How to Select the Best Paralegal School Near Opelika Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Opelika AL and begin your journey that will result in a satisfying career in legal services. However, it's important that you find the ideal school so that you will get the extensive training that you need to achieve success. As you probably understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more academic options are being offered, both at school and online. But with so many options to choose from, where does one start? A number of potential students start by looking for schools within commuting distance of their Opelika residences. Of those options, they search for the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are very important considerations when choosing a school, they are not the only factors you must take into consideration. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the school should be taken into consideration as well. Later on in this post we will cover a list of questions that you need to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare each one prior to making your choice. But first, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the instructional options that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals basically both hold the same job positions and functions, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and belong to a different job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Opelika AL lawyers with a wide range of job functions, including maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job functions are relevant to the type of practice where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice could assist with trial logistics or transferring files to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is usually billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And the same as lawyers, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and comply with a strict standard of professional ethics. As noted, their responsibilities can be varied in support of the practices where they are employed, but a few of their day-to-day activities can involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on applicable cases and laws
- Drafting correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting lawyers prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal documents, files and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be complex and quite challenging. However, what they are not legally permitted to do is give legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not restricted to administrative or clerical functions more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the right hand support systems for attorneys. And since they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers have the ability to take on a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could alone.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are essentially 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 fastest means to start your career as a paralegal in Opelika AL is by earning a certificate, which may require just 6 months to accomplish. Most entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which provide a more expansive education and may be obtained 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 as well. Once you have acquired either a degree or a certificate, you may choose to proceed and get a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help boost your job opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. A few 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 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 legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Certificates and Degrees
Paralegal and legal assistant online schools have become more common and may be a good option for those searching for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be especially attractive to Opelika AL students who continue to work while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an added benefit, online schools can sometimes be less costly than on campus options. Even secondary expenses for such items as study materials or commuting can be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all online schools are accredited, which we will discuss in greater 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 school and program you are thinking about 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 structured and conventional setting, then obtaining your certificate or degree online may be the right choice for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Programs
Once you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what educational choices are offered, you can start the process of assessing schools. But because there are so many programs offered at community and junior colleges in the Opelika AL area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you must know what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is especially true if you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. If you are like the majority of potential students, you will start by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other critical aspects to research also, including accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at several of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are researching so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your final choice.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you pick need to 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 targets distance or online learning. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will obtain will be of the highest quality, but it will show potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. A number of Opelika AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited program. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are often obtainable only for accredited programs.
What's the School's Reputation? Learn what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant programs you are contemplating. This is of specific importance if you are new to the profession with no prior experience, since employers will need to rely on the caliber of your training exclusively. Confirming that the school you select is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating services, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call some Opelika AL law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask what schools they suggest. Remember that even when a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the Program Sponsor Internships? Internship programs offer students an opportunity to experience working in a law practice or other legal enterprise while remaining in school. They can also offer a means for students to start creating contacts within the Opelika AL legal field. Ask if the paralegal schools you are assessing offer internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help provided? You will most likely wish to secure employment quickly after graduation, but finding that first job in a new profession can be difficult without help. Ask if the paralegal programs you are interviewing have job placement programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have sizable networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their graduates are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the Campus Located? Since laws vary from one state to another, it may be advantageous to enroll in a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you plan to work after graduating. In addition, it will be necessary to establish relationships in the area legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is even more reason to receive your education in the community where you wish to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many require an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might need to initially investigate those colleges that are within the Opelika AL area.
What is the Entire Cost? Paralegal programs can vary in cost depending on the credential obtained and the amount of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your education. Remember to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid might be obtainable to help minimize part of the expense, so make sure to contact the school's financial aid department to see what is available in Opelika AL. Naturally if you decide to attend an online school, a portion these added expenses, for instance for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Match your Schedule? A number of paralegal students keep working while obtaining their training and need flexibility to schedule classes. If you can solely attend weekend or evening classes near Opelika 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 enroll in provides that option. Finally, ask what the process is for making-up missed classes because of work, illness or family emergencies.
Choose the Right Opelika Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Choosing the right legal assistant degree program is an important first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have discussed in this article, you have the option of attending classes on-campus or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Opelika home. Paralegal training programs are offered in various formats and lengths. Various kinds of public and private institutions make available paralegal education, including junior and community colleges, four year universities and colleges, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a pronounced impact on your opportunities for success in your new career. Given that there is a wide range in the quality of schools, choose wisely. Give yourself the best possible opportunity to be successful in this fascinating profession. But regardless of how you decide to acquire your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will have the ability to assess each program and make your ultimate decision. And with the ideal education you can achieve your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Opelika Alabama.