How to Pick the Right Paralegal Degree Program Near Montgomery Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Montgomery AL and start your journey that will result in a rewarding profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's crucial that you find the ideal school so that you will get the extensive training that you need to succeed. As you probably know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of academic options are being offered, both on campus and online. But with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one start? Many prospective students start by trying to find schools within traveling range of their Montgomery homes. Of those choices, they search for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are very important considerations when choosing a school, they are not the only factors you must take into consideration. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the program need to be taken into account as well. Later on in this article we will cover a list of concerns that you should ask potential paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare each one prior to making your selection. But before we do, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the instructional alternatives that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals basically both hold comparable job positions and responsibilities, just with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and are part of a separate job classification. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Montgomery AL lawyers with a wide variety of job functions, including maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job functions are relevant to the type of legal firm where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice might help with the logistics of a trial or transporting documents to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is typically billed by the hour as are the lawyer's. And just like lawyers, they must carry out their duties with a high degree of professionalism and follow a strict standard of professional ethics. As stated, their responsibilities can be diverse in support of the practices where they are employed, but some of their day-to-day activities may include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on pertinent cases and laws
- Drafting correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting lawyers get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be complicated and quite challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally authorized to do is provide legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not confined to administrative or clerical duties more apropos 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, attorneys are able to take on a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could on their own.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The fastest way to launch your career as a paralegal in Montgomery AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can involve as little as 6 months to complete. Most entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which offer a more comprehensive education and may be obtained 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 acquired either a degree or a certificate, you might want to proceed and get 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. A few of the highly respected 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 school (we will discuss the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 crucial first steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Programs
Online legal assistant or paralegal programs have become more popular and can be a good option for individuals looking for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be especially attractive to Montgomery AL students who continue to work while earning a degree. As an added advantage, online programs can in some cases be less expensive than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenses for such things as commuting or study materials may be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all online schools are accredited, which we will discuss in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the training you obtain is of the highest quality. 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 structured and conventional environment, then earning your certificate or degree online may be the ideal choice for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Programs
Once you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what training options are offered, you can begin the process of evaluating schools. But considering that there are numerous programs accessible at junior and community colleges in the Montgomery AL area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you need to know 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 already covered, there are other critical issues to consider as well, such as the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's go over several of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are researching so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your final choice.
Is the Paralegal School and Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you choose should be accredited by a highly regarded accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it might also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance learning. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will receive will be of the highest quality, but it will demonstrate to potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. A number of Montgomery AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited program. Finally, financial aid and student loans are typically offered only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the School? Investigate what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant schools you are looking at. This is of special importance if you are entering the field with no prior experience, since employers will need to rely on the caliber of your training exclusively. Checking that the program you pick is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating services, such as those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also call some Montgomery AL law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask which schools they suggest. Remember that even though a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the School Provide Internships? Internship programs offer students an opportunity to experience working in a law office or other legal establishment while attending school. They can also offer an avenue for students to start creating contacts within the Montgomery AL legal field. Ask if the paralegal schools you are evaluating offer internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help offered? You will probably wish to secure employment quickly after graduation, but finding that first job in a new profession can be difficult without support. Find out if the paralegal programs you are reviewing have job placement programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good sign that the schools have sizable networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their graduates are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the School Located? Since laws vary from state to state, it might be a good idea to enroll in a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you want to work after graduation. In addition, it will be important to develop relationships in the neighboring legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is all the more justification to receive your education in the area where you wish to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most require an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might want to initially investigate those colleges that are within the Montgomery AL region.
How Much is the Entire Expense? Paralegal programs can vary in cost based on the credential earned and the length 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 assistance may be available to help offset some of the cost, so be sure to consult with the school's financial aid office to find out what is offered in Montgomery AL. Needless to say that if you decide to attend an online school, a portion these supplementary costs, such as for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Match your Schedule? Many paralegal students continue working while getting their training and require flexibility to schedule classes. If you can solely attend weekend or evening classes near Montgomery AL, make certain classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make certain that the school you enroll in offers that option. Finally, ask what the process is for making-up classes missed because of sickness, work or family obligations.
Enroll in the Best Montgomery Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Selecting the ideal paralegal studies degree program is a crucial first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have addressed in this post, you have the option of attending classes on-campus or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Montgomery home. Paralegal academic programs are offered in numerous formats and lengths. Various types of public and private institutions offer paralegal education, including junior and community colleges, four year universities and colleges, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a pronounced impact on your opportunities for success in your new career. Considering that there is a wide range in the quality of schools, pick carefully. Give yourself the greatest possible opportunity to be successful in this fascinating profession. But no matter how you decide to receive your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will be able to evaluate each program and make your ultimate decision. And with the right training you can accomplish your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Montgomery Alabama.