How to Choose the Best Paralegal Studies Degree Program Near Mobile Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Mobile AL and begin your journey that will result in a gratifying career in legal services. However, it's crucial that you find the ideal school so that you will receive the extensive training that you require to be successful. As you probably know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more academic alternatives are becoming available, both on campus and online. But with numerous options to choose from, where does one start? A number of potential students begin by searching for schools within traveling range of their Mobile residences. Of those choices, they search for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are important considerations when choosing a school, they are not the only factors you ought to take into consideration. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the school ought to be considered also. Later on in this post we will review a list of questions that you should ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare every one prior to making your decision. But before we do, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic options that are offered 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 responsibilities, only with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and are part of a different job classification. Both legal assistants and paralegals help Mobile AL lawyers with a wide variety of job duties, including 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 firm could assist with the logistics of a trial or transferring documents to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is usually billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And just like attorneys, they must perform with a high level of professionalism and adhere to a strict standard of professional ethics. As mentioned, their responsibilities can be diverse in support of the practices where they are employed, but some of their everyday tasks can include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on relevant cases and laws
- Preparing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting lawyers prepare 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 paralegal can be complex and quite demanding. On the other hand, what they are not legally permitted to do is give legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. 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 preparation and ground work, attorneys have the ability to take on a much larger number of clients or cases than they could on their own.
Paralegal Certificates and Degrees and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational requirements and opportunities will be the same. The quickest means to start your career as a legal assistant in Mobile AL is by earning a certificate, which can take just six months to accomplish. A large number of entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which offer a more comprehensive education and can be acquired at many community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are available as well. After you have acquired either a certificate or degree, you might want to proceed and get a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help improve your job opportunities, but help establish you as a professional as well. Some of the highly regarded 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 paralegal certificate or degree from an accredited program (we will discuss the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 essential first steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Schools
Online legal assistant or paralegal schools have become more popular and can be an excellent option for those looking for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be particularly appealing to Mobile AL students who keep working while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an additional benefit, online schools can often be less costly than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenses for such things as study materials or commuting may be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all online programs are accredited, which we will address in more detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the education you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the school and program you are reviewing are accredited by a respected organization, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less supervised and formal setting, then obtaining your degree or certificate online could be the right choice for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Studies Programs
Now that you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what training options are offered, you can start the process of evaluating schools. But considering that there are numerous programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Mobile AL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you must learn what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is particularly true if you add all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. 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 previously covered, there are other crucial aspects to research as well, for instance the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's go over some of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are researching so that you can effectively vet each one and make your ultimate choice.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you select need to be accredited by a recognized organization 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 online or distance training. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will receive will be of the highest quality, but it will establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. Many Mobile AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited program. Also, financial assistance and student loans are typically obtainable only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the School? Investigate what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant schools you are contemplating. This is of specific importance if you are new to the profession with no previous experience, since employers will have to rely on the caliber of your training exclusively. Verifying that the program you pick is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating services, such as 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 Mobile AL law practices that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask which schools they suggest. Bear in mind that even when a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the Program Offer Internships? Internship programs provide students a chance to experience working in a law practice or other legal operation while remaining in school. They can also present an avenue for students to start establishing contacts within the Mobile AL legal field. 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 provided? You will probably wish to secure employment quickly after graduation, but getting that initial job in a new profession can be difficult without assistance. Ask if the paralegal schools you are assessing 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 great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their graduates are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the Campus Located? Because laws differ among states, it might be beneficial to enroll in a paralegal school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you wish to practice after graduating. Also, it will be valuable to cultivate relationships in the neighboring legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is all the more justification to acquire your education in the area where you want to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most charge a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might want to first look at those schools that are within the Mobile AL region.
What is the Complete Cost? Paralegal schools can vary in cost based on the credential earned and the amount of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only cost for your training. Remember to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance may be available to help reduce part of the expense, so don't forget to talk to the school's financial aid office to see what is offered in Mobile AL. Naturally if you decide to attend an online program, a portion these supplementary expenses, for instance for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Match your Schedule? Many legal students continue working while obtaining their training and must have flexibility to schedule classes. If you can just attend weekend or evening classes near Mobile AL, make certain classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, confirm that the program you enroll in makes available that option. Finally, ask what the procedure is for making up missed classes as a result of work, illness or family obligations.
Enroll in the Best Mobile Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Choosing the best paralegal studies training school is a vital first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have discussed in this post, you have the option of attending classes on campus or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Mobile home. Paralegal training programs are offered in various lengths and formats. Several kinds of private and public institutions provide paralegal training, including community and junior colleges, four-year colleges and universities, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a profound impact on your prospects for success in your new career. Given that there is a broad range in the quality of programs, choose wisely. Give yourself the greatest possible chance to succeed in this rewarding profession. But no matter how you decide to obtain your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to evaluate each program and make your ultimate selection. And with the ideal education you can achieve your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Mobile Alabama.