How to Pick the Right Paralegal Studies Training Program Near Montevallo Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Montevallo AL and start your journey that will lead to a fulfilling career in legal services. However, it's crucial 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 more and more academic choices are being offered, both on campus and online. But with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Many potential students start by trying to find schools within traveling distance of their Montevallo residences. Of those options, they look for the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are important considerations when selecting a college, they are not the only qualifiers you should consider. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the school need to be taken into consideration also. Later on in this article we will cover a list of concerns that you ought to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare every one before making your choice. But first, let's take a look at what a paralegal does and the instructional alternatives that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals essentially 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 classification. Both legal assistants and paralegals help Montevallo AL lawyers with a diverse array of job functions, such as legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job duties are relevant to the type of legal firm where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm could assist with trial logistics or transporting documents to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is typically billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And just like attorneys, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and adhere to a strict code of professional ethics. As noted, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they are employed, but a few of their day-to-day tasks might involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching relevant cases and laws
- Drafting correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping lawyers get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be complicated and quite demanding. 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 confined to administrative or clerical duties more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the main support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers are able to handle a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could on their own.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the academic prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The fastest way to start your career as a paralegal in Montevallo AL is by earning a certificate, which can take just six months to complete. Most entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which provide a more expansive education and may be obtained at many community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are an option as well. After you have earned either a certificate or degree, you might want to proceed and get a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help boost your career opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. A few of the highly respected certifying organizations 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 program (we will cover the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 essential first steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Courses
Online legal assistant or paralegal schools have become more prevalent and may be a good option for those looking for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be especially appealing to Montevallo AL students who continue to work while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an added benefit, online schools can sometimes be less costly than on campus options. Even supplementary expenses for such things as study materials or commuting can be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all online programs are accredited, which we will discuss in more detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the training you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the program and school you are looking into are accredited by a respected organization, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less structured and formal environment, then obtaining your certificate or degree online may be the ideal option for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Studies Programs
Now that you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what training options are available, you can start the undertaking of evaluating schools. But considering that there are numerous programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Montevallo AL area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you must know what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is especially true when you add all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like many prospective students, you will begin by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other important factors to consider also, for instance 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 investigating so that you can properly vet each one and make your final selection.
Is the Paralegal Training Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you select should be accredited by a highly regarded organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it might also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance learning. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will receive will be of the highest standard, but it will show potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. Many Montevallo AL law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited program. Also, financial assistance and student loans are often accessible only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Research what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal schools you are contemplating. This is of specific importance if you are entering the field with no prior experience, since employers will have to make a decision based on the caliber of your training exclusively. Verifying that the program you choose is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating reports, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact a few Montevallo AL law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask which schools they recommend. Keep in mind that even if a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the School Provide Internships? Internship programs give students an opportunity to experience working in a law firm or other legal establishment while attending school. They can also provide an avenue for students to begin developing contacts within the Montevallo AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal programs you are considering provide internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance provided? You will most likely want to secure employment quickly after graduation, but getting that initial job in a new profession can be challenging without help. Find out if the paralegal schools 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 large networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their students are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the School's Location? Since laws differ from state to state, it may be beneficial to enroll in a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you wish to practice after graduating. In addition, it will be necessary to establish relationships in the neighboring legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is all the more reason to acquire your education in the community where you want to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many charge a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may need to first look at those schools that are within the Montevallo AL area.
What is the Total Cost? Paralegal schools can differ in cost depending on the credential earned and the amount of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expense for your training. Remember to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid may be obtainable to help reduce part of the cost, so be sure to talk to the school's financial aid office to see what is offered in Montevallo AL. Naturally if you decide to attend an online school, a portion these added expenses, such as for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Fit your Schedule? A number of paralegal students continue working while getting their training and must have flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend weekend or evening classes near Montevallo 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 select makes available that option. Last, ask what the process is for making-up missed classes because of sickness, work or family obligations.
Choose the Best Montevallo Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Selecting the right paralegal certificate school is an essential first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have addressed 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 Montevallo residence. Paralegal academic programs are provided in various formats and lengths. Different kinds of private and public institutions offer paralegal education, 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 profound impact on your prospects for success in your new profession. Given that there is a wide range in the quality of schools, pick wisely. Give yourself the best possible opportunity to succeed in this fascinating profession. But regardless of how you decide to obtain your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will have the ability to assess each school and make your final decision. And with the appropriate training you can realize your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Montevallo Alabama.