How to Choose the Best Paralegal Degree Program Near Mountain Brook Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Mountain Brook AL and start your journey that will lead to a rewarding career in legal services. Nevertheless, it's crucial that you locate the right school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you need to succeed. As you probably know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more academic alternatives are becoming available, both at school and online. But with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one start? Some potential students start by looking for schools within driving range of their Mountain Brook residences. Of those options, they try to find the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are important considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only factors you ought to consider. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the school need to be considered also. Later in this article we will review a list of concerns that you must ask potential paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare every one before making your selection. But before we do, 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.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants for the most part 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 are part of a separate job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Mountain Brook AL lawyers with a wide range of job functions, such as legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job functions are based upon the type of practice where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm might help with trial logistics or delivering documents to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is usually billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And just like lawyers, they must carry out their duties with a high degree of professionalism and comply with a strict standard of professional ethics. As noted, their duties can be varied in support of the practices where they are employed, but a few of their everyday activities might involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching relevant cases and laws
- Composing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting lawyers get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be involved and quite challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally allowed to do is offer legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not limited to clerical or administrative functions more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys have the ability to manage a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could on their own.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the educational prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The fastest means to begin your career as a paralegal in Mountain Brook AL is by earning a certificate, which can take just six months to complete. Most entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more expansive education and may be obtained at many community colleges in 2 years. For an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are offered also. When you have earned either a degree or a certificate, you may choose to proceed and receive a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help increase your job opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. Some of the highly respected 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 certificate or degree from an accredited program (we will discuss the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two crucial first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Programs
Online paralegal or legal assistant programs have become more available and can be a good alternative for students looking for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be especially attractive to Mountain Brook AL students who keep working while obtaining a degree. As an additional benefit, online schools can in some cases be less costly than on campus options. Even secondary expenditures for such items as study materials or commuting can be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all online programs are accredited, which we will address in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee 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 respected agency, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to attend classes in a less supervised and conventional environment, then obtaining your degree or certificate online could be the ideal option for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Certificate or Degree Programs
Since you now you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what training choices are available, you can start the undertaking of assessing schools. But since there are so many programs accessible at community and junior colleges in the Mountain Brook AL area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you need to know what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is especially true when you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like most prospective students, you will begin by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other important factors to think about also, including the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's go over several of the questions you should be asking the programs you are researching so that you can effectively vet each one and make your ultimate decision.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you select should be accredited by a recognized organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it may also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online training. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will get will be of the highest quality, but it will show potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. Many Mountain Brook AL law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited school. Also, financial aid and student loans are typically obtainable only for accredited schools.
What's the School's Reputation? Research what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant 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 make a decision based on the caliber of your training exclusively. Verifying that the program you choose is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating reports, such as those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact some Mountain Brook AL law firms that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask which 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 Provide Internships? Internship programs offer students an opportunity to experience working in a law firm or other legal operation while remaining in school. They can also present a pathway for students to begin developing contacts within the Mountain Brook AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal programs you are assessing provide internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help provided? You will most likely want to secure employment quickly after graduating, but getting that first job in a new profession can be difficult without assistance. Find out if the paralegal programs you are reviewing have job placement programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good sign that the schools have large networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their graduates are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the Campus Located? Because laws differ from one state to another, it might be advantageous to choose a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you wish to practice after graduation. Also, it will be important to develop relationships in the neighboring legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is all the more reason to acquire your education in the area where you wish to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most charge an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may wish to initially consider those colleges that are within the Mountain Brook AL area.
How Much is the Complete Cost? Paralegal programs can differ in price depending on the credential obtained and the length of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only cost for your education. Remember to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial assistance may be accessible to help minimize some of the cost, so make sure to consult with the school's financial aid office to find out what is available in Mountain Brook AL. Of course if you choose to attend an online program, some of these additional expenses, such as for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? A number of legal students continue working while obtaining their training and require flexibility in class scheduling. If you can just attend night or weekend classes near Mountain Brook AL, make sure classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, confirm that the school you select offers that option. Last, ask what the process is for making up missed classes due to sickness, work or family obligations.
Enroll in the Best Mountain Brook Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Selecting the right paralegal training school is a crucial first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have discussed in this post, you have the choice of attending classes on-campus or you can attend them online in the comfort and privacy of your Mountain Brook home. Paralegal training programs are provided in various lengths and formats. Various types of private and public institutions provide paralegal education, including junior and community 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 career. Considering that there is a broad range in the quality of programs, pick carefully. Give yourself the greatest possible opportunity to be successful in this fascinating profession. But regardless of how you choose to obtain your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have provided you will have the ability to review each school and make your ultimate decision. And with the appropriate education you can accomplish your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Mountain Brook Alabama.