How to Select the Best Paralegal Training Program Near Prattville Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Prattville AL and begin your journey that will result in a fulfilling profession in legal services. However, it's essential that you locate the best school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you need to be successful. As you most likely know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of educational choices are being offered, both at school and online. However with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Some potential students begin by looking for schools within traveling distance of their Prattville homes. Of those alternatives, they try to find the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are prime considerations when picking a school, they are not the only factors you ought to consider. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the school must be taken into account as well. Later in this article we will cover a list of concerns that you should ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare every one prior to making your choice. But first, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic options that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals essentially both hold comparable job roles and functions, only with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and belong to a different job classification. Both legal assistants and paralegals help Prattville AL lawyers with a diverse array of job functions, including maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job duties are based upon the type of practice where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice could help with the logistics of a trial or transferring files to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is usually billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And just like attorneys, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and adhere to a strict code of professional ethics. As mentioned, their responsibilities can be varied in support of the firms where they are employed, but some of their daily activities might include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on pertinent cases and laws
- Preparing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping lawyers get ready for trial and keep 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 rather demanding. However, what they are not legally authorized to do is give legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not confined to clerical or administrative functions more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the main support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys are able to manage a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could alone.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the educational requirements and opportunities will be the same. The quickest way to launch your career as a legal assistant in Prattville AL is by earning a certificate, which may require as little as 6 months to accomplish. Many entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which provide a more expansive education and can be acquired at numerous community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are offered as well. After you have acquired either a certificate or degree, you may want to continue and receive a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help increase your career opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. A few of the highly regarded 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 2 important initial steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Schools
Online paralegal or legal assistant schools have become more available and can be a good option for individuals searching for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be particularly appealing to Prattville AL students who continue to work while obtaining a degree. As an added advantage, online programs can often be less expensive than on campus options. Even secondary expenses for such items as study materials or commuting can be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will cover in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the education you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the school and program you are looking into 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 ideal option for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Schools
Now that you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what educational choices are offered, you can begin the undertaking of assessing schools. But considering that there are numerous programs available at junior and community colleges in the Prattville AL area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you need to know what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is particularly true if you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like most potential students, you will start by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other crucial issues to think about as well, for instance accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at several of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are researching so that you can properly vet each one and make your final selection.
Is the Paralegal School and Program Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you choose need to be accredited by a recognized accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it might also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online learning. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will obtain will be of the highest standard, but it will show potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Numerous Prattville AL law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited program. Also, financial assistance and student loans are typically accessible only for accredited programs.
What's the School's Reputation? Research what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal programs you are considering. This is of special importance if you are new to the profession with no previous experience, since employers will need to rely on the caliber of your training exclusively. Verifying that the program you choose is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating reports, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call several Prattville AL law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask which schools they recommend. Remember that even when a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the School Sponsor Internships? Internship programs give students an opportunity to experience working in a law practice or other legal enterprise while remaining in school. They can also provide a means for students to start developing contacts within the Prattville AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal programs 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 Help offered? You will probably wish to hit the ground running after graduating, but getting that first job in a new profession can be challenging without assistance. Find out if the paralegal programs you are considering have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have sizable networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their graduates are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the School Located? Since laws vary from one state to another, it may be beneficial to select a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you wish to work after graduating. Also, it will be valuable to cultivate relationships in the local legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is even more reason to acquire your education in the community where you want to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many charge an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may need to initially look at those colleges that are within the Prattville AL area.
What is the Entire Cost? Paralegal programs can differ in cost based on the credential obtained and the amount of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your education. Remember to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid may be available to help reduce part of the cost, so don't forget to check with the school's financial aid department to see what is offered in Prattville AL. Of course if you opt to attend an online program, a portion these added expenses, for instance for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Fit your Schedule? Many paralegal students continue working while receiving their training and need flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend weekend or evening classes near Prattville AL, make certain classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make certain that the school you choose offers that option. Finally, find out what the procedure is for making-up missed classes because of work, illness or family obligations.
Enroll in the Right Prattville Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Enrolling in the best paralegal certificate 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 on-campus or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Prattville home. Paralegal training programs are offered in numerous formats and lengths. Various types of public and private institutions provide paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four-year universities and colleges, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a pronounced influence on your prospects for success in your new profession. Since there is a broad range in the quality of schools, pick wisely. Give yourself the greatest possible opportunity to succeed in this fascinating profession. But no matter how you elect to acquire your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have presented you will have the ability to review each program and make your ultimate decision. And with the appropriate training you can realize your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Prattville Alabama.