How to Select a Paralegal Certificate Program near Prattville Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Prattville AL and begin your journey that will lead to a gratifying profession in legal services. However, it’s important that you find the ideal school so that you will receive the extensive training that you require to achieve success. As you most likely understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more academic options are becoming available, both at school and online. However with numerous options to choose from, where does one begin? Many prospective students begin by trying to find schools within driving range of their Prattville residences. Of those options, they search for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are very important considerations when picking a college, they are not the only factors you ought to consider. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the school need to be considered also. Later on in this post we will review a list of concerns that you ought to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare each one before making your selection. But first, let’s take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic options that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants basically both fill the same job roles and responsibilities, 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 help Prattville AL attorneys with a diverse array of job functions, including maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job functions are based upon 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 delivering documents to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is usually billed hourly as are the lawyer’s. And the same as lawyers, they must carry out their duties with a high degree of professionalism and abide by a strict code of professional ethics. As stated, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they are employed, but some of their regular activities can include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching pertinent laws and cases
- 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 preserving legal files, documents and other records
With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be involved and very demanding. However, what they are not legally permitted 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 duties more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the main support systems for attorneys. And since they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys have the ability to take on a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could alone.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the academic prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The quickest means to launch your career as a legal assistant in Prattville AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can require just 6 months to complete. A large number of entry level positions do call for an Associate’s Degree, which furnish a more extensive education and may be earned at many community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor’s Degrees are offered also. When you have earned either a certificate or degree, you may want to continue and get a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help increase your job opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. A few of the highly respected certifying agencies 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 degree or certificate from an accredited program (we will discuss the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two crucial initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
What to Ask Paralegal Programs
Since you now you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what academic options are available, you can start the process of assessing schools. But because there are so many programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Prattville AL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you must know what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is particularly true if you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. If you are like the majority of 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 critical aspects to research as well, for instance the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let’s take a look at a few of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are considering so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your final selection.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you pick should be accredited by a highly regarded accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it may also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance learning. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will receive will be of the highest standard, but it will demonstrate to future employers that you are a qualified professional also. A number of Prattville AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited school. Also, financial assistance and student loans are often offered only for accredited schools.
What’s the School’s Reputation? Investigate what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal schools you are looking at. This is of special importance if you are entering the field with no previous work history, since employers will need to rely on the caliber of your training exclusively. Verifying that the school you pick is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating reports, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact a few Prattville AL law practices that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask what schools they recommend. Remember that even when a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law firm or other legal operation while attending school. They can also provide a pathway for students to begin creating contacts within the Prattville AL legal field. Ask if the paralegal schools you are considering offer internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will most likely want to secure employment quickly after graduation, but getting that first job in a new profession can be difficult without help. Ask if the paralegal programs you are reviewing have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good indication that the schools have sizable networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their students are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the Campus Located? Considering that laws vary among states, it may be a good idea to enroll in a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you wish to practice after graduating. In addition, it will be valuable to create relationships in the local legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is even more justification to acquire your education in the area where you want to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many require an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may wish to initially consider those colleges that are within the Prattville AL region.
How Much is the Total Expense? Paralegal schools can vary in price depending on the credential earned and the amount 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 as well. Financial assistance might be obtainable to help minimize some of the expense, so don’t forget to contact the school’s financial aid department to see what is available in Prattville AL. Of course if you decide to attend an online program, a portion these added expenses, such as for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Match your Schedule? Numerous paralegal students keep working while receiving their training and require flexibility in class scheduling. If you can only attend night or weekend classes near Prattville AL, make sure classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make sure that the program you choose makes available that option. Finally, inquire what the process is for making-up classes missed due to sickness, work or family emergencies.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Classes
Online paralegal or legal assistant programs have become more available and can be a good alternative for those looking for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be especially attractive to those who continue to work while earning a certificate or degree. As an added advantage, online programs can in some cases be less costly than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenses for such things as commuting or study materials may be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all online schools are accredited, which we will address in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the education you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the school and program you are reviewing are accredited by a highly regarded organization, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less supervised and formal setting, then earning your degree or certificate online could be the right choice for you.
Will You Attend Paralegal School near Prattville AL?
If you live near Prattville AL or perhaps you are considering attending classes in that area, following is some interesting and useful information regarding the location of your new school campus.
Prattville is a city in Autauga and Elmore counties in the State of Alabama. As of the 2010 census, the population of the city is 33,960. Nicknamed "The Fountain City" due to the many artesian wells in the area, Prattville is part of the Montgomery metropolitan statistical area and serves as the county seat of Autauga County.
Prattville was founded in 1839 by industrialist and architect Daniel Pratt. The area was largely inhabited by Native Americans and a few settlers when Pratt, a native of Temple, New Hampshire, first observed the Autauga Creek in the 1830s. He purchased approximately 1,000 acres (4.0 km2) from Joseph May at $21.00 an acre, and set out to build his manufacturing facilities and the town along the banks of Autauga Creek. The location was chosen because the creek could supply power to the cotton gin manufacturing equipment. The town became an industrial center and rapidly grew. In 1868, it was named the county seat for Autauga County.
On February 17, 2008, Prattville was hit by an F3 tornado which destroyed more than 45 homes and businesses and damaged over 700. Twenty-nine people were injured with no fatalities. Preliminary estimates put the damage at $85 million in insured and uninsured damages.
Enroll in the Best Paralegal Program near Prattville AL
Selecting the right paralegal educational program is an essential first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have addressed in this post, you have the choice of attending classes on campus or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Prattville home. Paralegal academic programs are made available in numerous formats and lengths. Different types of private and public institutions make available paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four year universities and colleges, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a profound impact on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Considering that there is a wide range in the quality of schools, pick carefully. Give yourself the best possible chance to succeed in this exciting profession. But no matter how you choose to obtain your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to evaluate each program and make your ultimate selection. And with the ideal education you can accomplish your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Prattville AL.
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