How to Enroll in the Right Paralegal School 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 crucial that you locate the right school so that you will receive the extensive training that you require to succeed. As you most likely understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more academic alternatives are becoming available, both at school and online. However with so many options to choose from, where does one begin? Many prospective students begin by searching for schools within driving range of their Prichard residences. Of those alternatives, they try to find the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are very important considerations when choosing a school, they are not the only qualifiers you ought to take into consideration. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the school must be taken into account as well. Later on in this article we will review a list of questions that you should ask potential paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare every one prior to making your choice. But first, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the educational choices that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants essentially both fill comparable job roles and functions, just 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 category. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Prichard AL attorneys with a diverse array of job functions, including legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job duties are relevant to the type of practice where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm might help with the logistics of a trial or delivering files to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is typically billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And just like attorneys, they must carry out their duties with a high degree of professionalism and comply with a strict code of professional ethics. As noted, their responsibilities can be diverse in support of the firms where they work, but some of their daily activities can include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching applicable cases and laws
- Composing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping lawyers prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal files, documents and other records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be involved and rather challenging. However, what they are not legally authorized to do is provide legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not limited to clerical or administrative functions more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the right hand support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys are able to manage a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could alone.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The fastest way to begin your career as a legal assistant in Prichard AL is by earning a certificate, which may require as little as 6 months to complete. Many entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more extensive education and may be acquired at many community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are available also. After you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you might choose to proceed and get a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help improve your career opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. Some 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 school (we will cover the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 essential first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Schools
Legal assistant and paralegal online schools have become more available and can be a good option for students searching for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online schools can be particularly appealing to Prichard AL students who keep working while obtaining a degree. As an additional benefit, online programs can in some cases be less expensive than more traditional options. Even secondary expenses for such things as study materials or commuting may be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will cover in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the training you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the program and school you are considering are accredited by a respected organization, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less structured and conventional environment, then obtaining your certificate or degree online may be the right option for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Studies Programs
Since you now you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what educational options are available, you can begin the undertaking of evaluating schools. But since there are numerous programs offered 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 evaluate each one. This is especially true if you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like many potential 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 important issues to research also, such as 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 researching so that you can effectively vet each one and make your ultimate decision.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you pick need to be accredited by a respected accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it might also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online education. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will receive will be of the highest standard, but it will establish with future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. A number of Prichard AL law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited school. Finally, financial aid and student loans are typically offered only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Investigate what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal schools you are contemplating. This is of special importance if you are entering the profession with no previous experience, since employers will have to rely on the quality of your education exclusively. Checking that the school you select is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating reports, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact several Prichard AL law practices that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask which schools they suggest. Keep in mind that even if a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the School Sponsor Internships? Internship programs provide students a chance to experience working in a law practice or other legal enterprise while attending school. They can also present a means for students to begin creating contacts within the Prichard AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal schools you are considering provide internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help available? You will undoubtedly wish to hit the ground running after graduation, but getting that first job in a new profession can be challenging without support. Find out if the paralegal schools you are assessing have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good sign that the schools have substantial networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their graduates are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the School's Location? Because laws vary from one state to another, it may be beneficial to select a paralegal school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you plan to practice after graduation. In addition, it will be important to cultivate relationships in the neighboring legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is even more justification to obtain your education in the community where you wish to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most charge an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may need to first look at those schools that are within the Prichard AL area.
What is the Total Expense? Paralegal schools can vary in cost based on the credential received and the length of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only expense for your education. Remember to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid may be available to help offset some of the expense, so make sure to check with the school's financial aid office to find out what is available in Prichard AL. Of course if you opt to attend an online program, some of these additional costs, for instance for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Match your Schedule? A number of legal students continue working while obtaining their training and need flexibility to schedule classes. If you can just attend night or weekend classes near Prichard AL, make sure classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make sure that the school you enroll in provides that option. Last, find out what the protocol is for making up missed classes because of sickness, work or family emergencies.
Choose the Best Prichard Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Enrolling in the best legal assistant training school is an important 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 at school or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Prichard residence. Paralegal training programs are offered in many formats and lengths. Various kinds of private and public institutions offer 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 prospects for success in your new profession. Given that there is a broad range in the quality of programs, pick wisely. Afford yourself the greatest possible opportunity to succeed in this rewarding profession. But no matter how you choose to acquire your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to assess each school and make your final selection. And with the ideal education you can accomplish your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Prichard Alabama.