How to Choose the Right Paralegal Training Program Near Prichard Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Prichard AL and start your journey that will lead to a gratifying profession in legal services. However, it's essential that you locate the right school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you need to succeed. As you probably understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more academic choices are becoming available, both at school and online. However with numerous options to choose from, where does one begin? Many potential students begin by looking for schools within commuting distance of their Prichard homes. Of those alternatives, they try to find the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are prime considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only factors you must consider. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the program need to be considered too. Later in this article we will review a list of questions that you ought to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare every one before making your choice. But first, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the educational choices that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals essentially both hold comparable job positions and functions, just with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and are part of a different job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Prichard AL attorneys with a wide variety of job duties, such as legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job duties are based upon the type of practice where they are employed. For 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 normally billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And just like attorneys, they must perform with a high level of professionalism and comply with a strict code of professional ethics. As mentioned, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they are employed, but some of their everyday activities can involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on related laws and cases
- Preparing correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting attorneys prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be involved and rather demanding. However, what they are not legally permitted to do is give legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not confined to clerical or administrative duties more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the main support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers are able to handle a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are basically 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 Prichard AL is by obtaining a certificate, which may take as little as six months to accomplish. A large number of entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more comprehensive education and can be earned at numerous community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are an option as well. Once you have earned either a degree or a certificate, you may choose to continue and obtain a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help improve your employment opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. A few of the highly respected 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 address the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two essential initial steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Programs
Online paralegal or legal assistant programs have become more available and can be a good alternative for those searching for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online programs can be especially attractive to Prichard AL students who continue to work while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an additional advantage, online schools can sometimes be less costly than on campus options. Even secondary expenditures for such things as study materials or commuting may be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all online schools are accredited, which we will cover in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the education you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the program and school you are looking into are accredited by a highly regarded agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less supervised and formal environment, then obtaining your degree or certificate online may be the ideal option for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Programs
Now that you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what training options are available, you can start the process of assessing schools. But because there are numerous programs offered at community and junior colleges in the Prichard AL area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you need to know what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is particularly true when you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like most prospective students, you will start by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other critical factors to think about also, such as accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at several of the questions you should be asking the programs you are researching so that you can properly vet each one and make your ultimate decision.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you select should be accredited by a highly regarded organization 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 targets online or distance learning. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will receive will be of the highest quality, but it will show potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. Numerous Prichard AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited school. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are typically obtainable only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the School? Investigate what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal schools you are contemplating. This is of special importance if you are new to the field with no prior work history, since employers will have to rely on the quality of your education exclusively. Checking that the program you choose is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating reports, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact a few Prichard AL law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask what schools they recommend. Keep in mind that even though 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 offer students an opportunity to experience working in a law practice or other legal establishment while still in school. They can also offer a means for students to start creating contacts within the Prichard AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal schools you are evaluating provide internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance offered? You will most likely wish to secure employment quickly after graduation, but getting that first job in a new profession can be difficult without help. Ask if the paralegal schools you are assessing have job placement programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good sign that the schools have substantial networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their graduates are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the School Located? Considering that laws vary among states, it might be beneficial to select a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you want to practice after graduation. Also, it will be important to develop relationships in the local legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is all the more reason to acquire your education in the area where you choose to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most charge an increased tuition for students that reside 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 programs can vary in price depending on the credential received and the length of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expense for your training. Don't forget to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial assistance might be available to help reduce some of the expense, so be sure to contact the school's financial aid office to see what is available in Prichard AL. Of course if you decide to attend an online school, some of these additional expenses, for instance for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Fit your Schedule? A number of legal students continue working while obtaining their training and require flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend weekend or evening classes near Prichard AL, make certain classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, confirm that the school you choose makes available that option. Last, inquire what the procedure is for making-up missed classes as a result of work, illness or family obligations.
Choose the Best Prichard Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Enrolling in the best legal assistant training program is an important first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have addressed in this post, you have the option of attending classes on-campus or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Prichard home. Paralegal education programs are offered in numerous formats and lengths. Various types of public and private institutions make available paralegal training, including community and junior colleges, four year colleges and universities, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a profound impact on your prospects for success in your new career. Given that there is a broad range in the quality of schools, choose wisely. Give yourself the greatest possible chance to succeed in this rewarding profession. But irrespective of how you choose to receive your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have presented you will have the ability to examine each school and make your final decision. And with the ideal education you can achieve your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Prichard Alabama.