How to Pick the Right Paralegal Studies Certificate or Degree Program Near Montevallo Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Montevallo AL and begin your journey that will lead to a satisfying career in legal services. However, it's important that you locate the right school so that you will receive the extensive training that you need to succeed. As you probably know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of academic alternatives are becoming available, both on campus and online. But with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Some potential students begin by searching for schools within commuting distance of their Montevallo residences. Of those choices, they try to find the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are very important considerations when picking a school, they are not the only factors you need to take into consideration. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the school need to be taken into account too. Later in this article we will cover a list of concerns that you need to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare every one prior to making your selection. But before we do, let's take a look at what a paralegal does and the educational alternatives that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants for the most part both fill comparable job positions and functions, only with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and are part of a separate job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Montevallo AL lawyers with a wide variety of job functions, including legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job functions are relevant to the type of practice where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm could assist with the logistics of a trial or transferring documents to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is normally billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And the same as lawyers, they must carry out their duties with a high level of professionalism and adhere to a strict code of professional ethics. As mentioned, their duties can be diverse in support of the practices where they are employed, but a few of their routine activities might include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching pertinent laws and cases
- Drafting correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping attorneys prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal documents, files and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be involved and rather demanding. On the other hand, what they are not legally authorized to do is provide legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not limited to administrative or clerical functions more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys have the ability to manage a much larger number of cases or clients than they could on their own.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps 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 launch your career as a paralegal in Montevallo AL is by earning a certificate, which can take just 6 months to complete. A large number of entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more comprehensive education and can be earned at numerous community colleges in two years. For an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are offered as well. Once you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you might choose to proceed and receive a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help increase your job opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. Some 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 certificate or degree from an accredited school (we will address the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two important initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Classes
Online legal assistant or paralegal programs have become more available and can be an excellent alternative for those looking for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online programs can be especially attractive to Montevallo AL students who keep working while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an additional advantage, online programs can sometimes be less costly than more traditional options. Even supplementary expenditures for such things as commuting or study materials may be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will address in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the education you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the school and program you are considering are accredited by a respected organization, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less supervised and formal environment, then obtaining your degree or certificate online may be the ideal option for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Degree or Certificate Programs
Since you now you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what academic options are available, you can start the process of assessing schools. But since there are so many programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Montevallo AL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you need to find out what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is especially true when you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like many potential students, you will begin by searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other crucial issues to think about as well, including accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at a few of the questions you should be asking the schools you are considering so that you can effectively vet each one and make your final selection.
Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you enroll in should be accredited by a respected organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it may also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance learning. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will obtain will be of the highest quality, but it will demonstrate to future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. A number of Montevallo AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited school. Also, financial aid and student loans are often obtainable only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Investigate what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant schools you are considering. This is of specific importance if you are entering the field with no previous experience, since employers will have to rely on the caliber of your training exclusively. Verifying that the school you choose is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating reports, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact a few Montevallo AL law firms that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask what schools they recommend. Keep in mind that even if a school is not among the most highly ranked, 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 firm or other legal establishment while attending school. They can also offer a means for students to begin creating contacts within the Montevallo AL legal field. Ask if the paralegal schools you are reviewing offer internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help available? You will undoubtedly want to secure employment quickly after graduating, but getting that initial job in a new field can be challenging without support. Ask if the paralegal programs you are interviewing have job placement programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good indication that the schools have large networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their students are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the School Located? Because laws vary from state to state, it might be a good idea to enroll in a paralegal school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you want to work after graduating. In addition, it will be important to build relationships in the local legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is all the more justification to receive your education in the community where you choose 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 might want to initially look at those colleges that are within the Montevallo AL region.
What is the Total Expense? Paralegal schools can differ in price based on the credential received and the amount of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your training. Don't forget to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid might be available to help minimize part of the cost, so don't forget to contact the school's financial aid department to find out what is available in Montevallo AL. Of course if you opt to attend an online program, some of these additional costs, such as for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Fit your Schedule? Many paralegal students keep working while receiving their training and require flexibility in class scheduling. If you can just attend weekend or evening classes near Montevallo AL, make sure classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make sure that the program you choose makes available that option. Finally, ask what the procedure is for making-up classes missed due to sickness, work or family obligations.
Enroll in the Best Montevallo Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Selecting the ideal paralegal certificate school is a vital first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have covered 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 provided in various formats and lengths. Several kinds of private and public institutions offer paralegal training, including community and junior colleges, four-year colleges and universities, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a profound influence on your prospects for success in your new career. Given that there is a wide range in the quality of programs, choose wisely. Give yourself the greatest possible chance to be successful in this fascinating profession. But irrespective of how you elect to obtain your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to review each school and make your final selection. And with the right training you can realize your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Montevallo Alabama.