How to Pick the Right 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 satisfying career in legal services. However, it's important that you find the right school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you need to be successful. As you probably know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more educational alternatives are becoming available, both on campus and online. But with numerous options to choose from, where does one begin? Some prospective students start by trying to find schools within traveling range of their Prattville residences. Of those choices, they search for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are prime considerations when picking a college, they are not the only factors you should take into consideration. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the program must be taken into account too. Later on in this article we will cover a list of concerns that you should ask potential paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare each one before making your choice. But before we do, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the educational choices that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants basically both fill comparable job roles and responsibilities, just with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and are part of a separate job classification. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Prattville AL attorneys with a wide range of job functions, including maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job functions are based upon the type of practice where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice could help with the logistics of a trial or delivering documents to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is normally billed hourly as are the attorney's. And just like lawyers, they must carry out their duties with a high degree of professionalism and abide by a strict code of professional ethics. As mentioned, their responsibilities can be varied in support of the firms where they work, but a few of their routine activities can include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching pertinent cases and laws
- Drafting correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping lawyers prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal documents, files and other records
With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be involved and very demanding. However, what they are not legally allowed to do is offer legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not confined to administrative or clerical functions more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the main support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys are able to handle a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could alone.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the academic requirements and opportunities will be the same. The fastest means to start your career as a paralegal in Prattville AL is by earning a certificate, which may require as little as 6 months to complete. Many entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which offer a more extensive education and can be obtained at numerous community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are available also. After you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you may choose to continue and get a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help increase your job opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. A few 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 degree or certificate from an accredited school (we will cover the advantages 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 Schools
Paralegal and legal assistant online schools have become more prevalent and can be a good alternative for individuals searching for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online schools can be particularly attractive to Prattville AL students who continue to work while earning a certificate or degree. As an added advantage, online schools can often be less costly than on campus options. Even secondary expenditures for such things as study materials or commuting can be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will discuss in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the training you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the school and program you are thinking about are accredited by a reputable organization, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less structured and formal environment, then obtaining your certificate or degree online could be the ideal option for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Certificate or Degree Programs
Now that you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what academic options are offered, you can start the undertaking of evaluating schools. But because there are so many programs available at community and junior colleges in the Prattville AL area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you must learn what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is especially true if you add all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. If you are like the majority of potential students, you will begin by searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other significant issues to research also, including the reputation and accreditation 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 ultimate decision.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you choose should be accredited by a reputable accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it may also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online training. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will receive will be of the highest standard, but it will establish with future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. A number of Prattville AL law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited program. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are typically available only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Find out what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal programs you are contemplating. This is of specific 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. Confirming that the school you pick is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating reports, 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 some Prattville AL law firms that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask which 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 Offer Internships? Internship programs give students an opportunity to experience working in a law firm or other legal establishment while still in school. They can also provide a pathway for students to begin establishing contacts within the Prattville AL legal field. Ask if the paralegal schools you are considering provide internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help available? You will undoubtedly want to secure employment quickly after graduating, but getting that first job in a new field can be difficult without assistance. Ask if the paralegal schools you are considering have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have sizable networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their students are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the School's Location? Considering that laws differ from state to state, it might be advantageous to choose a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you plan to work after graduation. In addition, it will be necessary to build relationships in the neighboring legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is all the more reason to acquire your education in the community where you wish to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most charge a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may want to initially investigate those colleges that are within the Prattville AL region.
How Much is the Total Cost? Paralegal programs can vary in cost based on the credential earned and the length of training provided. Having said that, 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 aid might be obtainable to help minimize some of the cost, so make sure to contact the school's financial aid office to see what is available in Prattville AL. Of course if you decide to attend an online school, a portion these added expenses, for instance for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? Many paralegal students keep working while receiving their training and require flexibility in class scheduling. If you can just attend night or weekend classes near Prattville 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 makes available that option. Last, find out what the protocol is for making up classes missed due to work, illness or family obligations.
Enroll in the Best Prattville Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Selecting the right legal assistant degree program is an essential first step toward your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have discussed in this article, you have the option of attending classes at school or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Prattville residence. Paralegal education programs are offered in various lengths and formats. Various kinds of private and public institutions make available paralegal training, 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 profession. Since there is a wide range in the quality of schools, choose wisely. Afford yourself the best possible chance to succeed in this exciting profession. But irrespective of 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 examine each program and make your ultimate decision. And with the ideal training you can accomplish your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Prattville Alabama.