How to Choose a Paralegal Training Program near Tuscaloosa Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Tuscaloosa AL and begin your journey that will lead to a rewarding career in legal services. Nevertheless, it’s important that you find the best school so that you will receive the extensive training that you need to be successful. As you probably know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of educational alternatives are becoming available, both on campus and online. However with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Some prospective students start by looking for schools within driving distance of their Tuscaloosa residences. Of those options, they try to find the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are very important considerations when choosing a college, they are not the only factors you need to take into consideration. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the program ought to be taken into consideration as well. Later on in this post we will review a list of concerns that you ought to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare every one prior to making your selection. But before we do, let’s have a look at what a paralegal does and the educational options that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants basically both fill the same job positions and functions, just with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and belong to a separate job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Tuscaloosa AL attorneys with a wide range of job duties, including legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job functions are relevant to the type of legal firm where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice may help with trial logistics or delivering documents to court. In private practices, a paralegal’s work is usually billed hourly as are the lawyer’s. And the same as attorneys, they must perform with a high level of professionalism and comply with a strict code of professional ethics. As mentioned, their duties can be varied in support of the firms where they are employed, but some of their everyday activities can involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching related laws and cases
- Drafting correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping attorneys get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal documents, files and other records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be complicated and rather challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally allowed to do is provide legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not limited to administrative or clerical duties more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers have the ability to take on a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could on their own.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the academic prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The fastest way to begin your career as a paralegal in Tuscaloosa AL is by obtaining a certificate, which may take as little as six months to complete. Most entry level positions do call for an Associate’s Degree, which offer a more comprehensive education and can be obtained at many community colleges in two years. For an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor’s Degrees are available also. When you have earned either a degree or a certificate, you might want to proceed and obtain a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory 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 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 discuss the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 important initial steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Points to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Since you now you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what training choices are offered, you can start the undertaking of evaluating schools. But because there are so many programs offered at community and junior colleges in the Tuscaloosa AL area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you must know what questions to ask so that you can 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 most prospective students, you will start by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other important factors to think about also, for instance the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let’s go over a few of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are researching so that you can effectively vet each one and make your ultimate selection.
Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you enroll in should 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 learning. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will obtain will be of the highest quality, but it will establish with future employers that you are a qualified professional also. Numerous Tuscaloosa AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited program. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are typically available only for accredited schools.
What’s the Program’s Reputation? Find out what the rankings and reputations 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 make a decision based on the quality of your education exclusively. Checking that the program you pick is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating reports, such as those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call a few Tuscaloosa AL law firms that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask what schools they suggest. Bear in mind that even though a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an excellent reputation.
Does the Program Sponsor Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal enterprise while remaining in school. They can also offer a pathway for students to begin creating contacts within the Tuscaloosa AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal schools you are assessing provide internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help offered? You will most likely want to hit the ground running after graduation, but finding that initial job in a new field can be difficult without assistance. Find out if the paralegal schools you are interviewing have job assistance 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 highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the Campus Located? Because laws differ from one state to another, it may be a good idea to select a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you wish to work after graduation. Also, it will be important to establish relationships in the area legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is all the more justification to obtain your education in the community where you wish to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most charge a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might need to first consider those schools that are within the Tuscaloosa AL area.
What is the Complete Expense? Paralegal programs can vary in price based on the credential obtained and the length of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only expense for your education. Don’t forget to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial assistance may be accessible to help minimize some of the expense, so make sure to consult with the school’s financial aid office to see what is offered in Tuscaloosa AL. Of course if you decide to attend an online program, some of these additional costs, such as for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Accommodate your Schedule? A number of legal students continue working while receiving their training and require flexibility in class scheduling. If you can solely attend night or weekend classes near Tuscaloosa AL, verify classes are available 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, ask what the protocol is for making up missed classes as a result of sickness, work or family obligations.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Schools
Paralegal and legal assistant online programs have become more prevalent and can be an excellent option for individuals looking for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be particularly appealing to those who keep working while obtaining a degree. As an added advantage, online programs can often be less expensive than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenditures for such things as commuting or study materials can be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will discuss in more detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the training you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the school and program you are thinking about are accredited by a reputable agency, for example 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 might be the right choice for you.
Will You Attend Paralegal School near Tuscaloosa AL?
If you live near Tuscaloosa 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.
Tuscaloosa (/tʌskəˈluːsə/ TUS-kə-LOO-sə) is a city in and the seat of Tuscaloosa County in west central Alabama (in the southeastern United States). Located on the Black Warrior River at the Atlantic Seaboard fall line of the Piedmont, it is the fifth-largest city in Alabama, with an estimated population of 100,287 in 2017.
Incorporated as a town on December 13, 1819, it was named after Tuskaloosa, the chief of a band of Muskogean-speaking people. They battled and were defeated by forces of Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto in 1540 in the Battle of Mabila, thought to have been located in what is now central Alabama. Tuscaloosa served as Alabama's capital city from 1826 to 1846.
Tuscaloosa is the regional center of industry, commerce, healthcare, and education for the area of west-central Alabama known as West Alabama. It is the principal city of the Tuscaloosa Metropolitan Statistical Area, which includes Tuscaloosa, Hale and Pickens counties. In 2013 its estimated metro population was 235,628. Tuscaloosa is also the home of The University of Alabama, Stillman College and Shelton State Community College. While the city attracted international attention when Mercedes-Benz announced it would build its first automotive assembly plant in North America in Tuscaloosa County, the University of Alabama remains the dominant economic and cultural engine in the city.
Enroll in the Ideal Legal Assistant Degree Program near Tuscaloosa AL
Choosing the best paralegal educational program is an essential first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have discussed in this post, you have the choice of attending classes on campus or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Tuscaloosa residence. Paralegal education programs are provided in numerous lengths and formats. Several types of private and public institutions provide paralegal training, including community colleges, four-year universities and colleges, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a profound impact on your opportunities for success in your new career. Given that there is a broad range in the quality of programs, pick wisely. Afford yourself the best possible chance to succeed in this rewarding profession. But no matter how you elect to acquire your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have presented you will be able to examine each program and make your final selection. And with the right training you can realize your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Tuscaloosa AL.
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