How to Choose the Right Paralegal Degree Program near Tuscaloosa Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Tuscaloosa AL and begin your journey that will result in a fulfilling career in legal services. Nevertheless, it’s important that you locate the right school so that you will receive the extensive training that you need to succeed. As you most likely know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more academic alternatives are being offered, both on campus and online. But with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Many prospective students begin by searching for schools within traveling distance of their Tuscaloosa residences. Of those choices, they look for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are very important considerations when picking a college, they are not the only factors you should consider. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the program must be considered as well. Later on in this post we will cover a list of questions that you ought to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare each one before making your decision. But first, let’s take a look at what a paralegal does and the instructional alternatives that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants for the most part both fill the same job roles and responsibilities, only with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and belong to a different job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Tuscaloosa AL attorneys with a diverse array of job duties, including maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job duties are based upon the type of practice where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice might help with the logistics of a trial or transferring files to court. In private firms, a paralegal’s work is normally billed by the hour as are the lawyer’s. And just like lawyers, they must perform with a high level of professionalism and adhere to a strict code of professional ethics. As noted, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they are employed, but a few of their regular activities can involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching applicable laws and cases
- Drafting correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping lawyers prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal documents, files and other records
With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be complicated and rather demanding. On the other hand, what they are not legally permitted to do is give legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not confined to administrative or clerical tasks more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the main support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys are able to handle a much larger number of cases or clients than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the educational requirements and job prospects will be the same. The quickest way to begin your career as a paralegal in Tuscaloosa AL is by earning a certificate, which may take just 6 months to complete. Many entry level positions do require an Associate’s Degree, which provide a more comprehensive education and can be earned at numerous community colleges in two years. For an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor’s Degrees are available also. After you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you may want to proceed and earn a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help increase your employment opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. Some 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 school (we will discuss the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two essential first steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Things to Ask Paralegal Programs
Since you now you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what academic options are available, you can begin the process of assessing schools. But considering that there are numerous programs available at community and junior colleges in the Tuscaloosa 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 especially 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 looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other critical issues to think about also, including the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let’s take a look at a few of the questions you should be asking the programs you are considering so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your ultimate decision.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you pick should be accredited by a reputable accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it can also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets distance or online education. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will get will be of the highest standard, but it will show potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. A number of Tuscaloosa AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited school. Finally, financial aid and student loans are often offered only for accredited programs.
What’s the Program’s Reputation? Investigate what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant schools you are contemplating. This is of particular importance if you are entering the field with no previous work history, since employers will need to rely on the quality of your training exclusively. Verifying that the school you pick is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating reports, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also call some Tuscaloosa AL law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask what schools they recommend. Bear in mind that even when a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs offer students a chance to experience working in a law firm or other legal operation while remaining in school. They can also present an avenue for students to start developing contacts within the Tuscaloosa AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal programs you are evaluating provide internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help offered? You will most likely wish to hit the ground running after graduating, but finding that initial job in a new field can be challenging without support. Find out if the paralegal programs you are reviewing have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent 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 in demand.
Where is the Campus Located? Since laws differ from one state to another, it may be advantageous to select a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you want to work after graduating. In addition, it will be important to establish relationships in the area legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is all the more reason to obtain your education in the community where you choose to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many require an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may want to initially look at those colleges that are within the Tuscaloosa AL region.
What is the Complete Cost? Paralegal schools can differ in cost depending on the credential earned and the length of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expense for your education. Remember to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid might be accessible to help reduce some of the expense, so make sure to check with the school’s financial aid office to find out what is offered in Tuscaloosa AL. Naturally if you choose to attend an online school, a portion these supplementary expenses, such as for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Accommodate your Schedule? Many paralegal students keep working while obtaining their training and need flexibility in class scheduling. If you can only attend weekend or evening classes near Tuscaloosa AL, make sure classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, confirm that the program you choose provides that option. Finally, find out what the protocol is for making up missed classes due to work, illness or family obligations.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Degrees
Online paralegal or legal assistant programs have become more available and may be a good alternative for students looking for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be especially attractive to students who continue to work while earning a degree. As an added benefit, online schools can often be less expensive than more traditional options. Even supplementary expenditures for such things as study materials or commuting may be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will cover in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the education you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the school and program you are looking into are accredited by a reputable organization, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less structured and formal environment, then earning your degree or certificate online might be the right choice for you.
Attending a Paralegal School near Tuscaloosa AL?
If you live near Tuscaloosa Alabama or perhaps 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. The city was originally known as Tuskaloosa until the early 20th century.
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, making it a college town.
Degree In Paralegal Tuscaloosa AL
Selecting the ideal paralegal studies degree school is an important first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. You originally came to this website because you had an interest in getting more information about Degree In Paralegal. But as we have covered in this article, you have the option of attending classes on-campus or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Tuscaloosa home. Paralegal academic programs are made available in many lengths and formats. Different kinds of private and public institutions provide paralegal education, including community colleges, four-year universities and colleges, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a pronounced influence on your prospects for success in your new career. Given that there is a wide range in the quality of programs, choose carefully. Afford yourself the greatest possible chance to succeed in this rewarding profession. But regardless of how you decide to acquire your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have presented you will be able to review each school and make your ultimate decision. And with the ideal education you can accomplish your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Tuscaloosa AL.
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