How to Select the Best Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program Near Opelika Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Opelika AL and begin your journey that will lead to a gratifying profession in legal services. However, it's essential that you find the ideal school so that you will receive the extensive training that you require to achieve success. As you probably understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more educational alternatives are being offered, both on campus and online. But with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Many potential students begin by looking for schools within commuting range of their Opelika homes. Of those choices, they search for the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are necessary considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only qualifiers you need to take into consideration. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the school ought to be considered also. Later in this article we will cover a list of concerns that you should ask potential paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare every one before making your decision. But first, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic options that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants for the most part both hold comparable job positions and responsibilities, 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 help Opelika AL lawyers with a wide variety of job functions, such as legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job duties are based upon the type of legal firm where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm could help with the logistics of a trial or delivering documents to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is usually billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And just like attorneys, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and comply with a strict code of professional ethics. As noted, their responsibilities can be diverse in support of the practices where they are employed, but a few of their day-to-day activities might involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on pertinent cases and laws
- Drafting correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping lawyers prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal documents, files and other records
With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be complex and rather demanding. On the other hand, 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 clerical or administrative functions more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the right hand support systems for attorneys. And since they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers are able to take on a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably 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 begin your career as a paralegal in Opelika AL is by earning a certificate, which may require as little as six months to accomplish. Most entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which offer a more expansive education and can be obtained at many community colleges in two years. For an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are available as well. Once you have earned either a certificate or degree, you might choose to continue and receive a certification. Even though it is not a legal 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. 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 degree or certificate from an accredited school (we will address the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 important first steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Programs
Online legal assistant or paralegal programs have become more prevalent and may be a good alternative for those looking for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be particularly attractive to Opelika AL students who keep working while earning a degree. As an added benefit, online classes can sometimes be less expensive than on campus options. Even secondary expenses for such things as commuting or study materials may be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will discuss in more detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the education you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the school and program you are reviewing are accredited by a respected agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less supervised and formal environment, then obtaining your certificate or degree online could be the right option for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Now that you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what academic options are available, you can start the undertaking of evaluating schools. But because there are so many programs available at community and junior colleges in the Opelika AL area, as well as 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 certificate and degree programs also. If you are like many prospective students, you will start by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other critical factors to research also, including accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at several of the questions you should be asking the programs you are considering so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your ultimate selection.
Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you pick should be accredited by a reputable accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it may also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets online or distance training. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will get will be of the highest standard, but it will show future employers that you are a qualified professional also. Numerous Opelika AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited program. Finally, financial aid and student loans are often available only for accredited programs.
What's the Program's Reputation? Learn what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant schools you are looking at. This is of particular importance if you are new to the profession with no previous work history, since employers will have to make a decision based on the caliber of your education exclusively. Checking that the program you select is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating services, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also call some Opelika AL law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask what schools they suggest. Bear in mind that even though a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the Program Offer Internships? Internship programs provide students an opportunity to experience working in a law office or other legal enterprise while still in school. They can also provide an avenue for students to start establishing contacts within the Opelika AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal schools you are assessing provide internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help available? You will most likely want to secure employment quickly after graduation, but getting that initial job in a new profession can be challenging without assistance. Find out if the paralegal programs you are considering have job placement programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good sign that the schools have large networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their graduates are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the School's Location? Since laws differ from state to state, it may be beneficial to enroll in a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you plan to practice after graduation. Also, it will be important to create relationships in the local legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is all the more reason to receive your education in the community where you desire to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many charge an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might wish to initially investigate those schools that are within the Opelika AL region.
What is the Complete Expense? Paralegal schools can vary in cost depending on the credential received and the length of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only cost for your training. Remember to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid may be obtainable to help reduce part of the expense, so make sure to talk to the school's financial aid office to find out what is offered in Opelika AL. Naturally if you opt to attend an online program, a portion these additional expenses, such as for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Fit your Schedule? Many paralegal students keep working while getting their training and must have flexibility to schedule classes. If you can just attend night or weekend classes near Opelika AL, make certain classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, confirm that the program you select provides that option. Finally, find out what the protocol is for making up missed classes due to work, illness or family emergencies.
Choose the Right Opelika Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Selecting the ideal paralegal studies degree school is a crucial 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 privacy and comfort of your Opelika residence. Paralegal training programs are offered in various lengths and formats. Several types of private and public institutions offer paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four-year colleges and universities, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a profound impact on your opportunities for success in your new career. Considering that there is a broad range in the quality of schools, choose carefully. Afford yourself the greatest possible chance to be successful in this exciting profession. But regardless of how you decide to obtain your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to examine each school and make your ultimate decision. And with the ideal education you can realize your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Opelika Alabama.