How to Choose the Best Paralegal Studies Program Near Montgomery Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Montgomery AL and begin your journey that will lead to a satisfying profession in legal services. However, it's essential that you locate the best school so that you will get the extensive training that you need to be successful. As you most likely understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more academic choices are becoming available, both at school and online. However with so many options to choose from, where does one start? Some prospective students start by looking for schools within driving range of their Montgomery residences. Of those alternatives, they look for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are necessary considerations when picking a college, they are not the only qualifiers you should consider. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the school must be considered as well. Later on in this article we will review a list of concerns that you need to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare each one before making your decision. But before we do, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the educational choices that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants basically both hold comparable job positions and functions, only with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and belong to a different job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals help Montgomery AL attorneys with a wide range of job functions, such as maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job duties are based upon the type of legal firm where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm could assist with trial logistics or transferring files 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 attorneys, they must perform with a high level of professionalism and abide by a strict code of professional ethics. As noted, their responsibilities can be diverse in support of the practices where they are employed, but some of their regular activities may include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching pertinent laws and cases
- Drafting correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping attorneys get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal documents, files and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be involved and quite challenging. However, what they are not legally allowed to do is provide legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not restricted to administrative or clerical duties more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals 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 handle a much larger number of cases or clients than they could alone.
Paralegal Certificates and Degrees and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The fastest means to launch your career as a paralegal in Montgomery AL is by earning a certificate, which can involve just six months to accomplish. A large number of entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which offer a more extensive education and can be acquired at numerous community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are an option also. When you have earned either a degree or a certificate, you might choose to proceed and earn a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help improve your job opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. A few 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 degree or certificate from an accredited school (we will address the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two essential initial steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Training
Legal assistant and paralegal online schools have become more available and may be a good option for students searching for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online schools can be especially appealing to Montgomery AL students who continue to work while earning a degree. As an added benefit, online classes can sometimes be less expensive than on campus options. Even ancillary expenses for such items as study materials or commuting can be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will discuss in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the education you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the school and program you are considering are accredited by a reputable agency, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less structured and conventional environment, then obtaining your degree or certificate online could be the right option for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Now that you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what academic choices are available, you can begin the process of evaluating schools. But because 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 evaluate each one. This is especially true when you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like the majority of prospective students, you will start by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other important issues to think about as well, including the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's take a look at a few of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are investigating so that you can effectively vet each one and make your final choice.
Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you pick should be accredited by a recognized organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it can also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets online or distance education. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will receive will be of the highest standard, but it will demonstrate to potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. Many Montgomery AL law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited school. Finally, financial aid and student loans are often available only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the School? Learn what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant schools you are contemplating. This is of particular importance if you are entering the profession with no previous experience, since employers will need to rely on the quality of your education exclusively. Confirming that the program you select is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating services, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact a few Montgomery AL law firms that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask what schools they recommend. Bear in mind that even though a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an excellent reputation.
Does the Program Sponsor Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal operation while attending school. They can also provide a pathway for students to begin developing contacts within the Montgomery AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal programs you are reviewing provide internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help offered? You will most likely want to hit the ground running after graduation, but finding that first job in a new profession can be challenging without assistance. Ask if the paralegal schools you are considering have job placement programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have substantial networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their graduates are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the School's Location? Because laws differ from state to state, it might be beneficial to select a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you wish to practice after graduating. In addition, it will be necessary to cultivate relationships in the local legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is all the more reason to obtain your education in the area where you wish to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many require a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may wish to first investigate those colleges that are within the Montgomery AL region.
What is the Entire Expense? Paralegal schools can vary in price based on the credential received and the amount of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only cost for your education. Remember to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance may be available to help reduce some of the expense, so don't forget to check with the school's financial aid office to find out what is available in Montgomery AL. Of course if you opt to attend an online school, a portion these added costs, for instance for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Match your Schedule? Numerous paralegal students keep working while obtaining their training and need flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend night or weekend classes near Montgomery AL, make sure classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make certain that the school you select makes available that option. Finally, inquire what the protocol is for making-up classes missed due to sickness, work or family obligations.
Enroll in the Right Montgomery Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Selecting the right paralegal studies training program is an important first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have addressed in this post, you have the choice of attending classes on campus or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Montgomery home. Paralegal training programs are made available in numerous lengths and formats. Various kinds of public and private institutions offer 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 profound impact 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 best possible chance to succeed in this fascinating profession. But irrespective of how you decide to acquire your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have presented you will be able to evaluate each school and make your ultimate selection. And with the right education you can achieve your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Montgomery Alabama.