How to Select the Best Paralegal Studies Certificate or Degree Program Near Montevallo Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Montevallo AL and begin your journey that will lead to a rewarding profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's important that you find the ideal school so that you will get the extensive training that you require to achieve success. As you most likely understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more academic choices are becoming available, both at school and online. But with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Many prospective students start by searching for schools within commuting distance of their Montevallo residences. Of those alternatives, they look for the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are prime considerations when choosing a school, they are not the only qualifiers you should take into consideration. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the school must be taken into consideration too. Later on in this post we will review a list of questions that you must ask potential paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare every one prior to making your decision. But before we do, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the educational alternatives that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants basically both hold comparable job positions and responsibilities, only with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and belong to a different job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Montevallo AL lawyers with a wide range of job functions, such as maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job duties are based upon the type of practice where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice could help with the logistics of a trial or delivering files 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 perform with a high level of professionalism and comply with a strict code of professional ethics. As noted, their responsibilities can be diverse in support of the practices where they work, but some of their routine activities might include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching related cases and laws
- Preparing correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting attorneys get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be involved and very challenging. However, what they are not legally permitted to do is give legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not limited to clerical or administrative functions more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the main support systems for lawyers. 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 alone.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational requirements and job prospects will be the same. The fastest way to launch your career as a paralegal in Montevallo AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can require as little as six months to accomplish. Most entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which offer a more extensive education and may be acquired at many community colleges in 2 years. For an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are offered also. After you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you might want to continue and receive a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help boost your career opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. Some of the highly regarded certifying agencies 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 degree or certificate from an accredited program (we will discuss the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two essential initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Classes
Legal assistant and paralegal online programs have become more available and can be a good alternative for those searching for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online programs can be particularly attractive to Montevallo AL students who continue to work while earning a degree. As an additional advantage, online classes can often be less expensive than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenses for such things as commuting or study materials can be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all online programs are accredited, which we will discuss in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the training you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the program and school you are thinking about are accredited by a reputable agency, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less supervised and formal environment, then obtaining your degree or certificate online may 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 educational choices are available, you can begin the undertaking of evaluating schools. But considering that there are so many programs available at junior and community colleges in the Montevallo AL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you need to learn what questions to ask in order to compare 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 potential students, you will start by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other important issues to consider as well, such as the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's go over some of the questions you should be asking the programs you are researching so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your ultimate decision.
Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you pick should be accredited by a highly regarded accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it may also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets online or distance learning. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will obtain will be of the highest standard, but it will demonstrate to potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Numerous Montevallo AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited program. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are usually accessible only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Investigate what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant programs you are contemplating. This is of specific importance if you are new to the profession with no prior experience, since employers will have to make a decision based on the quality of your training exclusively. Verifying that the program you choose is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating services, 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 several Montevallo AL law practices that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask which schools they recommend. Keep in mind that even when 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 office or other legal establishment while remaining in school. They can also provide an avenue for students to begin creating contacts within the Montevallo AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal programs you are considering offer internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help provided? You will undoubtedly want to secure employment quickly after graduating, but getting that initial job in a new field can be challenging without help. Ask if the paralegal schools you are reviewing have job placement 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 substantiates that their graduates are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the School's Location? Since laws differ among states, it may be beneficial to select a paralegal school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you plan to work after graduating. In addition, it will be valuable to cultivate relationships in the area legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is even more reason to obtain your education in the community where you wish to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many charge an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may need to initially look at those colleges that are within the Montevallo AL area.
How Much is the Total Expense? Paralegal programs can differ in cost based on the credential obtained and the amount of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expense for your education. Don't forget to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial assistance might be available to help reduce part of the expense, so make sure to talk to the school's financial aid office to find out what is offered in Montevallo AL. Needless to say that if you choose to attend an online school, some of these supplementary expenses, such as for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Accommodate your Schedule? A number of legal students keep working while receiving their training and require flexibility to schedule classes. If you can solely attend weekend or evening classes near Montevallo AL, make certain classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, confirm that the school you enroll in offers that option. Last, find out what the protocol is for making up missed classes because of work, illness or family emergencies.
Choose the Right Montevallo Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Choosing the ideal legal assistant degree program is a vital first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have addressed in this post, you have the choice of attending classes at school or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Montevallo residence. Paralegal education programs are made available in numerous lengths and formats. Different types of private and public institutions provide paralegal training, including community colleges, four-year universities and colleges, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a profound influence on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Considering that there is a broad range in the quality of schools, pick wisely. Give yourself the best possible chance to be successful in this fascinating profession. But irrespective of how you choose to receive your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have presented you will be able to review each program and make your ultimate decision. And with the right education you can achieve your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Montevallo Alabama.