How to Choose the Best Paralegal Program Near Phenix City Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Phenix City AL and start your journey that will lead to a satisfying profession in legal services. However, it's essential that you find the best school so that you will receive the extensive training that you require to be successful. As you most likely know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of academic options are becoming available, both at school and online. But with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Many potential students start by searching for schools within driving distance of their Phenix City residences. Of those alternatives, they look for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are necessary considerations when picking a college, they are not the only qualifiers you should take into consideration. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the program must be taken into consideration as well. Later on in this article we will review a list of questions that you must ask potential paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare every one before making your decision. But first, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the instructional choices that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals essentially both fill 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 paralegals and legal assistants help Phenix City AL lawyers with a wide variety of job functions, such as maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job duties are relevant to the type of practice where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm could help with trial logistics or transporting files to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is typically billed by the hour as are the lawyer's. And just like attorneys, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and adhere to a strict standard of professional ethics. As noted, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they work, but a few of their daily activities might involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on pertinent laws and cases
- Preparing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting lawyers prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal files, documents and other records
With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be involved and quite challenging. However, what they are not legally authorized to do is provide legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not limited 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 because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers have the ability to manage a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The fastest means to start your career as a paralegal in Phenix City AL is by earning a certificate, which can take just 6 months to complete. Most entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which furnish 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 an option as well. When you have earned either a degree or a certificate, you may choose to proceed and earn a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help improve your employment opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. A few of the highly regarded certifying agencies 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 degree or certificate from an accredited program (we will cover the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 essential initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Programs
Legal assistant and paralegal online schools have become more popular and may be an excellent option for individuals looking for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be especially appealing to Phenix City AL students who continue to work while obtaining a degree. As an added advantage, online classes can sometimes be less costly than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenditures for such things as study materials or commuting may be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all online programs are accredited, which we will address in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the education you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the program and school you are looking into are accredited by a respected organization, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less structured and conventional environment, then earning your certificate or degree online might be the right option for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Degree or Certificate Programs
Since you now you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what educational options are offered, you can begin the process of evaluating schools. But considering that there are numerous programs available at junior and community colleges in the Phenix City AL area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you must learn 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 as well. If you are like many potential students, you will begin by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other important aspects to think about as well, for instance accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at some of the questions you should be asking the programs you are considering so that you can properly vet each one and make your ultimate decision.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you enroll in should be accredited by a respected organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it might also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets distance or online education. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will get will be of the highest standard, but it will show future employers that you are a qualified professional also. A number of Phenix City AL law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited program. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are usually offered only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Investigate what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal schools you are considering. This is of particular importance if you are new to the profession with no previous work history, since employers will need to make a decision based on the quality of your training exclusively. Verifying that the program 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 confirm school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also call several Phenix City AL law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask what schools they suggest. Bear in mind that even when a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the School Provide Internships? Internship programs offer students a chance to experience working in a law firm or other legal enterprise while remaining in school. They can also present a pathway for students to start developing contacts within the Phenix City AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal schools you are evaluating provide internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will undoubtedly wish to hit the ground running after graduating, but getting that first job in a new field can be difficult without help. Find out if the paralegal schools you are considering have job placement programs and what their placement 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 corroborates that their students are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the Campus Located? Considering that laws vary among states, it might be a good idea to choose a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you want to practice after graduating. In addition, it will be necessary to create relationships in the area legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is even more justification to receive your education in the area where you want to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many charge an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may wish to first look at those schools that are within the Phenix City AL region.
What is the Complete Cost? Paralegal schools can differ in price depending on the credential earned and the amount of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expense for your training. Don't forget to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance might be accessible to help minimize some of the cost, so make sure to talk to the school's financial aid office to see what is offered in Phenix City AL. Of course if you decide to attend an online program, a portion these added expenses, for instance for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Match your Schedule? Many legal students keep working while obtaining their training and require flexibility to schedule classes. If you can solely attend weekend or evening classes near Phenix City AL, make certain classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, confirm that the program you choose provides that option. Finally, find out what the procedure is for making up classes missed because of work, illness or family obligations.
Choose the Best Phenix City Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Selecting the right paralegal studies training program is an essential first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have covered 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 Phenix City residence. Paralegal academic programs are made available in various formats and lengths. Several kinds of public and private institutions provide paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four-year universities and colleges, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a profound influence on your prospects for success in your new career. Considering that there is a wide range in the quality of programs, choose wisely. Give yourself the best possible opportunity to be successful in this rewarding profession. But regardless of how you decide to obtain your training and earn your degree or certificate, 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 appropriate education you can realize your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Phenix City Alabama.