How to Choose the Right Paralegal Studies School Near Montgomery Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Montgomery AL and start your journey that will result in a satisfying profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's essential that you locate the right school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you need to be successful. As you most likely know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more educational choices are being offered, both on campus and online. However with numerous options to choose from, where does one begin? Many potential students begin by looking for schools within driving distance of their Montgomery residences. Of those choices, they try to find the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are prime considerations when choosing a school, they are not the only qualifiers you ought to take into consideration. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the school ought to be taken into consideration too. Later in this post we will review a list of questions that you should ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare every one prior to making your choice. But first, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the instructional options that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals basically both fill the same job roles and responsibilities, just with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and are part of a different job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Montgomery AL attorneys with a diverse array of job functions, such as maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job duties are based upon the type of practice where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm might help with trial logistics or transporting documents to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is usually billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And just like attorneys, they must carry out their duties with a high degree of professionalism and abide by a strict code of professional ethics. As noted, their responsibilities can be diverse in support of the firms where they are employed, but a few of their daily activities can include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching relevant cases and laws
- Preparing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping 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 role of a paralegal can be complicated and rather demanding. On the other hand, what they are not legally authorized to do is offer legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not restricted to clerical or administrative functions more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the main support systems for lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers have the ability to manage a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational requirements and job prospects will be the same. The fastest way to begin your career as a paralegal in Montgomery AL is by earning a certificate, which can require just six months to complete. A large number of entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more comprehensive education and can be obtained at many community colleges in 2 years. For an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are available also. Once you have earned either a certificate or degree, you may want to proceed and get a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help maximize your job opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. A few of the highly respected 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 discuss the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 essential first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Courses
Paralegal and legal assistant online schools have become more available and can be a good option for individuals searching for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be particularly appealing to Montgomery AL students who continue to work while obtaining a degree. As an added advantage, online programs can often be less costly than more traditional options. Even secondary expenses for such things as commuting or study materials can be minimized 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 guarantee that the training you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the school and program you are thinking about are accredited by a highly regarded organization, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less supervised and conventional setting, then earning your certificate or degree online could be the ideal option for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Once you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what training choices are offered, you can start the process of assessing schools. But considering that there are numerous programs available at community and junior colleges in the Montgomery 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 particularly true if you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like the majority of potential 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 significant aspects 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 programs you are researching so that you can effectively vet each one and make your ultimate choice.
Is the Paralegal School and Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you choose need to be accredited by a recognized 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 targets distance or online training. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will obtain will be of the highest quality, but it will establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. A number of Montgomery AL law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited school. Also, financial assistance and student loans are typically offered only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Research what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant schools you are contemplating. This is of particular importance if you are new to the profession with no previous experience, since employers will need to make a decision based on the quality of your education exclusively. Checking that the school you select is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating services, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call a few Montgomery AL law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask which schools they suggest. Bear in mind that even though a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs offer students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal establishment while attending school. They can also offer a pathway for students to begin developing contacts within the Montgomery AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal programs you are considering offer internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will most likely wish to secure employment quickly after graduation, but getting that first job in a new field can be difficult without assistance. Find out if the paralegal schools you are reviewing have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have large networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their students are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the School Located? Considering that laws differ from one state to another, it may be beneficial to choose a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you want to practice after graduation. In addition, it will be valuable to build relationships in the local legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is all the more justification to obtain your education in the community where you wish 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 need to initially consider those schools that are within the Montgomery AL region.
What is the Entire Expense? Paralegal programs can differ in price based on the credential received and the length of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expense for your education. Don't forget to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance might be available to help reduce some of the cost, so don't forget to consult with the school's financial aid department to find out what is offered in Montgomery AL. Of course if you opt to attend an online school, some of these added expenses, such as for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? Many paralegal students keep working while getting their training and must have flexibility in class scheduling. If you can solely attend weekend or evening classes near Montgomery AL, make certain classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make sure that the school you choose offers that option. Last, ask what the protocol is for making up classes missed due to work, illness or family emergencies.
Choose the Right Montgomery Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Enrolling in the best paralegal studies certificate school is a crucial first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have discussed in this article, you have the choice of attending classes at school or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Montgomery residence. Paralegal training programs are provided in various lengths and formats. Different kinds of public and private institutions make available paralegal training, including community colleges, four-year universities and colleges, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a pronounced influence on your opportunities for success in your new career. Given that there is a broad range in the quality of programs, choose carefully. Give yourself the greatest possible chance to be successful in this exciting profession. But regardless of how you choose to acquire your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have provided you will have the ability to assess each program and make your ultimate decision. And with the ideal education you can realize your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Montgomery Alabama.