How to Find the Right Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program Near Prattville Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Prattville AL and start your journey that will lead to a satisfying career in legal services. Nevertheless, it's essential that you locate the ideal school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you need to be successful. As you most likely understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more educational choices are being offered, both on campus and online. But with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one start? A number of prospective students begin by trying to find schools within traveling distance of their Prattville homes. Of those options, they search for the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are important considerations when selecting a college, they are not the only qualifiers you ought to take into consideration. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the school must be considered also. Later in this article we will review a list of questions that you should ask potential paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare every one before making your selection. But before we do, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the academic alternatives that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants essentially both fill 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 different job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Prattville AL lawyers with a wide variety of job functions, such as legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job functions are relevant to the type of practice where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice could help with trial logistics or transporting files to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is normally billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And the same as lawyers, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and comply with a strict standard of professional ethics. As stated, their duties can be varied in support of the firms where they are employed, but a few of their regular activities might involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching pertinent laws and cases
- Composing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping lawyers prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal documents, files and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be involved and very demanding. However, what they are not legally permitted to do is offer legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not restricted to administrative or clerical duties more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the main support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys are able to handle a much larger number of cases or clients than they could on their own.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the academic requirements and job prospects will be the same. The quickest means to launch your career as a paralegal in Prattville AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can require just 6 months to complete. Most entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more extensive education and can be earned at many community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are offered as well. Once you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you may want to proceed and get a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help maximize your job opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. A few of the highly regarded 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 program (we will discuss the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 crucial first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Programs
Online legal assistant or paralegal schools have become more available and can be an excellent alternative for individuals searching for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be particularly appealing to Prattville AL students who continue to work while earning a degree. As an added advantage, online classes can sometimes be less costly than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenses for such items as study materials or commuting can be reduced 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 obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the school and program you are looking into are accredited by a respected organization, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less supervised and conventional environment, then earning your certificate or degree online may be the right choice for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Certificate or Degree Programs
Once you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what educational options are offered, you can begin the undertaking of evaluating schools. But considering that there are numerous programs offered 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 particularly true if you include 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 covered, there are other crucial aspects to research as well, such as the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's go over several of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are researching so that you can effectively vet each one and make your final decision.
Is the Paralegal School and Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you select need to be accredited by a highly regarded organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it can also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets online or distance education. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will get will be of the highest quality, but it will demonstrate to future employers that you are a qualified professional also. Numerous Prattville AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited program. Also, financial assistance and student loans are often obtainable only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the School? Find out what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal schools you are looking at. This is of specific importance if you are new to the field with no previous experience, since employers will have to make a decision based on the caliber of your training exclusively. Confirming that the school you pick is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating services, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call some Prattville AL law firms that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask what schools they suggest. Remember that even though a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an excellent reputation.
Does the School Provide Internships? Internship programs offer students an opportunity to experience working in a law office or other legal establishment while attending school. They can also present a means for students to start establishing contacts within the Prattville AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal schools you are reviewing provide internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help offered? You will most likely want to secure employment quickly after graduating, but finding 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 success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good indication that the schools have large networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their students are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the School Located? Because laws vary from state to state, it may be beneficial to enroll in a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you wish to work after graduating. Also, it will be important to develop relationships in the local legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is all the more justification to acquire your education in the area where you want to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most charge a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may need to initially consider those schools that are within the Prattville AL region.
How Much is the Complete Cost? Paralegal schools can differ in price based on the credential earned and the amount of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only cost for your training. Remember to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial assistance may be available to help reduce some of the cost, so be sure to consult with the school's financial aid department to see what is available in Prattville AL. Naturally if you choose to attend an online program, a portion these additional expenses, for instance for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? A number of legal students continue working while obtaining their training and need flexibility in class scheduling. If you can solely attend weekend or evening classes near Prattville AL, verify classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make sure that the program you choose offers that option. Last, find out what the procedure is for making up classes missed as a result of work, illness or family emergencies.
Choose the Best Prattville Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Selecting the right paralegal studies training program is a vital first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have addressed in this article, you have the choice of attending classes on campus or you can attend them online in the comfort and privacy of your Prattville home. Paralegal academic programs are made available in many lengths and formats. Different kinds of public and private institutions provide paralegal education, including junior and community colleges, four-year universities and colleges, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a profound influence on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Since there is a wide range in the quality of programs, choose wisely. Give yourself the greatest possible chance to be successful in this exciting profession. But no matter how you choose to receive your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have provided you will have the ability to assess each school and make your final decision. And with the right education you can realize your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Prattville Alabama.