How to Pick the Right Paralegal Studies Certificate or Degree Program Near Mobile Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Mobile AL and begin your journey that will lead to a rewarding career in legal services. However, it's essential that you find the right school so that you will receive the extensive training that you need to be successful. As you probably understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more academic alternatives are becoming available, both on campus and online. However with so many options to choose from, where does one start? A number of prospective students start by searching for schools within driving range of their Mobile residences. Of those choices, they search for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are necessary considerations when picking a college, they are not the only qualifiers you need to consider. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the school must be taken into consideration as well. Later on in this post we will review a list of questions that you ought to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare each one before making your choice. But first, let's take a look at what a paralegal does and the educational alternatives that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals basically both hold comparable job roles and responsibilities, only with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and belong to a different job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Mobile AL lawyers with a diverse array of job duties, including legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job functions are relevant to the type of practice where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice could assist with trial logistics or delivering documents to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is typically billed hourly as are the attorney's. And the same as lawyers, they must carry out their duties with a high degree of professionalism and comply with a strict standard of professional ethics. As noted, their responsibilities can be diverse in support of the practices where they work, but a few of their routine activities may include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching related laws and cases
- Drafting correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting attorneys get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal documents, files and other records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be complicated and rather challenging. However, what they are not legally allowed to do is provide legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not confined to administrative or clerical duties more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the main support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers have the ability to handle a much larger number of clients or cases than they could on their own.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the academic requirements and job prospects will be the same. The quickest means to launch your career as a legal assistant in Mobile AL is by earning a certificate, which may require as little as six months to accomplish. Most entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which provide a more expansive education and may be acquired at numerous community colleges in two years. For an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are an option also. Once you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you might choose to continue and get a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help maximize your job opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. Some 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 school (we will cover the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two crucial initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Certificates and Degrees
Online legal assistant or paralegal schools have become more common and can be a good alternative for individuals searching for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online programs can be especially attractive to Mobile AL students who keep working while earning a degree. As an added benefit, online classes can often be less expensive than more traditional options. Even secondary expenditures for such items 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 a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the education you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the school and program you are reviewing are accredited by a respected organization, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to attend classes in a less supervised and conventional setting, then obtaining your degree or certificate online could be the right choice for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Schools
Since you now you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what educational choices are offered, you can start the process of evaluating schools. But considering that there are numerous programs available at community and junior colleges in the Mobile AL area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you need to find out what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is especially true if you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. If you are like most prospective students, you will start by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other important factors to consider as well, for instance accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at some of the questions you should be asking the schools you are researching so that you can effectively vet each one and make your ultimate selection.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you choose should be accredited by a reputable organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it may also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance learning. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will receive will be of the highest standard, but it will establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Many Mobile AL law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited school. Also, financial assistance and student loans are usually available only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Investigate what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal schools you are considering. This is of special importance if you are new to the field with no previous experience, since employers will need to make a decision based on the caliber of your education exclusively. Checking that the school you select is accredited is a good 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 call several Mobile AL law practices that you may have an interest 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 exceptional reputation.
Does the School Sponsor Internships? Internship programs provide students an opportunity to experience working in a law office or other legal operation while attending school. They can also provide a pathway for students to begin creating contacts within the Mobile AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal schools you are reviewing provide internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help offered? You will most likely want to hit the ground running after graduating, but finding that first job in a new profession can be difficult without assistance. Find out if the paralegal programs you are interviewing have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good sign that the schools have sizable networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their graduates are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the School Located? Since laws differ from state to state, it may be beneficial to enroll in a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you want to practice after graduating. Also, it will be valuable to cultivate relationships in the neighboring legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is even more justification to receive your education in the community where you choose to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most require a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might wish to first look at those schools that are within the Mobile AL region.
What is the Total Cost? Paralegal schools can differ in cost based on the credential received and the amount of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your training. Don't forget to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial assistance might be obtainable to help minimize part of the cost, so don't forget to check with the school's financial aid department to find out what is offered in Mobile AL. Naturally if you opt to attend an online school, some of these additional costs, for instance for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Match your Schedule? A number of paralegal students keep working while obtaining their training and must have flexibility in class scheduling. If you can solely attend night or weekend classes near Mobile AL, make sure classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make certain that the program you enroll in offers that option. Finally, find out what the protocol is for making-up classes missed as a result of sickness, work or family obligations.
Choose the Right Mobile Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Choosing the best paralegal training program is a vital first step toward 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 attend them online in the comfort and privacy of your Mobile home. Paralegal training programs are offered in many formats and lengths. Different types of public and private institutions offer paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four year colleges and universities, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a profound impact on your prospects for success in your new profession. Since there is a wide range in the quality of programs, choose wisely. Afford yourself the greatest possible chance to be successful in this fascinating profession. But irrespective of how you decide to receive your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will be able to examine each program and make your ultimate decision. And with the ideal education you can realize your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Mobile Alabama.