How to Select a Paralegal Program near Birmingham Alabama
Best Wishes regarding your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Birmingham AL and begin your journey that will result in a rewarding profession in legal services. However, it’s essential that you locate the best school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you need to succeed. As you probably understand, 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 options to choose from, where does one start? Many potential students begin by trying to find paralegal schools within driving range of their Birmingham residences. Of those choices, they try to find the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are prime considerations when selecting a school, 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 account as well. Later on in this post we will cover a list of concerns that you ought to ask prospective paralegal certificate schools so that you can examine and compare every one prior to making your decision. But before we do, let’s have a look at what a paralegal does and the instructional alternatives 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 comparable job positions 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 classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants help attorneys in Birmingham AL with a wide range of job duties, such as maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job duties are based upon the type of practice where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice could assist with the logistics of a trial or delivering documents to court. In private practices, a paralegal’s work is normally billed hourly as are the attorney’s. And the same as attorneys, they must conduct themselves with a high degree of professionalism and adhere to a strict standard of professional ethics. As noted, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they work, but some of their everyday tasks may include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on pertinent laws and cases
- Preparing correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting lawyers prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal files, documents and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a Birmingham AL paralegal can be complex and quite challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally authorized to do is give legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not limited to clerical or administrative tasks more applicable 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 ground work and preparation, attorneys have the ability to handle a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could on their own.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The fastest way to launch your career in Birmingham AL as a paralegal is by earning a certificate, which may involve just six months to complete. Many entry level positions do call for an Associate’s Degree, which provide a more expansive education and can be earned at numerous community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor’s Degrees are available as well. When you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you may choose to proceed and obtain a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help improve your job opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. A few of the highly respected 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 certificate or degree from an accredited school (we will cover the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 essential initial steps that will help guarantee your success as a paralegal in Birmingham AL.
Paralegal Online Training
Paralegal online programs have become more prevalent and may be an excellent alternative for those in Birmingham AL looking for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be particularly appealing to students who continue to work while obtaining a degree. As an added advantage, online schools can sometimes be less costly than more traditional options. Even supplementary expenses for such items as commuting or study materials may be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all online schools are accredited, which we will discuss in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the education you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the program and school you are thinking about are accredited by a highly regarded agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to attend classes in a less structured and formal environment, then obtaining your certificate or degree online could be the right option for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Degree Programs
Now that you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what training options are available, you can begin the undertaking of assessing Birmingham AL area schools. But because there are numerous programs available at community and junior colleges, as well as vocational and trade 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 degree and certificate programs also. If you are like many potential students, you will begin by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other important issues to research also, for instance accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let’s take a look at several of the questions you should be asking the schools you are considering so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your ultimate choice.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you choose need to be accredited by a respected accrediting agency 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 focuses on online or distance education. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will get will be of the highest quality, but it will establish with 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. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are typically accessible only for accredited schools.
What’s the School’s Reputation? Learn what the rankings and reputations are for the Birmingham AL paralegal programs you are looking at. This is of particular importance if you are entering the profession with no previous work history, since employers will have to make a decision based on the caliber of your education exclusively. Confirming that the school you choose is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating reports, including 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 be interested in working for after graduating and ask which schools they suggest. Remember that even if a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an excellent reputation.
Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs offer students a chance to experience working in a law firm or other legal enterprise while still in school. They can also present an avenue for students to begin developing contacts within the Birmingham AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal programs you are considering provide internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will probably want to secure employment quickly after graduation, but finding that first job in a new field can be difficult without help. Find out if the paralegal programs you are considering have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have sizable networks and good 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 one state to another, it may be a good idea to select a paralegal school located in the state where you plan to work after graduation. In addition, it will be valuable to cultivate relationships in the local legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is even more reason to acquire your education in the area where you wish to work. 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 first investigate those colleges that are within your Birmingham AL local area.
How Much is the Entire Expense? Paralegal schools can vary in price depending on the credential obtained and the length of training provided. 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 also. Financial assistance may be available to help reduce some of the expense, so don’t forget to check with the school’s financial aid department to find out what is offered in Birmingham AL. Of course if you decide to attend an online program, some of these added expenses, for instance for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Fit your Schedule? A number of paralegal students keep working while getting their training and need flexibility to schedule classes. If you can solely attend weekend or evening classes near Birmingham AL, make certain classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, confirm that the school you choose makes available that option. Last, inquire what the protocol is for making up missed classes because of sickness, work or family emergencies.
Considering Paralegal School in Birmingham AL?
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.
In higher education, Birmingham has been the location of the University of Alabama School of Medicine (formerly the Medical College of Alabama) and the University of Alabama School of Dentistry since 1947. In 1969 it gained the University of Alabama at Birmingham, one of three main campuses of the University of Alabama System. It is home to three private institutions: Samford University, Birmingham-Southern College, and Miles College. The Birmingham area has major colleges of medicine, dentistry, optometry, physical therapy, pharmacy, law, engineering, and nursing. The city has three of the state's five law schools: Cumberland School of Law, Birmingham School of Law, and Miles Law School. Birmingham is also the headquarters of the Southwestern Athletic Conference and the Southeastern Conference, one of the major U.S. collegiate athletic conferences.
Select the Ideal Paralegal Program near Birmingham AL
Enrolling in the right paralegal degree program is an important first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have covered in this article, you have the choice of attending classes on-campus or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Birmingham residence. Paralegal training programs are made available in numerous lengths and formats. Several kinds of public and private institutions provide paralegal education, including junior and community colleges, four year colleges and universities, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a pronounced impact on your prospects for success in your new profession. Considering that there is a broad range in the quality of programs, choose carefully. Afford yourself the best possible opportunity to be successful in this exciting profession. But regardless of how you elect to receive your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have presented you will be able to evaluate each program and make your final selection. And with the right education you can achieve your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Birmingham AL.
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