How to Select the Right Paralegal Certificate Program Near Mountain Brook Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Mountain Brook AL and start your journey that will result in a fulfilling profession in legal services. However, it's crucial that you locate the best school so that you will receive the extensive training that you need to achieve success. As you probably understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more educational alternatives are becoming available, both on campus and online. But with so many options to choose from, where does one begin? Some prospective students begin by searching for schools within commuting range of their Mountain Brook residences. Of those alternatives, they look for the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are very important considerations when selecting a college, they are not the only factors you need to take into consideration. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the program should be taken into consideration too. Later in this article we will cover a list of concerns that you must ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare each one before making your selection. But first, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the educational choices that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants for the most part both hold the same job roles and functions, 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 different job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Mountain Brook AL attorneys with a wide range of job functions, including legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job duties are based upon the type of practice where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm may help with trial logistics or transporting documents to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is typically billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And the same as attorneys, they must carry out their duties with a high level of professionalism and abide by a strict code of professional ethics. As mentioned, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they work, but a few of their regular tasks may involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on applicable cases and laws
- Composing correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting lawyers prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be complex and very challenging. However, what they are not legally authorized to do is provide legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not confined to administrative or clerical functions more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the right hand support systems for attorneys. 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 otherwise.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the educational prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The fastest way to begin your career as a legal assistant in Mountain Brook AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can involve just 6 months to complete. A large number of entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which provide a more comprehensive education and may be acquired at many community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are offered also. When you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you might want to continue and receive a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help boost your job opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. A few of the highly respected certifying organizations 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 discuss the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 important initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Programs
Online paralegal or legal assistant schools have become more prevalent and may be a good option for those searching for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online programs can be particularly attractive to Mountain Brook AL students who continue to work while earning a certificate or degree. As an additional benefit, online schools can often be less costly than more traditional options. Even supplementary expenses for such items as commuting or study materials can be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will address in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the education you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the school and program you are reviewing are accredited by a highly regarded agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less structured and formal setting, then earning your certificate or degree online might be the ideal choice for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Schools
Once you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what educational options are available, 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 learn what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is particularly true if you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like the majority of prospective students, you will begin by searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other crucial aspects to research also, including the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's go over some of the questions you should be asking the programs you are considering so that you can properly vet each one and make your ultimate choice.
Is the Paralegal School and Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you pick need to be accredited by a reputable 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 distance or online education. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will obtain will be of the highest standard, but it will show potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Numerous Mountain Brook AL law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited program. Also, financial assistance and student loans are often offered only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Find out what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal programs you are considering. This is of particular importance if you are new to the field 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 determine school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact several Mountain Brook AL law practices that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask what schools they recommend. Keep in mind that even if a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an excellent reputation.
Does the School Provide Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law firm or other legal establishment while remaining in school. They can also present a means for students to start developing contacts within the Mountain Brook 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 Assistance provided? You will probably wish to secure employment quickly after graduating, but getting that initial job in a new profession can be challenging without help. Ask if the paralegal programs you are reviewing have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good indication that the schools have large networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their students are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the School's Location? Since laws vary from state to state, it might be advantageous to select a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you wish to work after graduating. Also, it will be necessary to cultivate relationships in the neighboring legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is all the more justification to obtain your education in the community where you wish to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most charge a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might want to first investigate those colleges that are within the Mountain Brook AL region.
What is the Complete Cost? Paralegal schools can differ in price depending on the credential received and the length of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only cost for your training. Remember to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance might be available to help offset some of the expense, so don't forget to consult with the school's financial aid office to see what is offered in Mountain Brook AL. Of course if you opt to attend an online program, a portion these additional expenses, for instance for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? Many paralegal students continue working while receiving their training and must have flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend night or weekend classes near Mountain Brook AL, make certain classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, confirm that the program you choose makes available that option. Last, inquire what the protocol is for making up classes missed due to sickness, work or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Best Mountain Brook Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Enrolling in the best paralegal studies training program is an important first step toward your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have covered in this post, you have the choice of attending classes on campus or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Mountain Brook home. Paralegal training programs are provided in numerous formats and lengths. Several types of public and private institutions offer paralegal education, including 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 broad range in the quality of schools, choose carefully. Give yourself the greatest possible opportunity to be successful in this fascinating profession. But no matter how you decide to obtain your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have presented you will be able to assess each school and make your final decision. And with the right education you can accomplish your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Mountain Brook Alabama.