How to Find the Right Paralegal Studies Certificate or Degree Program Near Prichard Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Prichard AL and start your journey that will result in a fulfilling profession in legal services. However, it's essential that you locate the right school so that you will receive the extensive training that you require to achieve success. As you probably know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of academic options are being offered, both on campus and online. But with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one start? Some prospective students begin by looking for schools within driving range of their Prichard residences. Of those alternatives, they search for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are prime considerations when choosing a school, they are not the only qualifiers you need to take into consideration. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the program must be considered also. Later on in this article we will review a list of questions that you must ask potential paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare every one prior to making your selection. But before we do, let's take a look at what a paralegal does and the educational options that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals basically both hold the same job roles and functions, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and belong to a separate job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals help Prichard AL attorneys with a wide range of job functions, including legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job duties are relevant to the type of legal firm where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm might help with the logistics of a trial or transferring files to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is typically billed by the hour as are the lawyer's. And just like attorneys, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and adhere to a strict standard of professional ethics. As mentioned, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they work, but a few of their day-to-day activities can include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching relevant cases and laws
- Composing correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting lawyers prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal documents, files and other records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be complicated and very challenging. However, what they are not legally allowed to do is give legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not limited to administrative or clerical functions more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really 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 clients or cases than they could on their own.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the educational requirements and job prospects will be the same. The fastest means to start your career as a legal assistant in Prichard AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can take as little as 6 months to complete. A large number of entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more comprehensive education and may be obtained at numerous community colleges in two years. For an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are available also. After you have acquired either a degree or a certificate, you might want to proceed and earn a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help increase your job opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. Some 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 certificate or degree from an accredited program (we will discuss the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 essential first steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Certificates and Degrees
Paralegal and legal assistant online schools have become more available and can be an excellent option for individuals looking for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be especially attractive to Prichard AL students who keep working while earning a degree. As an additional advantage, online schools can sometimes be less costly than more traditional options. Even supplementary expenditures for such items as study materials or commuting can be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will discuss in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the training you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the program and school you are reviewing are accredited by a respected organization, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less structured and conventional setting, then obtaining your degree or certificate online could be the ideal option for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Degree or Certificate Programs
Once you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what academic options are offered, you can start the process of assessing schools. But because there are numerous programs accessible at junior and community colleges in the Prichard AL area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you need to find out what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is especially true if you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like many prospective students, you will begin by searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other significant aspects to think about as well, such as accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's go over some of the questions you should be asking the schools you are considering 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 enroll in should be accredited by a recognized accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it can also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets distance or online education. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will obtain will be of the highest standard, but it will show potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Many 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 usually available only for accredited schools.
What's the Program's Reputation? Research what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal programs you are looking at. This is of special 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. Verifying that the program you select is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating services, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact some Prichard AL law practices that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask which schools they suggest. Bear in mind that even though a school is not the most highly rated, 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 practice or other legal enterprise while still in school. They can also offer a pathway for students to start creating contacts within the Prichard AL legal field. Ask if the paralegal programs you are reviewing provide internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance offered? You will probably want to secure employment quickly after graduation, but getting that initial job in a new field can be challenging without help. Find out if the paralegal programs you are assessing have job placement programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have large networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their graduates are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the School Located? Since laws differ among states, it might be a good idea to choose a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you want to work after graduating. Also, it will be valuable to develop relationships in the area legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is even more reason to obtain your education in the area where you desire to work. 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 look at those schools that are within the Prichard AL region.
What is the Complete Expense? Paralegal programs can vary in cost based on the credential received and the amount of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expense for your training. Remember to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance may be accessible to help reduce some of the cost, so make sure to consult with the school's financial aid office to find out what is available in Prichard AL. Of course if you choose to attend an online school, a portion these supplementary costs, for instance for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Fit your Schedule? Numerous legal students keep working while receiving their training and need flexibility in class scheduling. If you can solely attend weekend or evening classes near Prichard AL, verify classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, confirm that the program you enroll in offers that option. Last, find out what the protocol is for making-up classes missed as a result of work, illness or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Right Prichard Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Choosing the right paralegal training school is a crucial first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have discussed in this post, you have the choice of attending classes on-campus or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Prichard home. Paralegal training programs are made available in various formats and lengths. Different kinds of public and private institutions offer paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four year universities and colleges, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a profound impact on your prospects for success in your new career. Considering that there is a wide range in the quality of programs, choose wisely. Give yourself the best possible chance to succeed in this exciting profession. But irrespective of how you elect 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 ultimate decision. And with the right education you can realize your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Prichard Alabama.