How to Select a Paralegal Training Program near Bessemer Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Bessemer AL and start your journey that will lead to a satisfying profession in legal services. However, it’s important that you find the ideal school so that you will get the comprehensive 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 more and more academic options are becoming available, both at school and online. But with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one start? Many prospective students begin by trying to find schools within traveling range of their Bessemer homes. Of those options, they look for the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are prime considerations when choosing a school, they are not the only qualifiers you ought to consider. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the program ought to be considered also. Later on in this article we will review a list of concerns that you ought to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare each one prior to making your selection. But before we do, let’s have a look at what a paralegal does and the instructional options that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants for the most part both fill comparable job roles and functions, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and are part of a different job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Bessemer AL attorneys with a wide range of job duties, such as legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job functions are relevant to the type of legal firm where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice might assist with trial logistics or transporting documents to court. In private practices, a paralegal’s work is usually billed by the hour as are the attorney’s. And just like attorneys, they must conduct themselves with a high degree of professionalism and comply with a strict standard of professional ethics. As stated, their responsibilities can be varied in support of the firms where they are employed, but a few of their day-to-day activities can include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on pertinent laws and cases
- Preparing correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting attorneys prepare for trial and stay 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 complex and rather challenging. However, what they are not legally permitted to do is offer legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not restricted to administrative or clerical tasks more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly 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 take on a much larger number of cases or clients than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the academic requirements and opportunities will be the same. The fastest way to launch your career as a legal assistant in Bessemer AL is by obtaining a certificate, which may involve as little as six months to accomplish. Many entry level positions do call for an Associate’s Degree, which provide a more comprehensive education and may be earned at numerous community colleges in 2 years. For an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor’s Degrees are available as well. When you have earned either a certificate or degree, you might want 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 improve your employment opportunities, but help establish you as a professional as well. A few of the highly regarded 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 degree or certificate from an accredited program (we will address the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two important initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Degree Programs
Now that you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what academic options are available, you can begin the process of assessing schools. But because there are so many programs offered at community and junior colleges in the Bessemer AL area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you must find out what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is particularly true when you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. If you are like many potential students, you will start by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other crucial issues to consider also, such as accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let’s take a look at some of the questions you should be asking the programs you are considering so that you can effectively vet each one and make your ultimate decision.
Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you choose should be accredited by a respected organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it may also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online education. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will obtain will be of the highest standard, but it will establish with future employers that you are a qualified professional also. Numerous Bessemer AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited school. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are usually obtainable only for accredited schools.
What’s the Reputation of the School? Investigate what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant programs you are considering. This is of special importance if you are entering the field with no prior experience, since employers will need to make a decision based on the quality of your training exclusively. Verifying that the school you pick is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating reports, 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 several Bessemer AL law offices that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask what schools they recommend. Remember that even if a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs give students an opportunity to experience working in a law office or other legal operation while remaining in school. They can also present an avenue for students to begin establishing contacts within the Bessemer AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal programs you are evaluating provide internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help offered? You will most likely want to hit the ground running after graduation, but getting that first job in a new field can be difficult without help. Ask if the paralegal programs you are reviewing have job placement programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have large networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their students are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the School’s Location? Considering that laws vary from one state to another, it might be beneficial to enroll in a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you want to practice after graduation. In addition, it will be necessary to develop relationships in the local legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is all the more reason to receive your education in the community where you wish to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many charge a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may want to first investigate those schools that are within the Bessemer AL region.
What is the Complete Cost? Paralegal schools can differ in cost depending on the credential obtained and the amount of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only expense for your education. Remember to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial assistance may be obtainable to help reduce some of the expense, so make sure to check with the school’s financial aid office to find out what is available in Bessemer AL. Of course if you opt to attend an online program, some of these additional expenses, such as for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? A number of legal students keep working while receiving their training and require flexibility to schedule classes. If you can solely attend weekend or evening classes near Bessemer AL, verify classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make certain that the program you choose offers that option. Finally, ask what the protocol is for making-up classes missed because of sickness, work or family obligations.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Programs
Paralegal and legal assistant online schools have become more available and can be an excellent option for those searching for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online schools can be particularly attractive to those who keep working while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an additional advantage, online programs can often be less expensive than more traditional options. Even secondary expenditures for such things as commuting or study materials can be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will cover 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 sure that the program and school you are thinking about are accredited by a respected organization, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less structured and conventional environment, then obtaining your certificate or degree online might be the right option for you.
Will You Attend Paralegal School near Bessemer AL?
If you live near Bessemer 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.
Bessemer is a city southwest of Birmingham in Jefferson County, Alabama, United States. The population was 27,456 at the 2010 Census. It is within the Birmingham-Hoover, AL Metropolitan Statistical Area, of which Jefferson County is the center. It developed rapidly as an industrial city in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The town was founded in the postbellum era by the Bessemer Land and Improvement Company, named after Henry Bessemer and owned by coal magnate Henry F. DeBardeleben. He had inherited Daniel Pratt's investments. The mayor and councilmen voted to incorporate the city of Bessemer on September 9, 1887. Located 16 miles southwest of Birmingham, Bessemer grew rapidly and its promoters believed that it might overtake the other city in economic power.
Given the iron ore, coal and limestone deposits in the area, the city became a center of steelmaking from about 1890 through the 20th century. It attracted rural migrants from across the South, as well as European immigrants. By the 1950s, the city was majority African American in population.
Select the Ideal Paralegal School near Bessemer AL
Choosing the ideal paralegal degree program is an important first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have covered in this article, you have the option of attending classes on campus or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Bessemer home. Paralegal education programs are provided in various formats and lengths. Several types of public and private institutions make available paralegal education, including junior and community colleges, four year colleges and universities, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a profound influence on your prospects for success in your new career. Since there is a broad range in the quality of programs, choose carefully. Afford yourself the best possible chance to be successful in this rewarding profession. But irrespective of how you elect to obtain your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have provided you will have the ability to assess each program and make your ultimate decision. And with the right education you can accomplish your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Bessemer AL.
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