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How to Pick the Right Paralegal Program Near Prattville Alabama

Prattville Alabama woman paralegal consulting with client on cellphoneCongratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Prattville AL and begin your journey that will result in a fulfilling career in legal services. However, it's crucial that you locate the ideal 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 increasingly more educational alternatives are being offered, both at school and online. However with so many options to choose from, where does one start? Some prospective students begin by looking for schools within driving distance of their Prattville residences. Of those alternatives, they search for the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are prime considerations when picking a college, they are not the only factors you ought to take into consideration. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the school need to be taken into consideration also. Later in this article we will review a list of concerns that you ought to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare every one prior to making your decision. But first, let's take a look at what a paralegal does and the educational alternatives that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.

Paralegals and Legal Assistants

Prattville Alabama law books

Legal assistants and paralegals basically both fill comparable job positions and functions, only with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and belong to a different job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Prattville AL attorneys with a diverse array of job functions, such as maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job duties are relevant to the type of legal firm where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice could assist with trial logistics or delivering documents to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is typically billed by the hour as are the lawyer's. And just like attorneys, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and abide by a strict standard of professional ethics. As mentioned, their duties can be diverse in support of the firms where they work, but a few of their routine tasks may include:

  • Researching and fact checking cases
  • Conducting research on related cases and laws
  • Drafting correspondence and legal documents
  • Submitting legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
  • Assisting attorneys get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
  • Organizing and maintaining legal documents, files and other records

With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be complex and rather challenging. However, what they are not legally authorized to do is offer legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not restricted to administrative or clerical duties 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, attorneys have the ability to take on a much larger number of cases or clients than they could on their own.

Paralegal Certificates and Degrees and Certification

Prattville Alabama male legal assistant speaking on cellphone writing notes

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 quickest way to begin your career as a paralegal in Prattville AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can require as little as 6 months to complete. A large number of entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which offer a more extensive education and may be earned at numerous community colleges in two years. For an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are offered as well. When you have earned either a certificate or degree, you may want to continue and receive a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help boost your employment opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. A few of the highly regarded certifying agencies 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 certificate or degree from an accredited program (we will discuss the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two crucial initial steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.

Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Schools

Prattville Alabama female student attending online paralegal coursesOnline legal assistant or paralegal schools have become more popular and can be a good option for students searching for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be especially appealing to Prattville AL students who keep working while earning a certificate or degree. As an additional benefit, online schools can in some cases be less expensive than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenses for such items as commuting or study materials can be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will address in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the education you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the program and school you are thinking about are accredited by a respected organization, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less supervised and conventional setting, then earning your certificate or degree online could be the right choice for you.

Questions to Ask Paralegal Certificate or Degree Programs

Since you now you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what training options are available, you can start the process of evaluating schools. But since there are so many programs accessible at junior and community colleges in the Prattville AL area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you must find out what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is especially true if you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like the majority of potential students, you will begin by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other critical aspects to consider also, such as accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's go over some of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are considering so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your ultimate choice.

Is the Paralegal School and Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you enroll in should be accredited by a respected organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it may also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance learning. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will receive will be of the highest standard, but it will establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. A number of Prattville AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited school. Also, financial assistance and student loans are typically available only for accredited programs.

What's the School's Reputation? Learn what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal programs you are looking at. This is of specific importance if you are entering the field with no prior work history, since employers will have to rely on the caliber of your training exclusively. Confirming that the school you choose is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating services, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact some Prattville AL law firms 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 rated, its paralegal program may still have an outstanding reputation.

Does the School Sponsor Internships? Internship programs offer students a chance to experience working in a law practice or other legal enterprise while remaining in school. They can also provide a means for students to begin developing contacts within the Prattville AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal programs you are assessing provide internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing upon graduation.

Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will most likely wish to hit the ground running after graduating, but finding that initial job in a new profession can be difficult without support. Find out if the paralegal programs you are considering have job placement 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 substantiates that their graduates are highly regarded and in demand.

Where is the Campus Located? Considering that laws differ among states, it may be a good idea to choose a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you want to practice after graduating. In addition, it will be important to establish relationships in the local legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is even more justification to receive your education in the area where you desire to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most require an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may wish to first consider those colleges that are within the Prattville AL area.

What is the Complete Cost? Paralegal schools can differ in price depending on the credential obtained and the length of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your training. Don't forget to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid might be available to help offset part of the expense, so be sure to talk to the school's financial aid office to find out what is offered in Prattville AL. Of course if you opt to attend an online school, a portion these supplementary costs, for instance for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.

Do the Classes Match your Schedule? Many paralegal students keep working while receiving their training and must have flexibility in class scheduling. If you can only attend night or weekend classes near Prattville AL, make certain classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, confirm that the school you enroll in offers that option. Finally, inquire what the process is for making-up classes missed as a result of work, illness or family emergencies.

Find Out More About Prattville Paralegal Courses

Enroll in the Right Prattville Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program

Choosing the best legal assistant certificate school is an essential 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 academic programs are offered in many formats and lengths. Different kinds of public and private institutions offer paralegal training, including community and junior colleges, four-year colleges and universities, 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. Given that there is a wide range in the quality of programs, choose wisely. Afford yourself the greatest possible chance to be successful in this fascinating profession. But regardless of how you choose to acquire your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have presented you will have the ability to evaluate each program and make your ultimate decision. And with the right training you can accomplish your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Prattville Alabama.


 

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