How to Find the Right Paralegal Training Program Near Opelika Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Opelika AL and start your journey that will lead to a rewarding career in legal services. However, it's important that you find the right school so that you will get the extensive 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 academic alternatives are becoming available, both at school and online. However with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one start? Some potential students begin by searching for schools within commuting distance of their Opelika homes. Of those choices, they search for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are very important considerations when selecting a college, they are not the only qualifiers you ought to take into consideration. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the program must be taken into consideration also. Later in this article we will review a list of questions that you ought to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare every one before making your selection. But first, let's take a look at what a paralegal does and the educational choices that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants essentially both hold the same 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 are part of a different job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Opelika AL lawyers with a diverse array of job duties, such as legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job duties are based upon the type of legal firm where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice could help with the logistics of a trial or transferring files to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is usually billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And the same as attorneys, they must perform with a high level of professionalism and abide by a strict code of professional ethics. As stated, their responsibilities can be diverse in support of the practices where they work, but a few of their regular tasks might include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on applicable cases and laws
- Preparing correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping attorneys prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal documents, files and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be complex and very challenging. However, what they are not legally allowed to do is give legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not confined to clerical or administrative duties more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And since 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 alone.
Paralegal Certificates and Degrees and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the academic requirements and opportunities will be the same. The fastest way to launch your career as a paralegal in Opelika AL is by earning a certificate, which can take as little as 6 months to complete. A large number of entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which offer a more expansive education and can be obtained at numerous community colleges in 2 years. For an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are an option also. Once you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you may want to continue and obtain a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help boost your career opportunities, but help establish you as a professional as well. Some of the highly regarded 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 program (we will discuss the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two important first steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Programs
Online paralegal or legal assistant schools have become more common and can be a good alternative for students searching for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online programs can be especially attractive to Opelika AL students who continue to work while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an added benefit, online classes can in some cases be less expensive than on campus options. Even supplementary expenses for such things as study materials or commuting may be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all online programs are accredited, which we will cover in greater 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 school and program you are thinking about are accredited by a reputable organization, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less supervised and formal setting, then obtaining your certificate or degree online might be the ideal option for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Certificate or Degree Programs
Since you now you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what educational choices are available, you can start the undertaking of assessing schools. But because there are so many programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Opelika AL area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you must know what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is especially true when you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like most prospective students, you will begin by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other important factors to research also, including 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 programs you are researching so that you can properly vet each one and make your ultimate selection.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you choose need to be accredited by a respected organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it can also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance education. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will get will be of the highest standard, but it will show future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Numerous Opelika AL law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited program. Also, financial assistance and student loans are usually available only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Investigate what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant schools you are looking at. This is of specific importance if you are entering the profession with no prior work history, since employers will need to make a decision based on the quality of your education exclusively. Confirming that the school you choose is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating reports, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also call several Opelika 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 the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an excellent reputation.
Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs offer students an opportunity to experience working in a law practice or other legal establishment while attending school. They can also present an avenue for students to begin creating contacts within the Opelika AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal programs you are reviewing offer internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help provided? You will probably wish to secure employment quickly after graduation, but finding that first job in a new profession can be difficult without support. Ask if the paralegal programs you are reviewing have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good sign that the schools have substantial networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their graduates are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the Campus Located? Considering that laws vary from one state to another, it might be advantageous to enroll in a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you wish to work after graduating. In addition, it will be necessary to develop relationships in the neighboring legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is even more reason to receive your education in the area where you desire to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many require a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may need to initially look at those colleges that are within the Opelika AL area.
How Much is the Total Cost? Paralegal programs can differ in price based on the credential earned and the length of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expense for your training. Remember to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance might be accessible to help offset part of the expense, so be sure to check with the school's financial aid office to see what is offered in Opelika AL. Needless to say that if you choose to attend an online school, a portion these additional costs, for instance for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Match your Schedule? A number of legal students continue working while receiving their training and require flexibility to schedule classes. If you can just attend night or weekend classes near Opelika AL, make sure classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make certain that the school you choose offers that option. Last, find out what the protocol is for making up classes missed as a result of sickness, work or family emergencies.
Choose the Right Opelika Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Choosing the best legal assistant training school is an essential first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have addressed 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 Opelika home. Paralegal training programs are provided in many lengths and formats. Various types 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 school will have a pronounced influence on your opportunities for success in your new career. Given that there is a wide range in the quality of programs, choose wisely. Afford yourself the greatest possible chance to succeed in this fascinating profession. But irrespective of how you choose to receive your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will be able to assess each program and make your final selection. And with the appropriate education you can accomplish your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Opelika Alabama.