How to Select a Paralegal Degree Program near Gadsden Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Gadsden AL and start your journey that will result in a fulfilling profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it’s crucial that you locate the right school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you require to succeed. As you most likely understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of educational choices are becoming available, both on campus and online. But with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one start? Many potential students start by trying to find schools within driving distance of their Gadsden homes. Of those alternatives, they try to find the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are very important considerations when picking a school, they are not the only qualifiers you must take into consideration. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the program should be considered too. Later in this article we will review a list of questions that you must ask potential paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare every one prior to making your selection. But before we do, let’s have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the instructional choices that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants basically both fill the same job positions and functions, only with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and are part of a different job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Gadsden 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 duties are based upon the type of legal firm where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm might assist with the logistics of a trial or transferring files to court. In private firms, a paralegal’s work is typically billed by the hour as are the attorney’s. And just like attorneys, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and follow a strict code of professional ethics. As stated, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they work, but some of their routine activities may involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching related laws and cases
- Preparing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting attorneys prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be involved and very demanding. On the other hand, what they are not legally allowed to do is provide legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not restricted to administrative or clerical tasks more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys are able to take on a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could on their own.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The quickest means to launch your career as a legal assistant in Gadsden AL is by obtaining a certificate, which may take just 6 months to accomplish. A large number of entry level positions do call for an Associate’s Degree, which offer a more comprehensive education and can be earned at numerous community colleges in 2 years. For an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor’s Degrees are an option as well. Once you have acquired either a degree or a certificate, you may choose to proceed and get a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help maximize your career opportunities, but help establish you as a professional as well. 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 address the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 crucial first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
What to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Since you now you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what academic options are available, you can begin the undertaking of assessing schools. But because there are numerous programs accessible at junior and community colleges in the Gadsden AL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you must find out what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is especially true when you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like many potential students, you will begin 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 the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let’s go over several of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are considering so that you can properly vet each one and make your final decision.
Is the Paralegal School and Program Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you enroll in need to be accredited by a highly regarded organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it can also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets online or distance education. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will obtain will be of the highest standard, but it will establish with future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. A number of Gadsden AL law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited program. Finally, financial aid and student loans are often offered only for accredited programs.
What’s the Program’s Reputation? Learn what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal programs you are contemplating. This is of particular importance if you are entering the profession with no previous work history, since employers will have to rely on the caliber of your training exclusively. Checking that the program you choose is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating reports, such as those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call a few Gadsden AL law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask what schools they suggest. Bear in mind that even if a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the Program Sponsor Internships? Internship programs offer students an opportunity to experience working in a law office or other legal enterprise while remaining in school. They can also present a means for students to begin creating contacts within the Gadsden AL legal field. Ask if the paralegal schools you are evaluating provide internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help offered? You will probably want to secure employment quickly after graduation, but getting that first job in a new profession can be difficult without support. Find out if the paralegal schools you are assessing 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 substantiates that their graduates are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the Campus Located? Since laws differ among states, it may be beneficial to select a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you want to work after graduation. Also, it will be valuable to build relationships in the local legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is all the more justification to obtain your education in the area where you desire to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many require a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may wish to initially look at those schools that are within the Gadsden AL region.
How Much is the Entire Cost? Paralegal schools can differ in cost depending on the credential earned and the amount of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only expense for your training. Don’t forget to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial assistance may be available to help reduce some of the cost, so don’t forget to check with the school’s financial aid office to find out what is offered in Gadsden AL. Of course if you decide to attend an online program, a portion these added costs, for instance for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Fit your Schedule? Many legal students keep working while getting their training and must have flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend night or weekend classes near Gadsden AL, make sure classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, confirm that the program you choose provides that option. Last, inquire what the protocol is for making-up missed classes due to sickness, work or family obligations.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Schools
Online legal assistant or paralegal programs have become more common and can be an excellent alternative for individuals searching for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online schools can be especially attractive to students who keep working while obtaining a degree. As an additional advantage, online classes can often be less expensive than on campus options. Even secondary expenses for such things as study materials or commuting may be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all online schools are accredited, which we will discuss in more detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the training you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the program and school you are reviewing are accredited by a respected organization, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less structured and formal setting, then obtaining your certificate or degree online might be the ideal choice for you.
Will You Attend Paralegal School near Gadsden AL?
If you live near Gadsden 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.
Gadsden is a city in and the county seat of Etowah County in the U.S. state of Alabama. It is located on the Coosa River about 56 miles (90 km) northeast of Birmingham and 90 miles (140 km) southwest of Chattanooga, Tennessee. It is the primary city of the Gadsden Metropolitan Statistical Area, which has a population of 103,931. As of the 2010 census, the population of the city was 36,856, with an estimated population of 35,837 in 2016. Gadsden and Rome, Georgia, are the largest cities in the triangular area now defined by the interstate highways between Atlanta, Birmingham, and Chattanooga.
In the 19th century, Gadsden was at one time Alabama's second-most important center of commerce and industry, trailing only the seaport of Mobile. The two cities were important shipping centers: Gadsden for riverboats and Mobile for international trade.
From the late 19th century through the 1980s, Gadsden was a center of heavy industry, including the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company and Republic Steel. More than a decade after the sharp decline in industry, in 1991 Gadsden was awarded the honor of All-America City by the National Civic League. This honored the way Gadsden's citizens, government, businesses, and voluntary organizations have worked together to address critical local issues.
Select the Best Paralegal Degree Program near Gadsden AL
Selecting the ideal paralegal training program is a vital 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 at school or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Gadsden home. Paralegal training programs are provided in many lengths and formats. Several types of public and private institutions make available paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four year colleges and universities, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a profound impact on your prospects for success in your new career. Since there is a wide range in the quality of schools, pick wisely. Afford yourself the best possible opportunity to be successful in this fascinating profession. But regardless of how you elect to receive your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have presented you will be able to evaluate each school and make your ultimate selection. And with the appropriate education you can achieve your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Gadsden AL.
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