How to Find a Paralegal Degree Program near Alabaster Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Alabaster AL and begin your journey that will lead to a satisfying career in legal services. However, it’s crucial that you find the right school so that you will get 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 a growing number of academic options are being offered, both at school and online. However with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? A number of prospective students start by searching for schools within commuting range of their Alabaster homes. Of those options, they search for the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are necessary considerations when choosing a school, they are not the only qualifiers you should consider. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the school should be taken into account as well. Later on in this article we will review a list of concerns that you need to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare each one prior to making your choice. But first, let’s take a look at what a paralegal does and the academic alternatives that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants for the most part both fill comparable 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 different job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Alabaster AL lawyers with a wide range of job functions, such as legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job functions are relevant to the type of practice where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm may help with the logistics of a trial or transporting documents to court. In private firms, a paralegal’s work is usually billed by the hour as are the lawyer’s. And the same as attorneys, they must carry out their duties with a high level of professionalism and adhere to a strict standard of professional ethics. As noted, their duties can be varied in support of the firms where they are employed, but a few of their day-to-day tasks may include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching relevant laws and cases
- Composing correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting lawyers prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be complicated and rather challenging. However, what they are not legally allowed to do is offer legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not confined to clerical or administrative tasks more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys are able to manage a much larger number of clients or cases than they could on their own.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The fastest means to begin your career as a paralegal in Alabaster AL is by earning a certificate, which may involve just 6 months to complete. Many entry level positions do require an Associate’s Degree, which furnish a more comprehensive education and may be acquired at numerous community colleges in 2 years. For an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor’s Degrees are offered as well. After you have acquired either a degree or a certificate, you might want to continue and earn a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help maximize your employment opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. Some of the highly respected 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 program (we will address the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 important first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Things to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Now that you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what academic options are offered, you can start the process of evaluating schools. But because there are so many programs accessible at junior and community colleges in the Alabaster AL area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you must find out what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is particularly true if you add all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like most potential 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 crucial factors to research as well, including accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let’s take a look at several of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are considering so that you can effectively vet each one and make your final choice.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you pick need to be accredited by a reputable 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 targets online or distance training. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will obtain will be of the highest quality, but it will show potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. A number of Alabaster AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited school. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are usually available only for accredited programs.
What’s the School’s Reputation? Investigate what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant programs you are considering. This is of special importance if you are new to the field with no prior experience, since employers will need to rely on the caliber of your education exclusively. Checking that the school you select is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating services, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact several Alabaster AL law offices that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask what schools they suggest. Keep in mind that even though a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the Program Sponsor Internships? Internship programs provide students an opportunity to experience working in a law practice or other legal establishment while still in school. They can also provide a means for students to begin creating contacts within the Alabaster AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal schools you are considering provide internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help offered? You will most likely wish to secure employment quickly after graduation, but finding that initial job in a new profession can be challenging without help. Find out if the paralegal schools you are interviewing have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good sign that the schools have large networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their graduates are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the Campus Located? Because laws vary among states, it may be beneficial to choose a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you plan to practice after graduating. In addition, it will be valuable to develop relationships in the area legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is all the more reason to obtain your education in the area where you want to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many charge a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may wish to first consider those schools that are within the Alabaster AL area.
How Much is the Entire Cost? Paralegal schools can differ in cost based on the credential obtained and the amount of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only cost for your education. Don’t forget to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial assistance might be obtainable to help offset some of the cost, so be sure to contact the school’s financial aid department to find out what is available in Alabaster AL. Naturally if you decide to attend an online program, a portion these supplementary expenses, for instance for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Accommodate your Schedule? Many paralegal students continue working while receiving their training and must have flexibility in class scheduling. If you can solely attend weekend or evening classes near Alabaster AL, make sure classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make sure that the program you enroll in makes available that option. Last, ask what the procedure is for making-up classes missed because of sickness, work or family obligations.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Schools
Paralegal and legal assistant online schools have become more prevalent and can be an excellent option for individuals looking for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be especially appealing to individuals who continue to work while obtaining a degree. As an additional benefit, online programs can often be less costly than more traditional options. Even secondary expenses for such things as commuting or study materials may be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all online programs are accredited, which we will discuss in more detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the education you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the school and program you are thinking about are accredited by a highly regarded agency, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less structured and conventional setting, then obtaining your certificate or degree online could be the right choice for you.
Will You Attend Paralegal School near Alabaster AL?
If you live near Alabaster 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.
Alabaster is a city and southern suburb of Birmingham in Shelby County, Alabama, United States. At the 2010 census, the population was 30,352. According to the 2013 Census Estimates, the city had a population of 31,342. Alabaster is the 16th largest city in Alabama by number of residents.
Alabaster mostly occupies the Cahaba and Opossum Valleys, which are divided by the Pine Ridge that runs north to south. To the east and west, both valleys are flanked by parallel mountain ridges that locally run north to south, but are a part of a larger system of ridges that generally runs north-east to south-west (the tailing ends of the Appalachian foothills). The valleys are drained by small creeks (Buck Creek, Beaverdam Creek) which flow into the Cahaba River.
George L. Scott, Sr., an Alabaster pioneer, owned and operated Alabaster Lime Co. His shipping point was known as “Scott Rock”. Later, housing was built to accommodate some of the employees, and the community acquired its name Alabaster from the "white calcium carbonate mineral". The First Bank of Alabaster opened in 1952, and its president was George L. Scott, Jr., who later became the first mayor of Alabaster. The first attempt in 1952 to incorporate Alabaster failed. In January 1953, the petition was again filed, and on February 23, 1953, Alabaster was officially incorporated with a favorable vote of 79 to 23, and 427 residing inhabitants. In 1955, the Alabaster Water and Gas Board was formed.
Enroll in the Best Paralegal Degree Program near Alabaster AL
Selecting the best paralegal degree program is a crucial 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 participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Alabaster home. Paralegal education programs are made available in many lengths and formats. Various kinds of public and private institutions make available paralegal education, including junior and community colleges, four year universities and colleges, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a profound influence on your prospects for success in your new career. Given that there is a broad range in the quality of programs, choose carefully. Give yourself the best possible opportunity to be successful in this exciting profession. But irrespective of how you elect to obtain your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have presented you will have the ability to examine each program and make your final decision. And with the appropriate education you can achieve your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Alabaster AL.
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