How to Choose the Best Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program Near Phenix City Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Phenix City AL and begin your journey that will result in a rewarding career in legal services. Nevertheless, it's important that you find the ideal school so that you will receive the extensive training that you need to achieve success. As you probably understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more academic options are becoming available, both on campus and online. But with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one start? Many prospective students start by looking for schools within driving range of their Phenix City homes. Of those options, they try to find the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are very important considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only qualifiers you should take into consideration. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the program ought to be taken into consideration as well. Later on in this article we will review a list of concerns that you should ask potential paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare each one prior to making your selection. But first, let's take a look at exactly 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 hold the same job positions and responsibilities, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and are part of a different job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Phenix City 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 based upon the type of practice where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice might assist with the logistics of a trial or transferring documents to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal 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 adhere to a strict standard of professional ethics. As mentioned, their duties can be varied in support of the practices where they are employed, but some of their daily activities can involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on related laws and cases
- Drafting correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping lawyers prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal documents, files and other records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be involved and rather demanding. On the other hand, what they are not legally permitted to do is provide legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not confined to administrative or clerical tasks more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the main support systems for attorneys. And since they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys are able to handle a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could on their own.
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. In any case, for either position the educational requirements and job prospects will be the same. The fastest means to start your career as a legal assistant in Phenix City AL is by earning a certificate, which may involve as little as six months to complete. Many entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more expansive education and may be obtained at numerous community colleges in two years. For an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are offered also. Once you have acquired either a degree or a certificate, you might want to continue and earn a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help boost your job opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. A few of the highly regarded 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 school (we will address the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two crucial initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Training
Online paralegal or legal assistant programs have become more prevalent and can be an excellent alternative for individuals looking for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online programs can be particularly appealing to Phenix City AL students who continue to work while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an additional benefit, online schools can in some cases be less expensive than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenses for such items as study materials or commuting may be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all online schools are accredited, which we will address in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee 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 respected agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less supervised and formal environment, then obtaining your certificate or degree online may be the right choice for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Studies Programs
Since you now you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what educational options are available, you can begin the process of evaluating schools. But considering that there are so many programs offered at community and junior colleges in the Phenix City AL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you need to learn what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is particularly true if you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like most prospective students, you will start by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other crucial aspects to think about as well, for instance accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's go over a few of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are researching so that you can effectively 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 reputable organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it may also receive 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 obtain will be of the highest quality, but it will establish with future employers that you are a qualified professional also. A number of Phenix City AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited program. Also, financial assistance and student loans are typically obtainable only for accredited programs.
What's the Program's Reputation? Learn what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant schools you are contemplating. This is of special importance if you are entering the profession with no previous work history, since employers will need to make a decision based on the caliber of your education exclusively. Checking that the school you pick is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating services, such as those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also call some Phenix City AL law firms that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask what schools they suggest. Keep in mind that even though a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an excellent reputation.
Does the School Provide Internships? Internship programs offer students an opportunity to experience working in a law office or other legal enterprise while attending school. They can also present a means for students to begin creating contacts within the Phenix City AL legal field. Ask if the paralegal schools you are considering provide internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will probably wish to hit the ground running after graduating, but finding that first job in a new profession can be difficult without assistance. Find out if the paralegal schools you are considering have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have large networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their students are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the School's Location? Because laws vary from state to state, it may be a good idea to select a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you wish to work after graduating. In addition, it will be important to cultivate relationships in the area legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is even more justification to obtain your education in the community where you wish to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most require an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might want to initially investigate those colleges that are within the Phenix City AL area.
What is the Entire Cost? Paralegal schools can vary in price based on the credential obtained and the length of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only expense for your training. Don't forget to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid might be obtainable to help offset some of the cost, so don't forget to check with the school's financial aid department to find out what is offered in Phenix City AL. Needless to say that if you decide to attend an online program, some of these additional expenses, such as for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? A number of paralegal students continue working while getting their training and require flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend night or weekend classes near Phenix City AL, verify classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make certain that the school you enroll in offers that option. Finally, ask what the procedure is for making up missed classes because of work, illness or family obligations.
Choose the Best Phenix City Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Choosing the ideal legal assistant degree program is a vital first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have covered in this post, you have the choice 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 lengths and formats. Various types of private and public institutions provide paralegal training, including community and junior colleges, four year colleges and universities, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your choice 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 programs, choose carefully. Afford yourself the greatest possible chance to succeed in this exciting profession. But regardless of how you choose to obtain your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will have the ability to evaluate each school and make your final decision. And with the appropriate education you can achieve your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Phenix City Alabama.