How to Select the Best 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 result in a satisfying career in legal services. However, it's essential that you find the best school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you need 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 educational choices are becoming available, both at school and online. However with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Some prospective students start by looking for schools within driving range of their Prichard homes. Of those options, they look for the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are very important considerations when picking a school, they are not the only qualifiers you must consider. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the program should be taken into consideration too. Later in this article we will cover a list of questions that you must ask potential paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare each one before making your selection. But before we do, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the instructional options that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants basically both fill comparable job roles and responsibilities, just with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and are part of a separate job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals help Prichard AL lawyers with a wide variety of job functions, including maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job functions are based upon the type of legal firm where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm may assist with the logistics of a trial or delivering files to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is usually billed hourly as are the attorney's. And the same as lawyers, they must conduct themselves with a high degree of professionalism and abide by a strict standard of professional ethics. As mentioned, their responsibilities can be varied in support of the practices where they work, but a few of their routine activities might involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching related cases and laws
- Drafting correspondence and legal documents
- 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 files, documents and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be involved and quite challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally authorized to do is offer legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not restricted to clerical or administrative duties more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the main support systems for lawyers. And since 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 on their own.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The quickest way to launch your career as a legal assistant in Prichard AL is by earning a certificate, which may take as little as six months to accomplish. Most entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more comprehensive education and can be acquired at many community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are offered as well. When you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you might want to proceed and obtain a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help maximize your job opportunities, but help establish you as a professional as well. 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 school (we will discuss the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 crucial initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Courses
Online paralegal or legal assistant programs have become more prevalent and can be a good alternative for individuals looking for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be particularly attractive to Prichard AL students who continue to work while obtaining a degree. As an additional advantage, online programs can sometimes be less expensive than on campus options. Even supplementary expenses for such items as commuting or study materials may be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will discuss in more detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the education you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the program and school you are thinking about are accredited by a respected agency, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less structured and formal environment, then earning your certificate or degree online could be the right choice for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Programs
Now that you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what educational options are offered, you can start the undertaking of evaluating schools. But considering that there are so many programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Prichard AL area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you need to learn what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is especially true if you add all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like most 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 critical aspects to think about as well, for instance accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at 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 final selection.
Is the Paralegal School and Program Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you select should be accredited by a reputable accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it may also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online training. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will obtain will be of the highest standard, but it will establish with future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Many Prichard AL law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited school. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are often 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 particular importance if you are new to the field with no previous experience, since employers will need to make a decision based on the quality of your education exclusively. Checking that the school you choose is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating services, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also call some Prichard AL law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask which schools they recommend. Keep in mind that even when a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the School Provide Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law practice or other legal establishment while still in school. They can also present a means for students to start developing contacts within the Prichard AL legal field. Ask if the paralegal schools you are reviewing provide internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help provided? You will undoubtedly wish to secure employment quickly after graduating, but finding that initial job in a new field can be challenging without assistance. 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 substantial networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their students are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the Campus Located? Since laws differ among states, it may be beneficial to enroll in a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you wish to work after graduating. In addition, it will be important to create relationships in the area legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is even more reason to acquire your education in the community where you want to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many require an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may want to initially investigate those schools that are within the Prichard AL region.
What is the Complete Expense? Paralegal programs can vary in cost based on the credential obtained and the amount of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your training. Don't forget to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid may be obtainable to help minimize part of the expense, so don't forget to talk to the school's financial aid department to see what is available in Prichard AL. Needless to say that if you decide to attend an online program, a portion these additional expenses, such as for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? Numerous legal students keep working while getting their training and need flexibility to schedule classes. If you can just attend night or weekend classes near Prichard AL, make sure classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make sure that the school you select provides that option. Finally, ask what the process is for making-up classes missed due to sickness, work or family obligations.
Enroll in the Right Prichard Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Selecting the ideal paralegal certificate program is a crucial first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have discussed in this article, you have the option of attending classes on campus or you can attend them online in the comfort and privacy of your Prichard home. Paralegal education programs are made available in various lengths and formats. 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 influence on your prospects for success in your new profession. Since there is a wide range in the quality of programs, choose wisely. Afford yourself the greatest possible chance to be successful in this fascinating profession. But no matter how you decide to obtain your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to examine each school and make your final selection. And with the right education you can realize your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Prichard Alabama.