How to Select the Best Paralegal Program Near Phenix City Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Phenix City AL and begin 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 get the extensive training that you require to achieve success. As you most likely know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more academic alternatives are becoming available, both at school and online. However with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? A number of prospective students start by looking for schools within commuting range of their Phenix City homes. Of those alternatives, they look for the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are prime considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only qualifiers you ought to take into consideration. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the school ought to be taken into consideration too. Later in this post we will cover a list of concerns that you need to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare each one before making your choice. But first, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the instructional alternatives that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants essentially both fill the same job positions and functions, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and are part of a separate job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals help Phenix City AL attorneys with a diverse array of job functions, such as maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job functions are based upon the type of legal firm where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice may help with trial logistics or delivering files to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is typically billed hourly as are the attorney's. And the same as attorneys, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and abide by a strict standard of professional ethics. As stated, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they work, but some of their everyday activities may involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on applicable laws and cases
- Drafting correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting lawyers prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal documents, files and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be complex and very challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally allowed to do is give legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not limited to administrative or clerical functions more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the right hand support systems for attorneys. And since 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 Programs and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the academic prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The fastest means to begin your career as a legal assistant in Phenix City AL is by obtaining a certificate, which may take just six months to accomplish. A large number of entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which provide a more expansive education and can be earned at many community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are offered as well. When you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you might choose to proceed and earn a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help boost your employment opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. A few of the highly regarded certifying organizations 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 discuss the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 essential first steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Classes
Paralegal and legal assistant online programs have become more prevalent and may be a good alternative for students looking for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online schools can be especially attractive to Phenix City AL students who keep working while earning a certificate or degree. As an additional benefit, online classes can often be less costly than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenditures for such items as study materials or commuting may be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all online programs are accredited, which we will cover in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the training you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the program and school you are thinking about are accredited by a highly regarded organization, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to attend classes in a less structured and formal setting, then earning your certificate or degree online may be the ideal choice for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Programs
Once you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what educational choices are available, you can begin the process of assessing schools. But considering that there are numerous programs available at junior and community colleges in the Phenix City AL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you must find out what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is particularly true if you add all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. If you are like most prospective students, you will start by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other critical factors to consider as well, including accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's go over some of the questions you should be asking the schools you are investigating so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your final decision.
Is the Paralegal School and Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you enroll in should be accredited by a recognized organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it may also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets online or distance learning. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will obtain will be of the highest quality, but it will show future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Numerous Phenix City AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited program. Also, financial assistance and student loans are usually offered only for accredited programs.
What's the Program's Reputation? Find out what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal programs you are considering. This is of specific importance if you are new to the field with no prior experience, since employers will have to rely on the quality of your education exclusively. Verifying that the program you select is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating reports, such as those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact some Phenix City AL law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask which schools they recommend. Keep in mind that even though a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the Program Provide Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law firm or other legal establishment while remaining in school. They can also present a means for students to begin establishing contacts within the Phenix City AL legal field. Ask if the paralegal programs you are evaluating offer internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help available? You will probably want to secure employment quickly after graduating, but getting that first job in a new field can be difficult without assistance. Ask if the paralegal programs you are assessing have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good sign that the schools have large 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's Location? Considering that laws vary among states, it might be beneficial to enroll in a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you wish 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 all the more reason to obtain your education in the community where you wish to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most charge an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might need to first look at those schools that are within the Phenix City AL region.
How Much is the Entire Expense? Paralegal programs can vary in cost based on the credential received and the length of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your training. Remember to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid may be obtainable to help reduce part of the expense, 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 additional expenses, for instance for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Accommodate your Schedule? Many legal students continue working while getting their training and must have flexibility to schedule classes. If you can solely attend night or weekend classes near Phenix City AL, make sure classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make certain that the program you choose provides that option. Finally, find out what the process is for making up classes missed as a result of work, illness or family obligations.
Enroll in the Right Phenix City Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Selecting the best paralegal studies certificate program is a crucial first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have discussed in this article, you have the choice of attending classes on campus or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Phenix City home. Paralegal education programs are made available in numerous lengths and formats. Several types of public and private institutions make available paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four year universities and colleges, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a pronounced influence on your prospects for success in your new profession. Given that there is a broad range in the quality of schools, pick carefully. Afford yourself the greatest possible chance to be successful in this exciting profession. But irrespective of how you choose to receive your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have provided you will have the ability to assess each school and make your final decision. And with the right training you can accomplish your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Phenix City Alabama.