How to Find the Right Paralegal Program Near Mobile Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Mobile AL and start your journey that will lead to a rewarding career in legal services. Nevertheless, it's essential that you locate the ideal school so that you will get the extensive training that you need to be successful. As you probably understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more educational choices are being offered, both at school and online. But with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one start? A number of prospective students start by searching for schools within driving distance of their Mobile residences. Of those choices, they search for the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are important considerations when picking a college, they are not the only qualifiers you must consider. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the program should be taken into consideration also. Later on in this post we will cover a list of questions that you need to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare every one before making your choice. But before we do, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the academic alternatives that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals for the most part both hold comparable job positions and functions, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and are part of a separate job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Mobile AL lawyers with a wide variety of job functions, including legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job functions are based upon the type of legal firm where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice may help with the logistics of a trial or transporting documents to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is normally billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And just like attorneys, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and abide by a strict standard of professional ethics. As noted, their responsibilities can be diverse in support of the practices where they are employed, but a few of their routine activities may include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on related cases and laws
- Drafting correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping lawyers prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal files, documents and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be complicated and quite challenging. However, what they are not legally authorized to do is offer legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not limited to clerical or administrative duties more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the main support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers have the ability to take on a much larger number of clients or cases than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the academic requirements and opportunities will be the same. The fastest way to begin your career as a paralegal in Mobile AL is by earning a certificate, which may take just 6 months to complete. Most entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which offer a more extensive education and can be earned at numerous community colleges in 2 years. For an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are available as well. Once you have acquired either a certificate or degree, you might want to proceed and obtain a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help boost your career opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. A few of the highly respected 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 program (we will cover the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 crucial first steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Classes
Online paralegal or legal assistant schools have become more common and may be an excellent option for students looking for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online programs can be especially attractive to Mobile AL students who keep working while obtaining a degree. As an additional benefit, online classes can in some cases be less costly than on campus options. Even supplementary expenditures for such things as commuting or study materials may be reduced 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 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 ideal option for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Programs
Since you now you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what academic choices are available, you can start the process of assessing schools. But because there are numerous programs accessible at community and junior colleges in the Mobile AL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you must know 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 prospective students, you will begin by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other critical factors to think about as well, for instance accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's go over a few of the questions you should be asking the programs you are researching so that you can properly vet each one and make your final decision.
Is the Paralegal School and Program Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you select need to be accredited by a reputable accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it may also obtain 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 obtain will be of the highest quality, but it will establish with future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Many Mobile AL law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited school. Also, financial aid and student loans are usually accessible only for accredited schools.
What's the School's Reputation? Investigate what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant programs you are looking at. This is of particular importance if you are new to the field with no previous experience, since employers will need to rely on the caliber of your training exclusively. Verifying that the program you select is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating reports, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact some Mobile AL law practices that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask which schools they recommend. Bear in mind that even though a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the School Provide Internships? Internship programs provide students a chance to experience working in a law firm or other legal enterprise while remaining in school. They can also provide a means for students to begin creating contacts within the Mobile AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal schools you are considering provide internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help provided? You will probably wish to hit the ground running after graduating, but finding that first job in a new field can be challenging without assistance. Find out if the paralegal schools you are interviewing have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have substantial networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their graduates are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the School Located? Because laws vary from state to state, it may be advantageous to choose a paralegal school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you plan to practice after graduating. In addition, it will be valuable to develop relationships in the local legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is even more justification to obtain your education in the area where you choose to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most require an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might wish to initially look at those schools that are within the Mobile AL region.
How Much is the Entire Expense? Paralegal programs can differ in price depending on the credential received and the length of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only cost for your training. Don't forget to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance may be accessible to help minimize some of the cost, so make sure to talk to the school's financial aid department to find out what is available in Mobile AL. Naturally if you opt to attend an online school, a portion these supplementary costs, such as for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Fit your Schedule? Many legal students keep working while getting their training and need flexibility in class scheduling. If you can solely attend night or weekend classes near Mobile AL, make certain classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make sure that the school you enroll in offers that option. Finally, inquire what the procedure is for making up missed classes because of sickness, work or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Best Mobile Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Choosing the ideal paralegal degree school is a vital first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have addressed in this article, you have the option of attending classes at school or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Mobile residence. Paralegal training programs are provided in various lengths and formats. Different types of public and private institutions make available paralegal training, including junior and community colleges, four year universities and colleges, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a pronounced impact on your opportunities for success in your new career. Given that there is a wide range in the quality of schools, choose carefully. Give yourself the best possible opportunity to be successful in this exciting profession. But irrespective of how you choose to acquire your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have provided you will have the ability to evaluate each school and make your final selection. And with the appropriate education you can achieve your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Mobile Alabama.