How to Choose a Paralegal Certificate Program near Northport Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Northport AL and begin your journey that will lead to a satisfying profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it’s crucial that you locate the ideal school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you need to succeed. As you most likely understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more educational choices are being offered, both on campus and online. However with so many options to choose from, where does one start? Many potential students start by looking for schools within traveling range of their Northport homes. Of those options, they search for the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are very important considerations when selecting a college, they are not the only qualifiers you should consider. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the program need to be taken into consideration also. Later on in this post we will review a list of concerns that you should ask potential paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare every one prior to making your decision. But before we do, 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.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants for the most part both hold the same job roles and responsibilities, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and are part of a separate job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals help Northport AL attorneys with a diverse array of job functions, such as legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job functions are relevant to the type of legal firm where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm could help with the logistics of a trial or transporting documents to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is usually billed hourly as are the lawyer’s. And the same as lawyers, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and comply with a strict standard of professional ethics. As noted, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they work, but some of their regular activities may involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on related cases and laws
- Drafting correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping lawyers prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be complex and rather challenging. However, what they are not legally authorized to do is provide legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not confined to clerical or administrative duties more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the main support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers are able to take on a much larger number of cases or clients than they could on their own.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are actually 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 quickest way to launch your career as a paralegal in Northport AL is by obtaining a certificate, which may take as little as six months to accomplish. Many entry level positions do call for an Associate’s Degree, which furnish a more extensive education and can be acquired at numerous community colleges in two years. For an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor’s Degrees are offered also. After you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you may want to continue and get a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help increase your career opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. A few of the highly regarded 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 cover the benefits 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.
What to Ask Paralegal Schools
Once you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what educational choices are available, you can start the undertaking of assessing schools. But because there are so many programs available at junior and community colleges in the Northport AL area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you must find out what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is particularly true if you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like most prospective students, you will begin by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other significant factors to think about also, for instance the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let’s take a look at several of the questions you should be asking the programs you are researching so that you can properly vet each one and make your final selection.
Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you pick need to be accredited by a recognized organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it may also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online learning. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will receive will be of the highest quality, but it will show potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. Numerous Northport AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited program. Also, financial aid and student loans are often offered only for accredited schools.
What’s the School’s Reputation? Investigate what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant programs you are contemplating. This is of special importance if you are entering the profession with no previous experience, since employers will need to make a decision based on the quality of your training exclusively. Confirming that the program you select is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating services, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact some Northport AL law offices that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask which schools they suggest. Keep in mind that even if a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an excellent reputation.
Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs offer students a chance to experience working in a law practice or other legal establishment while remaining in school. They can also provide a means for students to begin creating contacts within the Northport AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal schools you are assessing offer internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will most likely want to secure employment quickly after graduating, but getting that initial job in a new field can be challenging without assistance. Ask if the paralegal schools you are assessing have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have large networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their graduates are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the Campus Located? Since laws vary from state to state, it might be advantageous to select a paralegal school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you want to work after graduating. In addition, it will be necessary to develop relationships in the area legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is even more justification to acquire your education in the community where you want to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most charge an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may want to initially consider those colleges that are within the Northport AL region.
What is the Entire Cost? Paralegal schools can vary in price based 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 supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance might be accessible to help reduce part of the cost, so make sure to check with the school’s financial aid department to find out what is available in Northport AL. Needless to say that if you decide to attend an online program, some of these supplementary costs, for instance for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? Many paralegal students keep working while obtaining their training and must have flexibility in class scheduling. If you can only attend night or weekend classes near Northport AL, make certain classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make certain that the program you select offers that option. Last, find out what the procedure is for making up classes missed due to sickness, work or family obligations.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Classes
Legal assistant and paralegal online programs have become more prevalent and may be a good option for individuals looking for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be particularly appealing to students who keep working while obtaining a degree. As an additional advantage, online schools can often be less expensive than on campus options. Even ancillary expenses for such things as study materials or commuting can be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all online programs are accredited, which we will cover in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the training you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the school and program you are reviewing are accredited by a respected organization, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to attend classes in a less structured and conventional environment, then obtaining your degree or certificate online could be the ideal option for you.
Will You Attend Paralegal School near Northport AL?
If you live near Northport 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.
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.
Find the Right Legal Assistant Certificate Program near Northport AL
Selecting the right paralegal degree program is a crucial first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have addressed in this post, you have the choice of attending classes on campus or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Northport home. Paralegal academic programs are provided in various formats and lengths. Various types of private and public institutions provide paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four-year universities and colleges, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a pronounced impact on your opportunities for success in your new career. Given that there is a wide range in the quality of schools, choose wisely. Afford yourself the greatest possible opportunity to succeed in this exciting profession. But regardless of how you decide to obtain your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have provided you will have the ability to evaluate each school and make your final selection. And with the appropriate education you can achieve your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Northport AL.
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