How to Select the Best Paralegal Course Near Montgomery Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Montgomery AL and begin your journey that will result in a gratifying profession in legal services. However, it's important that you find the right school so that you will get the extensive training that you need to be successful. As you most likely understand, 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? A number of prospective students start by trying to find schools within driving distance of their Montgomery homes. Of those alternatives, they search for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are necessary considerations when choosing a college, they are not the only factors you should take into consideration. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the school should be taken into consideration also. Later in this post we will cover a list of concerns that you need to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare each one before making your choice. But before we do, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the academic alternatives that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants essentially both hold the same job roles and functions, only with different titles. On the other hand, 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 Montgomery AL lawyers with a wide variety of job functions, including maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job functions are relevant to the type of legal firm where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice may help with the logistics of a trial or transporting documents to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is typically billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And the same as lawyers, they must conduct themselves with a high degree of professionalism and follow a strict standard of professional ethics. As noted, their responsibilities can be varied in support of the firms where they are employed, but some of their routine activities might involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching pertinent laws and cases
- Composing correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping lawyers prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be complicated and very demanding. However, what they are not legally allowed to do is offer legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not restricted to administrative or clerical tasks more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers have the ability to take on a much larger number of cases or clients than they could alone.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational requirements and opportunities will be the same. The fastest means to begin your career as a paralegal in Montgomery AL is by earning a certificate, which may involve as little as 6 months to accomplish. Many entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more extensive education and can be obtained at many community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are available also. After you have earned either a degree or a certificate, you might choose to proceed and get a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help improve your employment opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. 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 certificate or degree from an accredited program (we will address the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 crucial first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Programs
Online paralegal or legal assistant programs have become more prevalent and can be an excellent alternative for those looking for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be particularly appealing to Montgomery AL students who continue to work while obtaining a degree. As an added advantage, online classes can sometimes be less expensive than on campus options. Even secondary 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 guarantee that the education 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 respected organization, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less structured and formal setting, then earning your degree or certificate online might be the ideal option for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Programs
Since you now you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what training options are offered, you can begin the process of assessing schools. But since there are so many programs available at community and junior colleges in the Montgomery AL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you must find out what questions to ask so that you can 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 the majority of prospective students, you will begin by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other critical issues to consider 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 programs you are considering so that you can effectively vet each one and make your final selection.
Is the Paralegal School and Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you select need to be accredited by a recognized organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it might also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets distance or online learning. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will get will be of the highest quality, but it will establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. Numerous Montgomery AL law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited school. Finally, financial aid and student loans are usually available only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Find out what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal schools you are looking at. This is of specific importance if you are new to the field with no previous experience, since employers will have to make a decision based on the quality of your training exclusively. Checking that the program you pick is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating reports, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact some Montgomery AL law firms that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask what schools they suggest. Remember that even when a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the School Provide Internships? Internship programs give students an opportunity to experience working in a law office or other legal operation while remaining in school. They can also provide a pathway for students to start creating contacts within the Montgomery AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal programs you are reviewing offer internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will most likely want to hit the ground running after graduating, but finding that initial job in a new field can be difficult without assistance. Find out if the paralegal schools you are considering have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good indication that the schools have substantial 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 Located? Considering that laws differ from state to state, it might be beneficial to enroll in a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you want to practice after graduation. In addition, it will be necessary to cultivate relationships in the local legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is all the more reason to receive your education in the community where you desire to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most charge an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might need to first consider those schools that are within the Montgomery AL region.
What is the Entire Cost? Paralegal schools can differ in price depending on the credential obtained and the length of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only expense for your training. Remember to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance might be accessible to help offset some of the expense, so make sure to contact the school's financial aid office to find out what is available in Montgomery AL. Naturally if you decide to attend an online school, some of these additional costs, for instance for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Accommodate your Schedule? Many legal students keep working while obtaining their training and must have flexibility in class scheduling. If you can only attend night or weekend classes near Montgomery AL, verify classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make sure that the school you enroll in provides that option. Last, inquire what the protocol is for making up classes missed because of work, illness or family obligations.
Enroll in the Right Montgomery Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Enrolling in the ideal paralegal degree school is a crucial first step toward your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have addressed in this article, you have the choice of attending classes on campus or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Montgomery home. Paralegal training programs are made available in numerous formats and lengths. Various kinds of public and private institutions provide paralegal training, 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 pronounced influence 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 best possible chance to succeed in this exciting profession. But regardless of how you choose to receive your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will be able to evaluate each school and make your final selection. And with the appropriate education you can realize your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Montgomery Alabama.