How to Find the Best Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program Near Mountain Brook Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Mountain Brook AL and begin your journey that will result in a fulfilling profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's crucial that you locate the best school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you require to succeed. As you probably understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more academic alternatives are being offered, both at school and online. But with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Some potential students start by looking for schools within driving range of their Mountain Brook homes. Of those options, they try to find the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are necessary considerations when choosing a college, they are not the only qualifiers you must take into consideration. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the program must be taken into account also. Later on in this post we will review a list of concerns that you must ask potential paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare every one prior to making your selection. But first, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic choices that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals for the most part both fill the same job roles and responsibilities, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and belong to a separate job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Mountain Brook AL attorneys with a diverse array of job functions, including maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. 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 firm may assist with the logistics of a trial or transferring documents to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is usually billed by the hour as are the lawyer's. And just like attorneys, they must carry out their duties with a high level of professionalism and comply with a strict standard of professional ethics. As mentioned, their responsibilities can be varied in support of the practices where they are employed, but a few of their daily activities can involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on pertinent cases and laws
- Drafting correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting attorneys get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal documents, files and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be complicated and very challenging. However, what they are not legally authorized to do is give legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not confined to clerical or administrative duties more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the main support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys are able to manage a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could alone.
Paralegal Certificates and Degrees and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the academic prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The fastest means to begin your career as a legal assistant in Mountain Brook AL is by earning a certificate, which may take just six months to complete. 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 comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are available also. Once you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you may choose to continue and get a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help maximize your career opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. Some of the highly regarded certifying agencies in the profession 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 benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 important first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Schools
Online legal assistant or paralegal programs have become more prevalent and can be a good option for those looking for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online programs can be especially appealing to Mountain Brook AL students who keep working while obtaining a degree. As an added advantage, online programs can sometimes be less expensive than more traditional options. Even secondary expenses for such things as commuting or study materials may be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will address in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the training you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the school and program you are looking into are accredited by a reputable organization, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to attend classes in a less supervised and conventional setting, then earning your certificate or degree online might be the ideal choice for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Programs
Once you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what training choices are offered, you can begin the undertaking of evaluating schools. But considering that there are numerous programs available at community and junior colleges in the Mountain Brook AL area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you must know what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is especially true if you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like many prospective students, you will start 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 also, including accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at some of the questions you should be asking the schools you are considering so that you can properly vet each one and make your ultimate decision.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you pick should be accredited by a recognized accrediting agency 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 distance or online training. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will obtain will be of the highest standard, but it will show future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Many Mountain Brook AL law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited school. Also, financial aid and student loans are typically available only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the School? Find out what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal programs you are considering. This is of particular importance if you are entering the profession with no prior experience, since employers will need to rely on the quality of your training exclusively. Verifying that the program you select is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating reports, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also call some Mountain Brook AL law offices that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask which schools they recommend. Remember that even though a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the School Provide Internships? Internship programs give students an opportunity to experience working in a law firm or other legal establishment while attending school. They can also provide an avenue for students to start developing contacts within the Mountain Brook AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal programs you are reviewing provide internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help provided? You will probably want to hit the ground running after graduating, but getting that first job in a new profession can be difficult without help. Find out if the paralegal schools you are considering have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good sign that the schools have sizable networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their graduates are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the Campus Located? Considering that laws vary among states, it might be a good idea to select a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you wish to work after graduation. Also, it will be important to create relationships in the neighboring legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is even more reason to obtain your education in the community where you wish to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most charge an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may wish to first consider those schools that are within the Mountain Brook AL area.
What is the Entire Cost? Paralegal programs can vary in cost depending on the credential received and the amount of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only cost for your training. Don't forget to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial assistance might be available to help reduce some of the cost, so don't forget to talk to the school's financial aid department to find out what is offered in Mountain Brook AL. Of course if you decide to attend an online school, some of these added costs, for instance for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Accommodate your Schedule? A number of legal students continue working while receiving their training and need flexibility to schedule classes. If you can solely attend night or weekend classes near Mountain Brook AL, make certain classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make certain that the school you choose offers that option. Last, ask what the procedure is for making up missed classes due to work, illness or family obligations.
Enroll in the Best Mountain Brook Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Selecting the right paralegal training program is a vital first step toward your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have discussed in this article, you have the option of attending classes on-campus or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Mountain Brook home. Paralegal education programs are made available in numerous lengths and formats. Several types of public and private institutions provide paralegal education, 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 impact on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Given that there is a wide range in the quality of programs, pick carefully. Give yourself the best possible opportunity to succeed in this exciting profession. But no matter how you decide to receive your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to examine each school and make your ultimate decision. And with the appropriate education you can accomplish your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Mountain Brook Alabama.