How to Pick a Paralegal Degree Program near Birmingham Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Birmingham AL and begin your journey that will lead to a fulfilling career in legal services. However, it’s crucial that you find the ideal school so that you will receive the extensive training that you need to achieve success. As you probably understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of academic options are becoming available, both on campus and online. But with so many options to choose from, where does one begin? Many potential students start by searching for schools within commuting distance of their Birmingham homes. Of those choices, they search for the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are necessary considerations when picking a college, they are not the only factors you should consider. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the program need to be taken into consideration as well. Later in this post we will cover a list of concerns that you need to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare each one before making your choice. But first, let’s take a look at what a paralegal does and the academic choices that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals basically both hold comparable job positions and functions, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and belong to a separate job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Birmingham AL attorneys with a wide range of job functions, including maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job functions are based upon the type of legal firm where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice might help with the logistics of a trial or delivering documents to court. In private practices, a paralegal’s work is usually billed hourly as are the attorney’s. And just like lawyers, they must carry out their duties with a high level of professionalism and adhere to a strict standard of professional ethics. As noted, their responsibilities can be varied in support of the firms where they work, but some of their everyday activities might include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on applicable cases and laws
- Drafting correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping lawyers prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal files, documents and other records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be complicated and rather demanding. However, what they are not legally allowed to do is offer legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not confined to clerical or administrative functions more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the main support systems for attorneys. And since they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys have the ability to take on a much larger number of cases or clients than they could alone.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the academic prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The quickest means to begin your career as a paralegal in Birmingham AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can require as little as six months to accomplish. Many entry level positions do require an Associate’s Degree, which furnish a more extensive education and may be acquired at numerous community colleges in 2 years. For an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor’s Degrees are an option as well. Once you have acquired either a certificate or degree, you may 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 also. Some 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 program (we will address the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two essential first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
What to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Now that you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what academic choices are available, you can begin the undertaking of assessing schools. But considering that there are numerous programs accessible at junior and community colleges in the Birmingham AL area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you must find out what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is particularly true when you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like many prospective students, you will begin by searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other significant aspects to research also, for instance accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let’s take a look at some of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are considering so that you can effectively vet each one and make your final choice.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you pick should be accredited by a recognized 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 focuses on online or distance education. 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 as well. Numerous Birmingham AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited school. Also, financial aid and student loans are typically accessible only for accredited programs.
What’s the Reputation of the Program? Learn what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant programs you are considering. This is of particular importance if you are entering the profession with no prior experience, since employers will have to rely on the caliber of your education exclusively. Checking that the school you pick is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating services, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact several Birmingham AL law firms 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 among the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the Program Offer Internships? Internship programs give students an opportunity to experience working in a law practice or other legal operation while remaining in school. They can also present an avenue for students to start creating contacts within the Birmingham AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal schools you are considering offer internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help offered? You will probably want to secure employment quickly after graduation, but finding that first job in a new profession can be challenging without support. Ask if the paralegal schools you are interviewing have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good sign that the schools have substantial networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their students are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the School Located? Considering that laws differ among states, it may be a good idea to select a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you wish to work after graduation. In addition, it will be valuable to create relationships in the area legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is even more reason to obtain your education in the community where you wish to work. 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 need to first investigate those schools that are within the Birmingham AL region.
How Much is the Entire Expense? Paralegal programs can vary in cost based on the credential earned and the amount of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only cost for your education. Don’t forget to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid may be obtainable to help reduce some of the cost, so be sure to talk to the school’s financial aid office to see what is offered in Birmingham AL. Of course if you choose to attend an online school, some of these added expenses, such as for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Fit your Schedule? A number of legal students keep working while receiving their training and require flexibility in class scheduling. If you can solely attend weekend or evening classes near Birmingham AL, make sure classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make certain that the program you enroll in provides that option. Finally, find out what the process is for making up classes missed due to work, illness or family emergencies.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Training
Online legal assistant or paralegal schools have become more popular and can be a good alternative for students looking for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online schools can be particularly appealing to individuals who keep working while earning a certificate or degree. As an added benefit, online programs can in some cases be less expensive than more traditional options. Even supplementary expenses for such things as commuting or study materials can be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all online schools are accredited, which we will address in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the education you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the program and school you are looking into are accredited by a respected agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less supervised and conventional environment, then obtaining your certificate or degree online may be the ideal choice for you.
Will You Attend Paralegal School near Birmingham AL?
If you live near Birmingham 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.
Birmingham (/ˈbɜːrmɪŋhæm/ BUR-ming-ham) is the most populous city in the U.S. state of Alabama and the seat of Jefferson County. The city's population was 212,237 in the 2010 United States Census. As of 2010, the Birmingham-Hoover Metropolitan Statistical Area had a population of about 1,128,047, approximately one-quarter of Alabama's population.
Birmingham was founded in 1871, during the post-Civil War Reconstruction era, through the merger of three pre-existing farm towns, most notably Elyton. The new city was named for Birmingham, England, the UK's second largest city and at the time a major industrial city. The Alabama city annexed smaller neighbors and developed as an industrial center, based on mining, the new iron and steel industry, and rail transport. Most of the original settlers who founded Birmingham were of English ancestry. The city was developed as a place where cheap, non-unionized immigrant labor (primarily Irish and Italian), along with African-American labor from rural Alabama, could be employed in the city's steel mills and blast furnaces, giving it a competitive advantage over unionized industrial cities in the Midwest and Northeast.:14
From its founding through the end of the 1960s, Birmingham was a primary industrial center of the southern United States. Its growth from 1881 through 1920 earned it nicknames such as "The Magic City" and "The Pittsburgh of the South". Its major industries were iron and steel production. Major components of the railroad industry, rails and railroad cars, were manufactured in Birmingham. Since the 1860s, the two primary hubs of railroading in the "Deep South" have been Birmingham and Atlanta. The economy diversified in the latter half of the 20th century. Banking, telecommunications, transportation, electrical power transmission, medical care, college education, and insurance have become major economic activities. Birmingham ranks as one of the largest banking centers in the United States. Also, it is among the most important business centers in the Southeast.
Select the Right Legal Assistant College near Birmingham AL
Choosing the ideal paralegal training program is an important first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have covered in this post, you have the choice of attending classes at school or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Birmingham residence. Paralegal education programs are made available in many lengths and formats. Several kinds of public and private institutions offer paralegal training, 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 pronounced impact on your prospects for success in your new profession. Considering that there is a wide range in the quality of programs, pick carefully. Give yourself the best possible opportunity to be successful in this fascinating profession. But regardless of how you elect to receive your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to evaluate each school and make your final decision. And with the ideal training you can achieve your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Birmingham AL.
Other Alabama Locations That May Be Of Interest
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