How to Find the Right Paralegal Studies Certificate or Degree Program Near Phenix City Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Phenix City AL and start your journey that will lead to a gratifying career in legal services. However, it's important that you locate the right school so that you will receive the extensive training that you need to be successful. As you probably know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more academic choices are becoming available, both at school and online. But with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Many potential students begin by searching for schools within traveling distance of their Phenix City homes. Of those choices, they look for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are important considerations when choosing a college, they are not the only qualifiers you should consider. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the school need to be considered as well. Later on in this article we will cover a list of concerns that you need to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare each one prior to making your choice. But before we do, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the educational alternatives that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants for the most part both fill comparable job positions and functions, just 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 category. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Phenix City AL lawyers with a diverse array of job functions, including maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job duties are based upon the type of legal firm where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice may assist with the logistics of a trial or transporting files to court. In private firms, 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 degree of professionalism and follow a strict code of professional ethics. As noted, their responsibilities can be diverse in support of the firms where they work, but a few of their day-to-day tasks may involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching pertinent laws and cases
- Drafting correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting 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 role of a paralegal can be complex and quite challenging. However, what they are not legally allowed to do is give legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not confined to clerical or administrative functions more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the main support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys have the ability to take on a much larger number of cases or clients than they could on their own.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The fastest way to start your career as a legal assistant in Phenix City AL is by obtaining a certificate, which may require as little as 6 months to accomplish. Many entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more comprehensive education and may be acquired at many community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are available as well. When you have earned either a degree or a certificate, you might choose to proceed and obtain a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help increase 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 certificate or degree from an accredited program (we will discuss the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 crucial first steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Schools
Legal assistant and paralegal online programs have become more prevalent and can be an excellent alternative for those searching for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be especially attractive to Phenix City AL students who keep working while earning a degree. As an additional advantage, online classes can often be less expensive than more traditional options. Even secondary expenditures for such items as commuting or study materials may be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will address 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 looking into are accredited by a highly regarded agency, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less supervised and formal environment, then earning your certificate or degree online could be the ideal option for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Certificate or Degree Programs
Now that you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what educational choices are available, you can start the undertaking of assessing schools. But since there are numerous programs accessible at junior and community colleges in the Phenix City AL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you need to learn what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is particularly true if you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like many potential students, you will start by searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other critical factors to consider also, including the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's go over some of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are investigating so that you can effectively vet each one and make your final decision.
Is the Paralegal Training Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you enroll in need to be accredited by a highly regarded accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it can also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets distance or online education. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will get will be of the highest quality, but it will establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Numerous Phenix City AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited school. Also, financial aid and student loans are usually obtainable only for accredited schools.
What's the School's Reputation? Learn what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal schools you are looking at. This is of special importance if you are entering the field with no previous experience, since employers will have to rely on the quality of your education exclusively. Verifying that the school you pick is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating reports, 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 contact a few Phenix City AL law offices that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask what schools they recommend. Remember that even if a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the School Provide Internships? Internship programs give students an opportunity to experience working in a law office or other legal establishment while attending school. They can also offer a pathway for students to start creating contacts within the Phenix City AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal programs you are evaluating provide internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help offered? You will undoubtedly want to secure employment quickly after graduation, but getting that first job in a new field can be challenging without support. Ask if the paralegal schools you are interviewing have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have substantial networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their students are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the School Located? Because laws differ from state to state, it may be beneficial to select a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you wish to work after graduating. In addition, it will be valuable to establish relationships in the area legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is all the more reason to acquire your education in the area where you choose 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 may want to initially consider those schools that are within the Phenix City AL region.
What is the Complete Expense? Paralegal programs can vary in price depending on the credential received and the length of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only cost for your training. Remember to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial assistance might be available to help minimize part of the cost, so make sure to check with the school's financial aid office to find out what is available in Phenix City AL. Naturally if you choose to attend an online school, a portion these added costs, such as for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? Many paralegal students continue working while obtaining their training and must have flexibility in class scheduling. If you can only attend weekend or evening classes near Phenix City AL, make sure classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make sure that the school you select makes available that option. Last, inquire what the process is for making-up missed classes due to sickness, work or family emergencies.
Choose the Best Phenix City Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Enrolling in the best paralegal certificate program is an essential first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have discussed in this article, you have the option of attending classes at school or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Phenix City home. Paralegal academic programs are offered in numerous formats and lengths. Different kinds of private and public institutions make available paralegal training, 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 opportunities for success in your new career. Considering that there is a broad range in the quality of schools, pick carefully. Afford yourself the greatest possible opportunity to succeed in this rewarding profession. But no matter how you elect to receive your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will be able to examine each program and make your ultimate selection. And with the ideal education you can achieve your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Phenix City Alabama.