How to Pick 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 lead to a rewarding career in legal services. Nevertheless, it's important that you find the right school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you require to succeed. As you probably know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more educational alternatives are becoming available, both on campus and online. But with so many options to choose from, where does one begin? A number of prospective students begin by trying to find schools within commuting range of their Mobile residences. Of those options, they search for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are important considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only factors you should take into consideration. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the school must be taken into account as well. Later on in this article we will review a list of questions that you should ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare each one before making your decision. But before we do, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic alternatives that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants for the most part both hold the same job roles and responsibilities, only with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and belong to a separate job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Mobile AL attorneys with a diverse array of job functions, such as legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job functions are relevant to the type of practice where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice might assist with trial logistics or transferring documents to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is typically billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And the same as attorneys, they must conduct themselves with a high degree of professionalism and comply with a strict standard of professional ethics. As stated, their responsibilities can be diverse in support of the practices where they work, but some of their daily tasks might involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on applicable cases and laws
- Preparing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting lawyers get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal files, documents and other records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be complex and quite challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally permitted to do is provide legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not restricted to administrative or clerical functions more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the right hand support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers are able to take on a much larger number of clients or cases than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Certificates and Degrees and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, 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 may take as little as six months to accomplish. Many entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more comprehensive education and may be earned at many community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are available also. After you have acquired either a certificate or degree, you might want to proceed and earn a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help increase your job opportunities, but help substantiate 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 certificate or degree from an accredited program (we will discuss the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two important first steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Training
Paralegal and legal assistant online programs have become more available and may be a good option for those looking for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be especially appealing to Mobile AL students who keep working while earning a certificate or degree. As an additional benefit, online schools can often be less expensive than more traditional options. Even supplementary expenses for such things as commuting or study materials can be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all online schools are accredited, which we will discuss in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the training you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the school and program you are thinking about are accredited by a respected organization, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less structured and conventional setting, then obtaining your degree or certificate online might be the right option for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Certificate or Degree Programs
Now that you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what academic choices are offered, you can begin the undertaking of assessing schools. But since there are so many programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Mobile AL area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you must find out what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is particularly true if you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like the majority of prospective students, you will start by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other significant aspects to think about as well, for instance accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's go over some of the questions you should be asking the schools you are investigating so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your ultimate choice.
Is the Paralegal Training Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you select should be accredited by a reputable organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it might also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online learning. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will obtain will be of the highest standard, but it will show future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. A number of Mobile AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited school. Also, financial assistance and student loans are often obtainable only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Find out what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal programs you are contemplating. This is of special 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 training exclusively. Confirming that the school you choose is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating reports, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact some Mobile AL law firms that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask which schools they recommend. Keep in mind that even though a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an excellent reputation.
Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs provide 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 start developing contacts within the Mobile AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal programs you are assessing provide internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help offered? You will probably want to secure employment quickly after graduating, but getting that first job in a new profession can be challenging without support. Find out if the paralegal schools you are reviewing have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good sign that the schools have substantial networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their students are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the Campus Located? Because laws differ from state to state, it may be beneficial to select a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you want to work after graduating. In addition, it will be necessary to build relationships in the neighboring legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is all the more reason to obtain your education in the area where you wish to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most require a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might want to initially consider those schools that are within the Mobile AL region.
What is the Entire Cost? Paralegal programs can differ in cost based on the credential obtained and the amount of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your education. Remember to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid may be obtainable to help minimize part of the cost, so don't forget to consult with the school's financial aid office to see what is offered in Mobile AL. Naturally if you opt to attend an online school, a portion these added expenses, such as for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? Numerous legal students keep working while obtaining their training and require flexibility to schedule classes. If you can solely attend night or weekend classes near Mobile AL, verify classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, confirm that the school you choose provides that option. Finally, find out what the process is for making up classes missed because of sickness, work or family obligations.
Enroll in the Right Mobile Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Choosing the ideal paralegal studies training school is a crucial first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have covered 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 education programs are offered in various formats and lengths. Different types of private and public institutions provide paralegal training, including community and junior colleges, four year universities and colleges, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a pronounced influence on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Since there is a wide range in the quality of programs, choose carefully. Give yourself the greatest possible opportunity to be successful in this fascinating profession. But regardless of how you choose to acquire your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have provided you will have the ability to assess each program and make your ultimate decision. And with the appropriate education you can achieve your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Mobile Alabama.