How to Enroll in the Right Paralegal Studies Program Near Prichard Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Prichard AL and start your journey that will lead to a rewarding profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's crucial that you find the best school so that you will receive the extensive training that you require to achieve success. As you most likely understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more academic choices are becoming available, both on campus and online. But with numerous options to choose from, where does one begin? Many potential students begin by trying to find schools within commuting range of their Prichard homes. Of those options, they look for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are important considerations when choosing a college, they are not the only qualifiers you ought to take into consideration. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the school ought to be taken into account too. Later on in this post we will review a list of concerns that you ought to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare each one prior to making your selection. But before we do, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the academic alternatives that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals basically both hold the same job positions and responsibilities, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and are part of a separate job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Prichard AL lawyers with a diverse array of job functions, such as legal research, maintaining client files, 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 firm may assist with the logistics of a trial or transferring files to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is usually billed by the hour as are the lawyer's. And the same as lawyers, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and adhere to a strict standard of professional ethics. As noted, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they work, but some of their routine tasks may involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching related cases and laws
- Composing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting attorneys get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be complex and very demanding. However, what they are not legally authorized to do is give legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not restricted to clerical or administrative duties more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the main support systems for attorneys. And since they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers have the ability to manage a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the academic requirements and job prospects will be the same. The fastest means to launch your career as a legal assistant in Prichard AL is by earning a certificate, which may require just six months to accomplish. Most entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which offer a more comprehensive education and may be acquired at numerous community colleges in two years. For an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are an option also. After you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you may choose to proceed and earn a certification. Although it is not a mandatory 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. Some of the highly respected 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 certificate or degree from an accredited school (we will cover the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two important initial steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Schools
Online paralegal or legal assistant programs have become more common and may be a good alternative for those searching for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be especially appealing to Prichard AL students who continue to work while earning a certificate or degree. As an additional benefit, online classes can often be less expensive than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenditures for such things as commuting or study materials may be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will cover in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the training you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the school and program you are reviewing are accredited by a respected agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less supervised and formal setting, then earning your degree or certificate online might be the right option for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Degree or Certificate Programs
Now that you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what training options are offered, you can begin the undertaking of assessing schools. But since there are numerous programs available at community and junior colleges in the Prichard AL area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you must learn what questions to ask in order to compare 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 start by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other important issues to think about also, including accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's go over a few of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are considering so that you can properly vet each one and make your ultimate selection.
Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you select need to be accredited by a reputable organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it might also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets distance or online training. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will receive will be of the highest standard, but it will show future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. A number of Prichard AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited school. Also, financial aid and student loans are typically offered only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the School? Find out what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant schools you are looking at. This is of particular importance if you are new to the field with no previous work history, since employers will need to rely on the quality of your training exclusively. Confirming that the school you pick is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating services, including 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 Prichard AL law practices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask what schools they recommend. Keep in mind that even when a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law practice or other legal operation while still in school. They can also provide a pathway for students to start developing contacts within the Prichard AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal programs you are evaluating provide internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance offered? You will undoubtedly want to secure employment quickly after graduation, but finding that first job in a new profession can be challenging without support. Find out if the paralegal programs you are assessing have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good sign that the schools have large networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their graduates are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the Campus Located? Considering that laws vary among states, it might be a good idea to enroll in a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you want to practice after graduating. Also, it will be necessary to create relationships in the neighboring legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is even more justification to receive your education in the community where you wish to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many charge a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may want to first consider those schools that are within the Prichard AL region.
How Much is the Total Cost? Paralegal schools can differ in cost depending on the credential received and the length of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your training. Remember to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid might be available to help reduce some of the expense, so make sure to talk to the school's financial aid department to see what is offered in Prichard AL. Of course if you decide to attend an online school, a portion these additional costs, such as for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? Many legal students keep working while getting their training and need flexibility in class scheduling. If you can just attend weekend or evening classes near Prichard AL, make sure classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make certain that the school you enroll in provides that option. Last, find out what the process is for making-up missed classes because of work, illness or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Right Prichard Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Enrolling in the right legal assistant certificate program is an essential first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have addressed in this article, you have the choice of attending classes at school or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Prichard home. Paralegal training programs are provided in various lengths and formats. Various kinds of private and public 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 school will have a profound influence on your prospects for success in your new profession. Considering that there is a wide range in the quality of programs, pick wisely. Afford yourself the greatest possible chance to succeed in this fascinating profession. But irrespective of how you choose to obtain your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to evaluate each program and make your final decision. And with the ideal training you can realize your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Prichard Alabama.