How to Choose the Best Paralegal School Near Opelika Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Opelika AL and start your journey that will result in a rewarding profession in legal services. However, it's crucial that you find the ideal school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you need to succeed. As you probably understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of academic options are being offered, both at school and online. But with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one start? Many potential students start by searching for schools within commuting range of their Opelika homes. Of those options, they try to find the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are very important considerations when picking a college, they are not the only qualifiers you need to take into consideration. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the school should be taken into account also. Later on in this post we will review a list of questions that you should ask potential paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare every one prior to making your selection. But before we do, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic choices that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals essentially both hold comparable job positions and functions, only with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and belong to a separate job classification. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Opelika AL attorneys with a wide range of job duties, such as maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job duties are relevant to the type of legal firm where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm may help with the logistics of a trial or transferring documents to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is normally billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And the same as lawyers, they must carry out their duties with a high level of professionalism and comply with a strict code of professional ethics. As stated, their responsibilities can be diverse in support of the practices where they are employed, but a few of their everyday tasks may include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on pertinent laws and cases
- Composing correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping attorneys prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be complicated and very demanding. However, what they are not legally authorized to do is provide legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not restricted to administrative or clerical functions more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the main support systems for attorneys. And since they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers have the ability to handle a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we previously covered, 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 requirements and opportunities will be the same. The quickest way to start your career as a paralegal in Opelika AL is by obtaining a certificate, which may involve just six months to complete. Many entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which provide a more expansive education and may be acquired at many community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are an option as well. When you have acquired either a certificate or degree, you might choose to continue and obtain a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help boost your job opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. 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 program (we will address the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two crucial first steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Schools
Online legal assistant or paralegal schools have become more prevalent and can be a good option for those looking for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be especially attractive to Opelika AL students who keep working while earning a degree. As an additional benefit, online classes can sometimes be less expensive than on campus options. Even supplementary 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 a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the education you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the program and school you are thinking about are accredited by a reputable agency, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less supervised and formal environment, then obtaining your degree or certificate online could be the ideal choice for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Schools
Since you now you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what educational choices are available, you can begin the undertaking of evaluating schools. But since there are so many programs offered at community and junior colleges in the Opelika AL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you must learn what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is particularly true when you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like most prospective students, you will start by searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other significant aspects to research as well, such as the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's take a look at a few of the questions you should be asking the schools you are researching so that you can effectively vet each one and make your ultimate choice.
Is the Paralegal School and Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you choose need to be accredited by a respected organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it may also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets online or distance education. Accreditation will not only certify 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 Opelika AL law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited school. Finally, financial aid and student loans are typically obtainable only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the School? Investigate what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal programs you are considering. This is of specific importance if you are entering the profession with no previous experience, since employers will need to rely on the quality of your training exclusively. Confirming that the program you select is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating reports, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact some Opelika AL law firms that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask which schools they suggest. Remember that even though a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs offer students an opportunity to experience working in a law firm or other legal enterprise while attending school. They can also provide a pathway for students to start creating contacts within the Opelika AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal schools you are considering offer internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help available? You will probably wish to hit the ground running after graduation, but finding that first job in a new field can be challenging without assistance. Find out if the paralegal programs you are considering have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have substantial networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their students are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the School's Location? Since laws vary from state to state, it might be a good idea to select a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you plan to practice after graduation. Also, it will be valuable to cultivate relationships in the area legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is even more justification to acquire your education in the community where you wish to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many charge a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may wish to first look at those colleges that are within the Opelika AL area.
What is the Total Expense? Paralegal programs can vary in cost based on the credential obtained and the length of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your education. Don't forget to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance may be obtainable to help minimize part of the expense, so be sure to contact the school's financial aid department to find out what is available in Opelika AL. Naturally if you decide to attend an online school, a portion these added costs, such as for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? Many legal students continue working while receiving their training and need flexibility to schedule classes. If you can just 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 certain that the program you enroll in provides that option. Finally, find out what the procedure is for making up classes missed because of sickness, work or family obligations.
Choose the Best Opelika Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Selecting the best legal assistant degree program is a crucial first step toward your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have addressed in this post, you have the option of attending classes on-campus or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Opelika residence. Paralegal training programs are made available in many formats and lengths. Different types of public and private institutions provide paralegal training, including junior and community colleges, four-year universities and colleges, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a profound influence on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Considering that there is a broad range in the quality of schools, choose wisely. Afford yourself the greatest possible opportunity to succeed in this fascinating profession. But irrespective of how you elect to acquire your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have presented you will be able to review each school and make your final selection. And with the ideal training you can accomplish your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Opelika Alabama.