Complete Expense? Paralegal schools can differ in cost depending on the credential received and the length of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only expense for your education. Don’t forget to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial assistance might be available to help minimize some of the expense, so be sure to check with the school’s financial aid office to find out what is offered in Northport AL. Of course if you opt to attend an online program, a portion these additional costs, for instance for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Fit your Schedule? A number of paralegal students keep working while receiving their training and must have flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend night or weekend classes near Northport AL, make sure classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, confirm that the school you select makes available that option. Finally, inquire what the process is for making-up classes missed due to sickness, work or family obligations.
Select the Right Paralegal Degree Program near Northport AL
Choosing the right paralegal educational program is an essential first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have covered in this post, you have the option of attending classes at school or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Northport home. Paralegal education programs are made available in various lengths and formats. Different kinds of public and private institutions make available paralegal training, including community colleges, four year universities and colleges, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a profound impact on your opportunities for success in your new career. Since there is a wide range in the quality of schools, choose wisely. Afford yourself the greatest possible chance to succeed in this exciting profession. But regardless of how you choose to receive your training and earn your certificate or degree, 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 goal to become a practicing paralegal in Northport AL.
More About Northport Alabama
Northport is a city in Tuscaloosa County in the west central part of the State of Alabama. Located on the Black Warrior River across from downtown Tuscaloosa, it is currently the 21st largest city in Alabama with an estimated population of 24,497 in 2013. It incorporated in 1871. It is part of the Tuscaloosa Metropolitan Statistical Area.
As Northport is adjacent to the larger city of Tuscaloosa, many residents work in Tuscaloosa or other parts of Tuscaloosa County. Although the two cities share a land boundary, much of their boundary (and historically all of the boundary) is the Black Warrior River.
As of the census of 2000, there were 19,435 people, 7,844 households, and 5,255 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,328.3 people per square mile (512.9/km²). There were 8,509 housing units at an average density of 581.6 per square mile (224.6/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 71.11% White, 26.03% Black or African American, 0.19% Native American, 0.80% Asian, 0.15% Pacific Islander, 1.02% from other races, and 0.70% from two or more races. 1.92% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.
There were 7,844 households out of which 32.8% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 48.3% were married couples living together, 15.7% had a female householder with no husband present, and 33.0% were non-families. 28.6% of all households were made up of individuals and 9.7% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.41 and the average family size was 2.98.
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