How to Select the Right Paralegal Training Program Near Prattville Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Prattville AL and begin your journey that will result in a satisfying career in legal services. However, it's important that you locate the ideal school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you require to achieve success. As you most likely know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of educational choices are being offered, both on campus and online. But with so many options to choose from, where does one begin? Many prospective students begin by searching for schools within commuting range of their Prattville residences. Of those alternatives, they try to find the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are necessary considerations when choosing a school, they are not the only qualifiers you should consider. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the program should be taken into consideration also. Later on in this article we will cover a list of questions that you must ask potential paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare every one before making your choice. But first, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic options that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals basically both hold comparable job positions and functions, only with different titles. On the other hand, 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 Prattville AL lawyers with a diverse array of job duties, such as maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job duties are relevant to the type of legal firm where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice could assist with trial logistics or transferring files to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is normally billed by the hour as are the lawyer's. And just like lawyers, they must conduct themselves with a high degree of professionalism and adhere to a strict standard of professional ethics. As noted, their responsibilities can be varied in support of the firms where they work, but some of their day-to-day tasks might involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on relevant cases and laws
- Drafting correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal documents 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 duties, the job of a paralegal can be involved and rather challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally authorized to do is offer legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not confined to clerical or administrative functions more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers are able to handle a much larger number of cases or clients than they could alone.
Paralegal Certificates and Degrees and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational requirements and opportunities will be the same. The fastest way to launch your career as a legal assistant in Prattville AL is by earning a certificate, which may require as little as six months to accomplish. Most entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which provide a more extensive education and may be earned at many community colleges in two 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 obtained either a degree or a certificate, you may choose to continue and earn a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help increase your employment opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. A few of the highly regarded 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 school (we will cover the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two essential initial steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Training
Legal assistant and paralegal online schools have become more available and may be an excellent option for individuals searching for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online programs can be particularly attractive to Prattville AL students who continue to work while earning a certificate or degree. As an additional advantage, online schools can sometimes be less expensive than more traditional options. Even secondary expenditures for such things as study materials or commuting may be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all online schools are accredited, which we will address in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the education you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the program and school you are considering are accredited by a respected organization, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to attend classes in a less structured and conventional setting, then earning your degree or certificate online might be the right option for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Schools
Since you now you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what academic choices are offered, you can begin the undertaking of assessing schools. But since there are numerous programs accessible at community and junior colleges in the Prattville AL area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you must learn what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is especially true when you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. If you are like most prospective students, you will start by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other critical issues to research as well, for instance accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at a few of the questions you should be asking the programs you are researching so that you can properly vet each one and make your final selection.
Is the Paralegal Training Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you pick should be accredited by a highly regarded accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it may also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets distance or online learning. 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. Numerous Prattville AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited program. Also, financial aid and student loans are usually available only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Research what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant schools you are considering. This is of special importance if you are new to the profession with no previous experience, since employers will need to make a decision based on the caliber of your education exclusively. Confirming that the school you select is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating reports, such as those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call some Prattville AL law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask what schools they recommend. Bear in mind that even though a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an excellent reputation.
Does the School 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 start establishing contacts within the Prattville AL legal field. Ask if the paralegal programs you are considering offer internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance offered? You will probably want to hit the ground running after graduation, but finding that first job in a new field can be challenging without help. Find out if the paralegal schools you are assessing have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have substantial networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their students are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the School's Location? Since laws differ from state to state, it might be a good idea to select a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you want to practice after graduating. In addition, it will be valuable to establish relationships in the local legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is even more justification to acquire your education in the community where you wish to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many charge an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may wish to first consider those schools that are within the Prattville AL region.
What is the Entire Cost? Paralegal programs can differ in cost depending on the credential received and the amount of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expense for your training. Don't forget to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance may be obtainable to help offset some of the expense, so be sure to check with the school's financial aid office to see what is available in Prattville AL. Of course if you choose to attend an online school, a portion these supplementary costs, such as for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Fit your Schedule? Many paralegal students keep working while receiving their training and require flexibility in class scheduling. If you can solely attend night or weekend classes near Prattville AL, make sure classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, confirm that the school you choose makes available that option. Finally, ask what the protocol is for making-up missed classes as a result of sickness, work or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Right Prattville Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Enrolling in the ideal paralegal degree program is a vital first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have covered in this article, you have the choice of attending classes at school or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Prattville residence. Paralegal academic 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, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a profound influence on your opportunities for success in your new career. Since there is a broad range in the quality of programs, choose wisely. Afford yourself the best possible chance to succeed in this fascinating profession. But regardless of how you elect to obtain your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have presented you will be able to review each school and make your final selection. And with the right training you can achieve your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Prattville Alabama.