How to Pick a Paralegal Certificate Program near Montgomery Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Montgomery AL and start your journey that will result in a rewarding career in legal services. However, it’s important that you locate the best school so that you will receive the extensive training that you need to succeed. As you probably know, 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. But with numerous options to choose from, where does one start? Many potential students start by looking for schools within commuting range of their Montgomery residences. Of those choices, they look for the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are prime considerations when choosing a college, they are not the only factors you should take into consideration. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the program ought to be taken into consideration too. Later in this post we will cover a list of concerns that you ought to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare every one before making your choice. But first, let’s take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the educational alternatives that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals basically both fill the same job positions and functions, just with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and belong to a different job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Montgomery AL attorneys with a wide variety of job functions, such as legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job duties are relevant to the type of practice where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm might help with the logistics of a trial or transferring files to court. In private practices, a paralegal’s work is typically billed by the hour as are the lawyer’s. And the same as attorneys, they must carry out their duties with a high level of professionalism and adhere to a strict code of professional ethics. As mentioned, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they work, but a few of their day-to-day activities might include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching pertinent laws and cases
- Composing correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting attorneys prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal files, documents and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be complicated and very 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 confined to administrative or clerical duties more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the main support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers 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 arguably having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the educational prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The quickest means to start your career as a paralegal in Montgomery AL is by obtaining a certificate, which may require as little as 6 months to accomplish. A large number of entry level positions do call for an Associate’s Degree, which offer a more expansive education and may be acquired at many community colleges in two years. For an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor’s Degrees are offered also. When you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you may choose to proceed and obtain a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help boost your job opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. Some 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 degree or certificate from an accredited school (we will address the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 crucial first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
What to Ask Paralegal Studies Programs
Now that you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what academic options are available, you can start the undertaking of evaluating schools. But since there are so many programs available at junior and community colleges in the Montgomery AL area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you need to know what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is particularly true when you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. If you are like most potential students, you will begin by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other crucial aspects to research as well, such as accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let’s take a look at some of the questions you should be asking the programs you are considering so that you can effectively vet each one and make your final choice.
Is the Paralegal Training Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you enroll in should be accredited by a reputable organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it might also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance learning. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will receive will be of the highest quality, but it will show potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. Numerous Montgomery AL law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited school. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are often offered only for accredited schools.
What’s the Program’s Reputation? Research what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant schools you are considering. This is of special importance if you are entering the profession with no previous experience, since employers will have to make a decision based on the caliber of your training exclusively. Checking that the program you pick is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating services, such as those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also call some Montgomery AL law practices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask what schools they recommend. Bear in mind that even if a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law practice or other legal operation while attending school. They can also provide a pathway for students to begin creating contacts within the Montgomery AL legal field. Ask if the paralegal schools you are considering provide internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help provided? You will undoubtedly wish to hit the ground running after graduation, but getting that initial job in a new field can be challenging without support. Ask if the paralegal schools you are assessing have job assistance 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 corroborates that their graduates are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the School’s Location? Because laws differ among states, it may be advantageous to enroll in a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you want to practice after graduating. Also, it will be necessary to establish relationships in the local legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is even more reason to obtain your education in the area where you want to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many require a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may wish to initially look at those colleges that are within the Montgomery AL region.
How Much is the Total Cost? Paralegal schools can differ in price depending on the credential earned and the amount of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expense for your training. Remember to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance may be obtainable to help reduce some of the expense, so make sure to contact the school’s financial aid office to see what is available in Montgomery AL. Naturally if you opt to attend an online school, a portion these supplementary costs, for instance for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Accommodate your Schedule? Numerous paralegal students keep working while obtaining their training and need flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend weekend or evening classes near Montgomery AL, verify classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make certain that the school you choose offers that option. Finally, ask what the protocol is for making-up classes missed due to work, illness or family emergencies.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Programs
Legal assistant and paralegal online schools have become more prevalent and may be an excellent option for individuals looking for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online schools can be especially appealing to individuals who continue to work while earning a degree. As an additional advantage, online schools can sometimes be less expensive than more traditional options. Even supplementary expenses for such things as commuting or study materials can be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all online programs are accredited, which we will cover in more detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the training you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the program and school you are considering are accredited by a highly regarded organization, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less structured and conventional setting, then obtaining your degree or certificate online could be the right option for you.
Will You Attend Paralegal School near Montgomery AL?
If you live near Montgomery AL or perhaps you are considering attending classes in that area, following is some interesting and useful information regarding the location of your new school campus.
Montgomery is the capital city of the U.S. state of Alabama and the county seat of Montgomery County. Named for Richard Montgomery, it stands beside the Alabama River, on the coastal Plain of the Gulf of Mexico. In the 2010 Census, Montgomery's population was 205,764. It is the second most populous city in Alabama, after Birmingham, and is the 118th most populous in the United States. The Montgomery Metropolitan Statistical Area's population in 2010 was estimated at 374,536; it is the fourth largest in the state and 136th among United States metropolitan areas.
The city was incorporated in 1819 as a merger of two towns situated along the Alabama River. It became the state capital in 1846, representing the shift of power to the south-central area of Alabama with the growth of cotton as a commodity crop of the Black Belt and the rise of Mobile as a mercantile port on the Gulf Coast. In February 1861, Montgomery was chosen the first capital of the Confederate States of America, which it remained until the Confederate seat of government moved to Richmond, Virginia, in May of that year. In the middle of the 20th century, Montgomery was a major center of events and protests in the Civil Rights Movement, including the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Selma to Montgomery marches.
In addition to housing many Alabama government agencies, Montgomery has a large military presence, due to Maxwell Air Force Base; public universities Alabama State University, Troy University (Montgomery campus), and Auburn University at Montgomery; two private post-secondary institutions, Faulkner University and Huntingdon College; high-tech manufacturing, including Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama; and many cultural attractions, such as the Alabama Shakespeare Festival and the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts.
Find the Best Paralegal Certificate Program near Montgomery AL
Choosing the best paralegal degree program is an essential first step toward your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have addressed in this post, you have the option of attending classes on-campus or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Montgomery home. Paralegal education programs are provided in various lengths and formats. Various kinds of public and private institutions provide paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four year colleges and universities, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a profound impact on your prospects for success in your new profession. Given that there is a broad range in the quality of schools, choose wisely. Afford yourself the greatest possible chance to succeed in this rewarding profession. But regardless of how you decide to acquire your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will have the ability to evaluate each school and make your final selection. And with the ideal education you can accomplish your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Montgomery AL.
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