How to Enroll in the Right Paralegal Studies Training Program Near Mobile Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Mobile AL and begin your journey that will lead to a fulfilling profession in legal services. However, it's crucial that you find the right school so that you will get the extensive training that you need 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 options are becoming available, both at school and online. However with numerous options to choose from, where does one begin? Some potential students start by trying to find schools within commuting distance of their Mobile homes. Of those options, they try to find the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are necessary considerations when choosing a school, they are not the only factors you need to consider. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the program should be taken into account too. Later in this article we will review a list of concerns that you must ask potential paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare each one before making your choice. But first, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the academic options 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 positions and functions, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and belong to a different job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Mobile AL attorneys with a wide variety of job duties, including maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job functions are relevant to the type of legal firm where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm might assist with trial logistics or delivering files to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work 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 abide by a strict code of professional ethics. As mentioned, their responsibilities can be varied in support of the firms where they are employed, but a few of their regular tasks may include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching pertinent laws and cases
- Composing correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting attorneys get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be complicated and very demanding. On the other hand, what they are not legally allowed to do is give legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not confined to clerical or administrative duties more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers have the ability to take on a much larger number of cases or clients than they could on their own.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the educational prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The fastest way to launch your career as a paralegal in Mobile AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can take just 6 months to accomplish. Most entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more extensive education and can be obtained at many community colleges in 2 years. For an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are an option as well. When you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you may choose to continue and obtain a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help improve your employment opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. A few of the highly respected 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 school (we will cover the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two important first steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Programs
Paralegal and legal assistant online programs have become more common and can be a good alternative for individuals looking for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online schools can be especially attractive to Mobile AL students who keep working while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an additional benefit, online schools can sometimes be less expensive than on campus options. Even ancillary expenditures for such things as study materials or commuting can be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all online programs are accredited, which we will discuss in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the training you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the school and program you are looking into are accredited by a reputable agency, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less supervised and conventional setting, then earning your certificate or degree online might be the right option for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Degree or Certificate Programs
Since you now you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what educational options are available, you can begin the undertaking of evaluating schools. But considering that there are numerous programs accessible at junior and community colleges in the Mobile AL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you need to know what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is especially true when you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like many prospective students, you will start by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other important factors to think about as well, 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 programs you are investigating so that you can effectively vet each one and make your ultimate decision.
Is the Paralegal Training Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you enroll in need to be accredited by a respected organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it might also receive 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. Many Mobile AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited program. Finally, financial aid and student loans are typically accessible only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Find out what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant programs you are contemplating. This is of special importance if you are new to the profession with no previous work history, since employers will have to make a decision based on the quality of your education exclusively. Checking that the school you select is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating reports, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact a few Mobile AL law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask what schools they suggest. Keep in mind that even when a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an excellent reputation.
Does the Program Provide Internships? Internship programs give students an opportunity to experience working in a law firm or other legal enterprise while remaining in school. They can also provide a means for students to start creating contacts within the Mobile AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal programs you are evaluating offer internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help offered? You will undoubtedly wish to hit the ground running after graduating, but getting that first job in a new profession can be challenging without help. Find out if the paralegal schools you are interviewing have job assistance programs and what their placement 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 corroborates that their students are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the Campus Located? Since laws vary from state to state, it might be a good idea to choose a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you plan to work after graduating. In addition, it will be valuable to cultivate relationships in the local legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is all the more reason to receive your education in the area where you desire to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many require an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might wish to initially look at those colleges that are within the Mobile AL area.
How Much is the Total Expense? Paralegal schools can differ in price based on the credential earned and the amount of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your education. Don't forget to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid might be available to help minimize some of the cost, so make sure to consult with the school's financial aid office to see what is available in Mobile AL. Of course if you decide to attend an online school, a portion these added expenses, for instance for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? Many paralegal students keep working while getting their training and need flexibility in class scheduling. If you can solely attend weekend or evening classes near Mobile AL, make certain classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, confirm that the school you choose offers that option. Last, inquire what the procedure is for making up classes missed due to work, illness or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Right Mobile Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Selecting the right paralegal training program is a crucial 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 privacy and comfort of your Mobile home. Paralegal education programs are made available in numerous formats and lengths. Several types of private and public institutions provide paralegal training, including community and junior colleges, four-year colleges and universities, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a pronounced impact on your prospects for success in your new profession. Since there is a broad range in the quality of schools, pick wisely. Afford yourself the best possible opportunity to succeed in this fascinating profession. But no matter 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 school and make your ultimate decision. And with the appropriate training you can accomplish your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Mobile Alabama.