How to Pick the Best Paralegal Certificate Program Near Monroeville Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Monroeville AL and start your journey that will result in a gratifying profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's crucial that you find the right school so that you will get the extensive training that you require to achieve success. 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 so many alternatives to choose from, where does one start? A number of potential students begin by searching for schools within driving distance of their Monroeville homes. Of those alternatives, they search for the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are necessary considerations when selecting a college, they are not the only qualifiers you must take into consideration. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the program must be taken into account too. Later in this article we will review a list of questions that you must ask potential paralegal schools so that you can examine 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 choices that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants basically both hold comparable job positions and functions, only with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and are part of a different job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Monroeville AL lawyers with a wide range of job functions, including maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job duties are relevant to the type of legal firm where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm might assist with trial logistics or delivering files to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is normally billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And just like lawyers, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and comply with a strict standard of professional ethics. As noted, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they are employed, but some of their daily activities may involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching related laws and cases
- Preparing correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping lawyers prepare for trial and keep 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 involved and very demanding. On the other hand, what they are not legally authorized to do is offer legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not limited to clerical or administrative functions more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the main 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 on their own.
Paralegal Training 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 prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The fastest means to launch your career as a legal assistant in Monroeville AL is by obtaining a certificate, which may involve as little as 6 months to complete. Most entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which provide a more extensive education and can be obtained at many community colleges in two years. For an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are an option also. When you have earned either a degree or a certificate, you may want to proceed and earn a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help boost your employment opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. A few of the highly regarded 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 school (we will discuss the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 important first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Schools
Paralegal and legal assistant online schools have become more prevalent and can be an excellent alternative for individuals looking for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online schools can be particularly attractive to Monroeville AL students who continue to work while earning a certificate or degree. As an additional benefit, online schools can often be less costly than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenses for such items as study materials or commuting can be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all online programs are accredited, which we will discuss in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the training you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the program and school you are considering are accredited by a respected agency, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less structured and formal setting, then earning your certificate or degree online might be the right choice for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Schools
Now that you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what academic options are available, you can start the process of evaluating schools. But because there are so many programs accessible at community and junior colleges in the Monroeville AL area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you must know what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is particularly true when you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree 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 previously covered, there are other significant factors to research also, such as accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at a few 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 selection.
Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you enroll in need to be accredited by a recognized organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it can also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets distance or online education. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will receive will be of the highest quality, but it will demonstrate to potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. Many Monroeville AL law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited school. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are typically available only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the School? Investigate what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant programs you are contemplating. This is of particular importance if you are entering the profession with no prior experience, since employers will need to make a decision based on the caliber of your training exclusively. Verifying that the program you select is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating reports, such as those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call several Monroeville AL law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask which schools they suggest. Keep in mind that even when a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the Program Offer Internships? Internship programs offer students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal establishment while attending school. They can also offer an avenue for students to start establishing contacts within the Monroeville AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal schools you are considering offer internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance provided? You will most likely want to hit the ground running after graduating, but finding that initial job in a new profession can be difficult without support. Ask if the paralegal programs you are reviewing have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good sign that the schools have substantial networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their students are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the School Located? Since laws vary from one state to another, it may be beneficial to enroll in a paralegal school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you wish to work after graduating. Also, it will be valuable to develop relationships in the area legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is all the more justification to obtain your education in the area where you desire to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most charge an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may wish to first consider those schools that are within the Monroeville AL region.
How Much is the Total Cost? Paralegal programs can vary in cost based on the credential earned and the amount of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only expense for your training. Remember to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid may be accessible to help offset some of the expense, so don't forget to talk to the school's financial aid department to see what is available in Monroeville AL. Needless to say that if you opt to attend an online program, a portion these added costs, for instance for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Fit your Schedule? Many legal students continue working while obtaining their training and need flexibility in class scheduling. If you can only attend weekend or evening classes near Monroeville AL, make certain 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 because of sickness, work or family emergencies.
Choose the Right Monroeville Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Enrolling in the right legal assistant degree program is an essential first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have addressed in this article, you have the choice of attending classes on-campus or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Monroeville home. Paralegal academic programs are made available in various lengths and formats. Different types of private and public institutions make available paralegal training, including community and junior colleges, four year colleges and universities, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a pronounced influence on your prospects for success in your new profession. Given that there is a wide range in the quality of programs, choose wisely. Afford yourself the best possible chance to succeed in this rewarding profession. But irrespective of how you elect to receive your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have provided you will have the ability to examine each school and make your final decision. And with the right education you can realize your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Monroeville Alabama.