How to Choose a Paralegal Studies Program near Shelby Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Shelby AL and begin your journey that will lead to a rewarding career in legal services. However, it’s crucial that you locate the ideal school so that you will get the extensive training that you require to succeed. As you probably understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more academic options are becoming available, both on campus and online. However with numerous options to choose from, where does one start? A number of prospective students begin by searching for schools within traveling range of their Shelby homes. Of those alternatives, they look for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are necessary considerations when picking a school, 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 on in this post we will review a list of questions that you must ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare each one before making your choice. But first, let’s take a look at what a paralegal does and the educational options that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals essentially both hold the same job positions and functions, only with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and belong to a different job classification. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Shelby 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 duties are based upon the type of legal firm where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm may assist with the logistics of a trial or transporting files to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is normally billed by the hour as are the lawyer’s. And the same as attorneys, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and adhere to a strict code of professional ethics. As noted, their responsibilities can be diverse in support of the practices where they are employed, but some of their regular tasks may involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on applicable cases and laws
- Drafting correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting attorneys prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal documents, files and other records
With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be involved and rather demanding. However, what they are not legally allowed to do is offer legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not confined to administrative or clerical tasks more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys have the ability to handle a much larger number of cases or clients than they could alone.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational requirements and job prospects will be the same. The quickest means to launch your career as a paralegal in Shelby AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can require just six months to accomplish. Many entry level positions do call for an Associate’s Degree, which furnish a more extensive education and may be obtained at many community colleges in 2 years. For an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor’s Degrees are an option as well. When you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you might choose to continue and receive a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help increase your career opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. A few of the highly respected certifying agencies 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 certificate or degree from an accredited school (we will address the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 important initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Things to Ask Paralegal Studies Programs
Once you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what academic options are offered, you can begin the undertaking of assessing schools. But since there are numerous programs accessible at community and junior colleges in the Shelby AL area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you must find out what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is especially true if you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like the majority of potential students, you will start by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other important factors to research also, for instance the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let’s go over several of the questions you should be asking the schools you are considering so that you can properly vet each one and make your final selection.
Is the Paralegal Training Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you enroll in should be accredited by a reputable organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it may also get 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 get will be of the highest quality, but it will establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. A number of Shelby AL law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited school. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are often available only for accredited schools.
What’s the Reputation of the Program? Research what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal programs you are considering. This is of specific importance if you are new to the profession with no prior work history, since employers will need to rely on the quality of your training exclusively. Checking that the school you select is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating reports, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also call some Shelby AL law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask what schools they recommend. Bear in mind that even when a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an excellent reputation.
Does the School Provide Internships? Internship programs provide students an opportunity to experience working in a law firm or other legal operation while still in school. They can also present an avenue for students to start creating contacts within the Shelby AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal programs you are assessing provide internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help available? You will probably wish to secure employment quickly after graduating, but getting that initial job in a new field can be difficult without support. Ask if the paralegal schools you are reviewing have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good indication that the schools have sizable networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their graduates are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the School Located? Considering that laws vary among states, it might be advantageous to enroll in a paralegal school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you plan to practice after graduating. Also, it will be necessary to create relationships in the area legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is even more reason to acquire your education in the community where you want to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many charge an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may want to first consider those schools that are within the Shelby AL area.
How Much is the Entire Cost? Paralegal schools can differ in cost depending on the credential received and the amount of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your training. Remember to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance might be obtainable to help minimize some of the expense, so don’t forget to contact the school’s financial aid department to see what is available in Shelby AL. Naturally if you opt to attend an online program, a portion these supplementary expenses, such as for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Match your Schedule? Numerous legal students keep working while getting their training and require flexibility to schedule classes. If you can just attend night or weekend classes near Shelby AL, make certain classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make sure that the program you select provides that option. Last, ask what the process is for making up missed classes as a result of work, illness or family obligations.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Schools
Online legal assistant or paralegal schools have become more available and can be an excellent alternative for individuals searching for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be especially appealing to students who keep working while earning a degree. As an added advantage, online classes can often be less expensive than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenditures for such things as study materials or commuting can be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will discuss in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the education you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the school and program you are thinking about are accredited by a highly regarded organization, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less structured and conventional environment, then earning your degree or certificate online could be the ideal choice for you.
Will You Attend Paralegal School near Shelby AL?
If you live near Shelby AL or perhaps you are considering attending classes in that area, following is some interesting and useful information regarding the location of your new school campus.
Shelby County, Alabama
Shelby County is a county of the U.S. state of Alabama. As of the 2010 census the population was 195,085. The county seat is Columbiana. The county is named in honor of Isaac Shelby, Governor of Kentucky from 1792 to 1796 and again from 1812 to 1816.
Shelby County was established on February 7, 1818, and it was named for the Revolutionary War hero and the first Governor of Kentucky, Isaac Shelby. Beginning in 1820, the first county seat was located at Shelbyville. This settlement, long defunct, was located within the modern city limits of Pelham. The first courthouse was built of logs. The seat was moved to Columbia, now Columbiana, in 1826. Initially housed in an old school building, a new brick courthouse building was completed in 1854. It is now known as the Old Shelby County Courthouse and houses the Shelby County Museum and Archives. The current limestone courthouse was built from 1905–06, at a cost of $300,000.
Shelby County was the home of an early inland waterway, the Coosa River, and it was also the location of a very early east-west railroad in Alabama that connected Atlanta, Georgia, with locations to its west. Shelby County was also crossed by an early north-south railroad, the Louisville and Nashville Railroad, that connected Louisville, Nashville, Decatur, Birmingham, and Montgomery.
Select the Right Paralegal Certificate Program near Shelby AL
Selecting the best paralegal training program is an essential first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have covered in this post, you have the choice of attending classes at school or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Shelby residence. Paralegal academic programs are provided in numerous lengths and formats. Several kinds of public and private institutions offer paralegal education, including 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 profession. Given that there is a broad range in the quality of programs, pick wisely. Give yourself the best possible opportunity to succeed in this fascinating profession. But regardless of how you decide to receive your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will have the ability to review each school and make your ultimate selection. And with the ideal education you can achieve your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Shelby AL.
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