How to Enroll in the Best Paralegal Studies 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 lead to a gratifying profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's crucial that you locate the best school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you require to succeed. As you most likely know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more academic options are becoming available, both at school and online. However with numerous options to choose from, where does one start? Many potential students start by searching for schools within driving distance of their Mountain Brook residences. Of those choices, they try to find the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are necessary considerations when picking a college, they are not the only factors you ought to consider. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the program should be taken into consideration as well. Later on in this article we will cover a list of questions that you must ask potential paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare each one before making your decision. But before we do, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the instructional alternatives that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals essentially both hold comparable job positions and functions, 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 legal assistants and paralegals assist Mountain Brook AL attorneys with a diverse array of job duties, including maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job duties are relevant to the type of practice where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm may help with the logistics of a trial or transferring documents to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is usually billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And the same as lawyers, they must carry out their duties with a high level of professionalism and follow a strict code of professional ethics. As mentioned, their responsibilities can be diverse in support of the practices where they are employed, but some of their day-to-day activities can involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching applicable laws and cases
- Drafting correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping lawyers prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be complex and rather demanding. On the other hand, what they are not legally permitted to do is give legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not limited to administrative or clerical tasks more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the main support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys are able to take on a much larger number of cases or clients than they could on their own.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the academic requirements and job prospects will be the same. The quickest means to begin your career as a legal assistant in Mountain Brook AL is by obtaining a certificate, which may involve as little as 6 months to accomplish. A large number of entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more expansive education and may be earned 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 as well. When you have earned either a certificate or degree, you might want to proceed and obtain a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help increase your career opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. Some 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 program (we will address the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 important initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Classes
Online paralegal or legal assistant schools have become more prevalent and can be a good option for those searching for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online programs can be particularly attractive to Mountain Brook AL students who keep working while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an added benefit, online schools can often be less costly than on campus options. Even secondary expenditures for such items as study materials or commuting can be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will discuss in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the training you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the program and school you are thinking about are accredited by a respected organization, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less structured and conventional setting, then obtaining your certificate or degree online may be the right option for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Schools
Now that you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what educational options are available, you can begin the process of evaluating schools. But since there are so many programs available at community and junior colleges in the Mountain Brook AL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you must learn what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is especially true when you add all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like the majority of prospective students, you will begin by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other crucial issues to research also, such as accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's go over several of the questions you should be asking the schools you are researching so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your final selection.
Is the Paralegal School and Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you choose need to be accredited by a highly regarded organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it might also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance training. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will get will be of the highest quality, but it will demonstrate to future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Numerous Mountain Brook AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited school. Finally, financial aid and student loans are often available only for accredited schools.
What's the Program's Reputation? Investigate what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal programs you are looking at. This is of particular importance if you are entering the profession with no prior experience, since employers will need to rely on the caliber of your education exclusively. Checking that the school you pick is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating services, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact several Mountain Brook AL law firms that you may have an interest in working for after graduation 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 Program Sponsor Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law firm or other legal establishment while still in school. They can also present an avenue for students to begin establishing contacts within the Mountain Brook AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal schools you are reviewing offer 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 most likely wish to hit the ground running after graduating, but finding that first job in a new profession can be difficult without assistance. Ask if the paralegal programs you are interviewing have job placement programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good sign that the schools have sizable networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their students are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the School's Location? Considering that laws vary from state to state, it may be beneficial to select a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you plan to practice after graduating. In addition, it will be valuable to cultivate relationships in the local legal community, possibly by means of 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, most require an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may want to first look at those schools that are within the Mountain Brook AL area.
What is the Complete Expense? Paralegal schools can differ in price based on the credential earned and the length of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your training. Remember to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance might be obtainable to help reduce some of the cost, so don't forget to contact the school's financial aid department to find out what is available in Mountain Brook AL. Needless to say that if you choose to attend an online school, some of these additional expenses, such as for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Fit your Schedule? Numerous legal students continue working while obtaining their training and require flexibility in class scheduling. If you can solely attend weekend or evening classes near Mountain Brook AL, verify classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make certain that the program you choose provides that option. Last, inquire what the procedure is for making up classes missed as a result of sickness, work or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Right Mountain Brook Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Choosing the best paralegal degree school is an important first step toward your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have covered in this article, you have the choice of attending classes at school or you can attend them online in the comfort and privacy of your Mountain Brook residence. Paralegal training programs are offered in many formats and lengths. Various types of private and public institutions provide paralegal training, including community and junior colleges, four-year colleges and universities, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a profound impact on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Since there is a broad range in the quality of schools, pick wisely. Afford yourself the greatest possible opportunity to succeed in this rewarding profession. But no matter how you decide to receive your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will be able to assess each program and make your final selection. And with the right education you can accomplish your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Mountain Brook Alabama.