How to Pick a Paralegal Studies Program near Gulf Shores Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Gulf Shores AL and begin your journey that will lead to a satisfying career in legal services. However, it’s important that you locate the best school so that you will receive the extensive training that you require to achieve success. As you most likely know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more educational choices are becoming available, both at school and online. However with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Some potential students begin by looking for paralegal schools within traveling distance of their Gulf Shores homes. Of those alternatives, they try to find the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are very important considerations when selecting a college, they are not the only qualifiers you need to take into consideration. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the school need to be taken into consideration also. Later in this article we will review a list of questions that you need to ask potential paralegal certificate schools so that you can assess and compare every one before making your selection. But first, let’s have a look at what a paralegal does and the instructional options that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
What is a Paralegal and What Do They Do?
Paralegals and legal assistants basically both hold the same job roles and responsibilities, only with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and are part of a separate job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants help attorneys in Gulf Shores AL with a diverse array of job functions, such as maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job functions are based upon the type of practice where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm might assist with trial logistics or delivering documents to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is typically billed by the hour as are the lawyer’s. And just like lawyers, they must carry out their duties with a high degree of professionalism and comply with a strict standard of professional ethics. As noted, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they work, but a few of their everyday tasks may include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on pertinent laws and cases
- Preparing correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting lawyers get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a Gulf Shores AL paralegal can be involved and very challenging. However, what they are not legally permitted to do is provide legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not confined to clerical or administrative duties more apropos 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 are able to handle a much larger number of clients or cases than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we previously covered, 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 requirements and opportunities will be the same. The fastest means to start your career in Gulf Shores AL as a paralegal is by obtaining a certificate, which may involve just six months to accomplish. Many entry level positions do call for an Associate’s Degree, which provide a more expansive education and can be obtained at numerous community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor’s Degrees are offered also. After 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 increase your job opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. Some of the highly respected 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 certificate or degree from an accredited program (we will address the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 important initial steps that will help guarantee your success as a paralegal in Gulf Shores AL.
Online Paralegal Training
Paralegal online schools have become more available and may be an excellent option for students in Gulf Shores AL looking for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online schools can be especially appealing to those who continue to work while earning a degree. As an additional advantage, online schools can sometimes be less expensive than on campus 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 the very least accreditation helps ensure that the education you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the program and school you are considering are accredited by a highly regarded organization, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less supervised and conventional environment, then earning your degree or certificate online might be the right choice for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Schools
Now that you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what academic choices are offered, you can start the process of evaluating Gulf Shores AL area schools. But since there are numerous programs offered at community and junior colleges, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you must find out what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is particularly true if you add all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. If you are like most potential students, you will begin by searching 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, such as accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let’s go over 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 choice.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you select need to be accredited by a respected accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it can also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online training. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will get will be of the highest standard, but it will demonstrate to potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Many Gulf Shores AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited school. Also, financial aid and student loans are usually accessible only for accredited programs.
What’s the Reputation of the School? Learn what the reputations and rankings are for the Gulf Shores AL paralegal programs you are considering. This is of particular importance if you are new to the profession with no prior experience, since employers will need to rely on the caliber of your education exclusively. Checking that the school you select is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating reports, such as those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also call some law firms that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask what schools they suggest. Bear in mind that even when a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the Program Sponsor Internships? Internship programs provide students an opportunity to experience working in a law firm or other legal enterprise while remaining in school. They can also offer an avenue for students to start developing contacts within the Gulf Shores AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal programs you are evaluating offer internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance offered? You will most likely wish to secure employment quickly after graduation, but getting that initial job in a new profession can be challenging without assistance. Ask if the paralegal programs you are assessing have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have substantial networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their students are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the Campus Located? Considering that laws vary from state to state, it might be beneficial to enroll in a paralegal school domiciled in the state where you plan to practice after graduation. In addition, it will be valuable to create 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 attend classes at a community college, many require a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might wish to initially look at those schools that are within your Gulf Shores AL local area.
How Much is the Entire Expense? Paralegal schools can vary in cost depending on the credential obtained and the amount of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your training. Don’t forget to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance might be accessible to help offset some of the expense, so be sure to talk to the school’s financial aid office to find out what is available in Gulf Shores AL. Needless to say that if you opt to attend an online school, some of these added expenses, such as for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? A number of paralegal students keep working while receiving their training and need flexibility to schedule classes. If you can solely attend night or weekend classes near Gulf Shores AL, verify classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make certain that the program you enroll in offers that option. Finally, inquire what the procedure is for making-up missed classes due to sickness, work or family emergencies.
Considering Paralegal School in Gulf Shores AL?
Gulf Shores, Alabama
Gulf Shores is located on the Gulf of Mexico at 30°16'4.069" North, 87°42'5.285" West (30.267797, −87.701468). It is the southernmost settlement in the state of Alabama. It is served by Alabama State Route 59 (Gulf Shores Parkway), which leads north to Foley. Route 182 (Beach Boulevard) runs east-west along the shore front, while Route 180 (Fort Morgan Road) runs parallel to it, north of Little Lagoon. Gulf State Park occupies a large eastern part of the city.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 28.0 square miles (72.5 km2), of which 23.2 square miles (60.0 km2) is land and 4.8 square miles (12.5 km2), or 17.24%, is water.
Gulf Shores has a humid subtropical climate, with long, hot summers, and mild and sunny winters. With bright sunny summers and warm winters, Alabama Gulf Coast weather offers year-round opportunities for beach, fish, golf and enjoying life. Winters are generally mild and residents can enjoy outside activities the majority of the time. Daily highs in winter are close to 60 F (15.6 C) and nighttime lows are near 40 F (4 C). Summers are hot, which makes for great beach weather and the sea breeze provides relief from the heat as well as humidity. Daytime highs in summer are near 90 F (32.2 C) and evening lows near 68 F (18 C). While the area enjoys a strong "snowbird" season from December to April, many locals say that May/June and October/November are the best months. Ocean surf temperatures are quite warm from May through November, often well into the low 80's F (27 C).
As a result of being located on the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico, Gulf Shores is vulnerable to tropical cyclones. In September 1979, Hurricane Frederic caused massive destruction, leveling most of the town. In September 2004, Hurricane Ivan caused extensive wind and flooding damage. In 2005, while the city was still cleaning up from Ivan, Hurricane Katrina caused extensive damage and flooding. Many newer building are built to strict building codes, and structures are elevated to reduce tropical cyclone damage.
Enroll in the Best Paralegal College near Gulf Shores AL
Choosing the best paralegal educational program is an important first step toward your success in the gratifying 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 comfort and privacy of your Gulf Shores residence. Paralegal training programs are offered in numerous lengths and formats. Various types of public and private institutions make available paralegal training, including community colleges, four-year universities and colleges, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your choice 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 programs, pick wisely. Give yourself the best possible opportunity to succeed in this exciting profession. But regardless of how you elect to acquire your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have presented you will have the ability to review each program and make your ultimate selection. And with the appropriate education you can realize your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Gulf Shores AL.
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