How to Find the Best Paralegal Studies Degree Program Near Monroeville Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Monroeville AL and start your journey that will lead to a satisfying profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's important that you locate the best school so that you will receive the extensive training that you require to be successful. As you probably understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of educational choices are becoming available, both on campus and online. However with numerous options to choose from, where does one start? Some prospective students start by trying to find schools within driving distance of their Monroeville residences. Of those options, they look for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are important considerations when picking a school, they are not the only qualifiers you should take into consideration. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the school ought to be considered as well. Later on in this article we will cover a list of questions that you ought to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can examine 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 alternatives that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals basically both hold the same job positions and functions, just with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and are part of a different job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Monroeville AL attorneys with a diverse array of job functions, such as legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job functions are relevant to the type of legal firm where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice might assist with the logistics of a trial or transporting documents to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is typically billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And just like lawyers, they must carry out their duties with a high degree of professionalism and follow a strict standard of professional ethics. As mentioned, their duties can be varied in support of the practices where they work, but some of their daily tasks may include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching relevant cases and laws
- Preparing correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping attorneys get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be complex and quite demanding. However, what they are not legally allowed to do is offer legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not confined to clerical or administrative functions more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the main support systems for attorneys. And since they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys are able to manage a much larger number of clients or cases than they could alone.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational requirements and job prospects will be the same. The quickest means to launch your career as a paralegal in Monroeville AL is by obtaining a certificate, which may require just six months to complete. A large number of entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which provide a more extensive education and can be acquired at many community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are an option as well. Once you have acquired either a degree or a certificate, you might want to proceed and get a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help maximize your employment opportunities, but help establish you as a professional as well. Some of the highly respected 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 address 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.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Schools
Online paralegal or legal assistant schools have become more available and may be a good option for students looking for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online programs can be especially appealing to Monroeville AL students who continue to work while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an added advantage, online schools can sometimes be less costly than more traditional options. Even secondary expenses for such things as study materials or commuting can be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all online schools are accredited, which we will address in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the training you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the program and school you are looking into are accredited by a respected organization, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less structured and formal environment, then earning your degree or certificate online may be the ideal choice for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Certificate or Degree Programs
Since you now you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what academic choices are offered, you can start the undertaking of evaluating schools. But because there are so many programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Monroeville AL area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you need to know 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 as well. If you are like the majority of potential students, you will start by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other significant aspects to consider as well, including accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at some of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are researching so that you can effectively vet each one and make your final decision.
Is the Paralegal School and Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you pick need to be accredited by a highly regarded organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it may also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets distance or online training. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will get will be of the highest quality, but it will establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. Numerous Monroeville AL law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited program. Also, financial assistance and student loans are typically available only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Learn what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal schools you are considering. This is of particular importance if you are new to the profession with no previous experience, since employers will need to make a decision based on the quality of your training exclusively. Confirming that the school you select is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating reports, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact some Monroeville AL law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask which schools they recommend. Keep in mind that even when a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs offer students an opportunity to experience working in a law practice or other legal operation while still in school. They can also present a pathway for students to begin creating contacts within the Monroeville 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 after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance offered? You will most likely wish to secure employment quickly after graduation, but finding that first job in a new profession can be difficult without support. Find out if the paralegal schools you are assessing have job placement programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have large networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their students are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the School's Location? 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 wish to practice after graduation. Also, it will be necessary to cultivate relationships in the local legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is even more justification to acquire your education in the area where you want to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many require an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may wish to first consider those colleges that are within the Monroeville AL region.
What is the Total Cost? Paralegal schools can differ in price based on the credential earned and the amount of training furnished. Having said that, 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 as well. Financial assistance may be available to help offset part of the cost, so be sure to check with the school's financial aid office to see what is available in Monroeville AL. Naturally if you decide to attend an online school, a portion these additional expenses, such as for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Fit your Schedule? Numerous legal students keep working while receiving their training and require flexibility in class scheduling. If you can just attend weekend or evening classes near Monroeville AL, verify classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make certain that the program you select provides that option. Last, ask what the protocol is for making up classes missed due to sickness, work or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Right Monroeville Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Enrolling in the ideal paralegal certificate 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 Monroeville residence. Paralegal academic programs are provided in many lengths and formats. Different types of public and private institutions offer paralegal training, including junior and community colleges, four year colleges and universities, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a pronounced influence on your prospects for success in your new profession. Since there is a broad range in the quality of programs, pick wisely. Give yourself the greatest possible opportunity to succeed in this exciting profession. But irrespective of how you elect to acquire your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will be able to examine each school and make your final decision. And with the appropriate training you can accomplish your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Monroeville Alabama.