How to Pick a Paralegal Certificate Program near Fultondale Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Fultondale AL and begin your journey that will result in a satisfying career in legal services. However, it’s crucial that you find the ideal school so that you will get the extensive training that you need to be successful. As you probably understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more academic options are being offered, both at school and online. But with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Many prospective students begin by trying to find schools within driving range of their Fultondale residences. Of those alternatives, they try to find the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are necessary considerations when selecting a college, they are not the only factors you should consider. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the school ought to be taken into account too. Later on in this article we will review a list of concerns that you ought to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare each one before making your decision. But first, let’s take a look at what a paralegal does and the educational options that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals essentially both hold comparable job positions and functions, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and belong to a separate job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Fultondale AL attorneys with a diverse array of job functions, including maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job functions are relevant to the type of practice where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice could assist with the logistics of a trial or transporting files to court. In private practices, a paralegal’s work is typically billed hourly as are the attorney’s. And just like lawyers, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and comply with a strict code of professional ethics. As mentioned, their duties can be diverse in support of the firms where they are employed, but some of their routine tasks might involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching relevant cases and laws
- Preparing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping lawyers get ready for trial and keep 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 quite challenging. 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 limited to clerical or administrative functions more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers are able to manage a much larger number of cases or clients 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. In any case, for either position the academic prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The fastest means to begin your career as a legal assistant in Fultondale AL is by obtaining a certificate, which may require just 6 months to accomplish. A large number of entry level positions do require an Associate’s Degree, which provide a more extensive education and may be earned at many community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor’s Degrees are available also. Once you have acquired either a degree or a certificate, you may choose to continue and earn a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help maximize your job opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. A few of the highly regarded 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 school (we will address the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two crucial first steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Points to Ask Paralegal Degree Programs
Once you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what educational choices are available, you can start the process of evaluating schools. But since there are so many programs offered at community and junior colleges in the Fultondale AL area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you must know what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is particularly true when you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree 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 previously covered, there are other crucial factors to consider as well, such as the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let’s go over a few of the questions you should be asking the programs you are researching so that you can effectively vet each one and make your final choice.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you choose should be accredited by a respected organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it might also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets online or distance learning. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will obtain will be of the highest quality, but it will demonstrate to potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. Numerous Fultondale AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited school. Also, financial aid and student loans are often obtainable only for accredited programs.
What’s the Reputation of the School? Learn what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant schools 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 education exclusively. Checking that the school you choose 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 Fultondale AL law practices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask which schools they recommend. Remember that even when a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law firm or other legal enterprise while remaining in school. They can also present a pathway for students to start creating contacts within the Fultondale AL legal field. Ask 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 Assistance provided? You will most likely wish to secure employment quickly after graduation, but finding that first job in a new field can be difficult without help. Find out if the paralegal schools you are reviewing have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have sizable networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their graduates are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the Campus Located? Considering that laws differ among states, it may be advantageous to choose a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you want to work after graduation. Also, it will be necessary to establish relationships in the neighboring legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is even more justification to obtain your education in the area where you choose to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many require an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might want to first look at those colleges that are within the Fultondale AL region.
How Much is the Complete Expense? Paralegal schools can vary in price depending on the credential received and the amount of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your training. Don’t forget to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance may be accessible to help minimize some of the cost, so make sure to check with the school’s financial aid department to find out what is available in Fultondale AL. Needless to say that if you opt to attend an online school, a portion these additional expenses, such as for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? Many paralegal students keep working while receiving their training and need flexibility to schedule classes. If you can just attend weekend or evening classes near Fultondale AL, verify classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make sure that the school you enroll in offers that option. Finally, inquire what the protocol is for making-up classes missed due to work, illness or family emergencies.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Programs
Online legal assistant or paralegal programs have become more available and can be an excellent option for those searching for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online schools can be especially appealing to individuals who keep working while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an additional advantage, online programs can often be less expensive than on campus options. Even ancillary expenses for such items as commuting or study materials may be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will discuss in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the education you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the program and school you are looking into are accredited by a highly regarded organization, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less supervised and conventional setting, then earning your certificate or degree online might be the right choice for you.
Will You Attend Paralegal School near Fultondale AL?
If you live near Fultondale 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.
This area was once known as Fulton Springs. Prior to the building of Interstate 65, US 31 was the main route for travelers northbound from Birmingham towards Nashville, Tennessee. As a result, hotels such as the Keystone Lodge and Buchmann Motor Inn prospered. On the city's southern edge was located one of the few drive-in theatres in the Birmingham area (the "Skyview"). This was torn down when I-65 was built in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The Pine Bowl bowling alley is still a long time fixture in the city.Traces of the old routing of US 31 are still noticeable in the city. From just south of the city hall to an old bridge on this city's northern side, most of this old routing is known as Stouts Road or in some cases simply "old US 31."
Fultondale was a relatively stagnant community until the last decade. Growth has occurred in residential areas mainly west of Interstate 65, while retail development has focused along and near the I-65/Walkers Chapel Road exit.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 12.2 square miles (32 km2), all land. Fultondale is located along one of the many ridgelines that comprise the southern end of the Appalachian Mountain chain. The area has been thoroughly mined for coal and other minerals in the past 100 years. The city is served by two major north/south highways, Interstate 65 and US Highway 31. The new Interstate 22 encroaches on the city's western edge and on June 20, 2016, the interchange with I-65 just south of Fultondale opened. I-22 will provide direct interstate access to Memphis, Tennessee. Upon completion of Interstate 22, Fultondale will become the fourth Alabama city (after Birmingham, Montgomery, and Mobile) to be directly served by more than one two-digit interstate highway (I-65 & I-22). The only east/west thoroughfare of note is Walkers Chapel Road (west of US 31) and New Castle Road (east of US 31). Rail lines run north/south along the city's eastern edge from Boyles Yard in Tarrant to points north and east. Air travel is available from nearby Birmingham International Airport.
Enroll in the Ideal Paralegal College near Fultondale AL
Selecting the best paralegal training program is a vital first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have addressed in this post, you have the choice of attending classes on campus or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Fultondale home. Paralegal training programs are provided in various formats and lengths. Different kinds of private and public institutions offer 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 pronounced impact on your prospects for success in your new career. Considering that there is a broad range in the quality of programs, choose wisely. Give yourself the greatest possible opportunity to be successful in this rewarding profession. But no matter how you choose to receive your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have presented you will have the ability to review each program and make your final selection. And with the appropriate training you can accomplish your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Fultondale AL.
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