How to Pick the Best Paralegal Degree Program Near Opelika Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Opelika AL and begin your journey that will lead to a satisfying profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's crucial that you find the best school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you need to achieve success. As you most likely understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of academic choices are becoming available, both on campus and online. But with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one start? A number of potential students start by trying to find schools within driving range of their Opelika homes. Of those alternatives, they look for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are important considerations when selecting a college, they are not the only qualifiers you ought to take into consideration. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the school should be taken into account as well. Later on in this post we will cover a list of questions that you should ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare each one before making your selection. But before we do, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the academic options that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals essentially both hold comparable job roles and responsibilities, only with different titles. However, 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 Opelika AL lawyers with a wide range of job functions, such as legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job functions are relevant to the type of legal firm where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice may help with the logistics of a trial or delivering files to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is usually billed hourly as are the attorney's. And the same as lawyers, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and abide by a strict standard of professional ethics. As stated, their duties can be varied in support of the firms where they work, but a few of their routine activities might include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching related cases and laws
- Preparing correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting lawyers get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal files, documents and other records
With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be complex and rather challenging. However, what they are not legally authorized to do is give legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not confined to administrative or clerical 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 have the ability to take on a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the educational requirements and opportunities will be the same. The fastest way to begin your career as a paralegal in Opelika AL is by earning a certificate, which may take just six months to accomplish. A large number of entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which provide a more expansive education and may be earned at numerous community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are available also. When you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you may want to proceed and obtain a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help boost your career opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. A few of the highly regarded certifying organizations 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 certificate or degree from an accredited school (we will cover the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two crucial first steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Schools
Online paralegal or legal assistant schools have become more prevalent and can be a good alternative for those looking for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online programs can be particularly appealing to Opelika AL students who keep working while earning a certificate or degree. As an additional advantage, online schools can often be less expensive than more traditional options. Even supplementary expenditures for such items as commuting or study materials may be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all online programs are accredited, which we will address in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the training you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the program and school you are considering are accredited by a respected agency, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less structured and formal setting, then earning your degree or certificate online could be the right option for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Degree or Certificate Programs
Once you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what academic options are offered, you can begin the undertaking of assessing schools. But since there are numerous programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Opelika AL area, as well as vocational and trade 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 also. If you are like most potential students, you will begin by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other important factors to think about also, such as the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's go over a few of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are considering so that you can effectively vet each one and make your final choice.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you select need to be accredited by a respected organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it might also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets online or distance education. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will get will be of the highest quality, but it will establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Many Opelika AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited school. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are typically accessible only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Learn what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant programs you are considering. This is of specific importance if you are entering the profession with no previous work history, since employers will need to rely on the caliber of your training exclusively. Checking that the school 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 quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact a few Opelika AL law firms 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 excellent reputation.
Does the Program Offer Internships? Internship programs offer students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal enterprise while remaining in school. They can also offer an avenue for students to begin developing contacts within the Opelika AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal schools you are evaluating offer internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance offered? You will undoubtedly want to hit the ground running after graduating, but finding that initial 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 success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good sign that the schools have sizable 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? Considering that laws vary from state to state, it may be advantageous to choose a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you plan to practice after graduation. Also, it will be necessary to establish relationships in the area legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is even more reason to acquire your education in the area where you wish to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most require a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may need to initially consider those schools that are within the Opelika AL area.
How Much is the Total Cost? Paralegal programs can vary in price depending on the credential earned and the length of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your training. Remember to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid may be accessible to help offset some of the expense, so be sure to check with the school's financial aid department to find out what is available in Opelika AL. Naturally if you opt to attend an online school, a portion these supplementary costs, for instance for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Match your Schedule? A number of legal students continue working while getting their training and must have flexibility to schedule classes. If you can solely attend weekend or evening classes near Opelika AL, verify classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make sure that the school you select offers that option. Last, ask what the process is for making up classes missed because of sickness, work or family obligations.
Enroll in the Right Opelika Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Enrolling in the ideal legal assistant training program is a vital first step toward your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have covered in this post, you have the option of attending classes on-campus or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Opelika residence. Paralegal training programs are provided in numerous formats and lengths. Different types of private and public institutions offer paralegal training, including community colleges, four year colleges and universities, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a pronounced impact on your prospects for success in your new profession. Considering that there is a wide range in the quality of schools, pick wisely. Give yourself the best possible chance to be successful in this exciting profession. But no matter how you elect to acquire your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have provided you will have the ability to evaluate each program and make your final selection. And with the right education you can accomplish your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Opelika Alabama.