How to Pick a Paralegal School in Georgia
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies in Georgia and begin your journey that will lead to a rewarding profession in legal services. However, it’s important that you locate the ideal school so that you will get the comprehensive 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 increasingly more educational options are becoming available, both on campus and online. But with so many options to choose from, where does one start? Many potential students begin by looking for schools within commuting range of their homes. Of those options, they try to find the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are necessary considerations when choosing a college, they are not the only qualifiers you should consider. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the program should be considered also. Later on in this article we will review a list of concerns that you need to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare each one prior to making your selection. But first, let’s have a look at what a paralegal does and the instructional options that are offered to earn a paralegal certificate or degree.
Georgia Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals for the most part both hold the same job roles and functions, only with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and are part of a different job classification. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Georgia attorneys with a wide variety of job duties, including maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job functions are based upon the type of legal firm where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice might assist with trial logistics or transferring files to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is typically billed hourly as are the attorney’s. And just like lawyers, they must carry out their duties with a high level of professionalism and abide by a strict standard of professional ethics. As noted, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they are employed, but some of their routine tasks may involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on relevant cases and laws
- Composing correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping lawyers prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal files, documents and other records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be complex and rather 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 restricted to administrative or clerical tasks more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the main support systems for Georgia attorneys. And since they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys are able to take on a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps 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 launch your career as a legal assistant is by obtaining a certificate, which may require just 6 months to accomplish. Many entry level positions do call for an Associate’s Degree, which offer a more comprehensive education and can be obtained at numerous Georgia community colleges in 2 years. For an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor’s Degrees are available also. Once you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you may choose to proceed and receive a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Georgia to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help maximize your job opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. 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 degree or certificate from an accredited Georgia program (we will address the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two crucial first steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Programs
Online legal assistant or paralegal schools have become more common in Georgia and can be a good alternative for students searching for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be particularly appealing to students who continue to work while obtaining a degree. As an additional benefit, online programs can in some cases be less costly than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenditures for such things as commuting or study materials can be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all online schools are accredited, which we will discuss in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the education you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the program and school you are reviewing are accredited by a highly regarded agency, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less supervised and conventional environment, then earning your certificate or degree online might be the ideal choice for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Degree Programs
Once you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what educational options are available, you can start the undertaking of evaluating schools. But considering that there are numerous programs available at Georgia junior and community colleges, as well as vocational and trade schools, you must learn what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is especially true if you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like many potential students, you will start by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other critical factors to think about as well, such as accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let’s take a look at a few of the questions you should be asking the programs you are researching so that you can properly vet each one and make your final selection.
Is the Paralegal Program and School 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 program, it might also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets distance or online learning. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will obtain will be of the highest standard, but it will demonstrate to future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Many Georgia law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited program. Finally, financial aid and student loans are typically offered only for accredited programs.
What’s the Program’s Reputation? Investigate what the reputations and rankings are for the Georgia legal assistant schools you are considering. This is of special importance if you are entering the field with no previous work history, since employers will need to rely on the quality of your education exclusively. Verifying that the school you select is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating services, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call several law practices that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask which schools they suggest. Bear in mind that even when a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the School Sponsor Internships? Internship programs provide students a chance to experience working in a law practice or other Georgia legal operation while still in school. They can also provide an avenue for students to begin creating contacts within the legal community. Ask if the paralegal programs you are reviewing provide internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will undoubtedly wish to secure employment quickly after graduation, but finding that first job in a new field can be challenging without assistance. Find out if the paralegal programs you are assessing have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have substantial networks and great relationships with Georgia legal services employers. It also confirms that their graduates are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the School Located? Since laws differ from state to state, it might be a good idea to choose a paralegal school located in Georgia or the state where you want to work after graduating. Also, it will be necessary to cultivate relationships in the neighboring legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is all the more justification to acquire your education in the community where you wish to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most charge a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may wish to first consider those colleges that are within your local area.
How Much is the Total Expense? Paralegal programs can differ in price depending on the credential received and the amount of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only cost for your training. Remember to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance may be obtainable to help minimize part of the expense, so make sure to talk to the school’s financial aid department to find out what is available in Georgia. Naturally if you choose to attend an online school, a portion these supplementary expenses, for instance for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? A number of legal students continue working while receiving their training and require flexibility in class scheduling. If you can solely attend night or weekend classes in Georgia, make certain classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make sure that the program you select makes available that option. Finally, ask what the protocol is for making-up missed classes as a result of work, illness or family obligations.
Find the Right Legal Assistant Degree Program in Georgia
Selecting the best paralegal degree program is an important first step toward your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have addressed in this post, you have the choice of attending classes at school or you can attend them online in the comfort and privacy of your home. Paralegal training programs are offered in many formats and lengths. Various kinds of public and private institutions make available paralegal training, including junior and community colleges, four-year universities and colleges, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a profound impact on your prospects for success in your new career. Since 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 no matter how you decide to acquire your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have presented you will have the ability to evaluate each school and make your final decision. And with the appropriate training you can achieve your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Georgia.