How to Enroll in the Right Paralegal Certificate Program Near Montevallo Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Montevallo AL and begin your journey that will result in a satisfying career in legal services. Nevertheless, it's important that you locate the best school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you need 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 being offered, both on campus and online. But with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one start? Some prospective students start by searching for schools within commuting distance of their Montevallo homes. Of those choices, they try to find the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are prime considerations when picking a school, they are not the only qualifiers you need to take into consideration. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the program need to be taken into account too. Later on in this post we will review a list of concerns that you need to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare each one before making your selection. But first, 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.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals for the most part both fill comparable job roles and functions, just with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and belong to a separate job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Montevallo AL lawyers with a wide range of job duties, such as 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 may assist with trial logistics or transporting documents to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is normally billed hourly as are the attorney's. And the same as lawyers, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and comply with a strict code of professional ethics. As mentioned, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they are employed, but a few of their day-to-day activities can include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching relevant laws and cases
- Drafting correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping lawyers prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be complex and very challenging. However, what they are not legally authorized to do is offer legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not confined 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 preparation and ground work, lawyers have the ability to manage a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could alone.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the academic requirements and opportunities will be the same. The fastest way to begin your career as a paralegal in Montevallo AL is by earning a certificate, which can involve just six months to complete. Many entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more extensive education and may 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 offered also. After you have acquired either a degree or a certificate, you may want to continue and receive a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help improve your career opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. A few of the highly regarded 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 degree or certificate from an accredited school (we will cover the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two important first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Certificates and Degrees
Online paralegal or legal assistant schools have become more prevalent and can be a good option for individuals looking for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be particularly appealing to Montevallo AL students who continue to work while earning a certificate or degree. As an additional benefit, online programs can in some cases be less costly than on campus options. Even secondary expenditures for such things as study materials or commuting can be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will address 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 school and program you are considering are accredited by a reputable agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less supervised and conventional setting, then earning your degree or certificate online might be the right choice for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Certificate or Degree Programs
Once you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what academic choices are available, you can start the process of assessing schools. But because there are so many programs offered at community and junior colleges in the Montevallo AL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you need to learn what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is especially true if you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. If you are like many prospective students, you will start by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other critical factors to research as well, including accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's go over a few of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are considering so that you can effectively vet each one and make your final choice.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you choose should be accredited by a respected accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it may also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets online or distance education. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will get will be of the highest standard, but it will show potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. Numerous Montevallo AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited program. Also, financial aid and student loans are often offered only for accredited schools.
What's the School's Reputation? Research what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant schools you are considering. This is of particular importance if you are new to the field with no prior experience, since employers will have to make a decision based on the caliber of your training exclusively. Checking that the school you pick is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating services, 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 a few Montevallo AL law firms that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask what schools they recommend. Keep in mind that even though a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the School Sponsor Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law firm or other legal establishment while remaining in school. They can also offer a means for students to begin developing contacts within the Montevallo AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal schools you are assessing provide internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance offered? You will most likely want to secure employment quickly after graduation, but finding that initial job in a new profession can be challenging without help. 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 indication that the schools have sizable networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their graduates are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the School's Location? Since laws vary among states, it might be advantageous to select a paralegal school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you want to work after graduating. In addition, it will be necessary to build relationships in the neighboring legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is all the more justification to receive your education in the community where you desire to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most charge a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might wish to initially look at those colleges that are within the Montevallo AL region.
How Much is the Entire Expense? Paralegal programs can differ in price depending on the credential earned and the amount of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only cost for your education. Don't forget to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid may be obtainable to help offset some of the cost, so make sure to consult with the school's financial aid office to find out what is offered in Montevallo AL. Naturally if you opt to attend an online program, some of these additional expenses, for instance for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? Many legal students continue working while obtaining their training and require flexibility to schedule classes. If you can solely attend weekend or evening classes near Montevallo AL, make sure classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, confirm that the program you enroll in offers that option. Finally, inquire what the procedure is for making up missed classes because of work, illness or family obligations.
Enroll in the Right Montevallo Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Selecting the best legal assistant degree program is an essential first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have discussed in this post, you have the option of attending classes at school or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Montevallo home. Paralegal academic programs are made available in various lengths and formats. Various types of private and public institutions make available paralegal training, including community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a profound influence on your opportunities for success in your new career. Given that there is a wide range in the quality of programs, pick carefully. Give yourself the greatest possible opportunity to be successful in this fascinating profession. But regardless of how you elect to obtain your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to evaluate each school and make your ultimate decision. And with the appropriate training you can accomplish your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Montevallo Alabama.