How to Pick a Paralegal Training Program near Opelika Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Opelika AL and start your journey that will lead to a gratifying profession in legal services. However, it’s essential that you find the ideal school so that you will receive the extensive training that you require to be successful. As you most likely understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more academic options are being offered, both on campus and online. However with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Many potential students begin by trying to find schools within commuting distance of their Opelika homes. Of those alternatives, they search for the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are necessary considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only factors you must consider. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the school need to be taken into account also. Later in this post we will review a list of concerns that you should ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare each one before making your decision. But before we do, let’s take a look at what a paralegal does and the educational alternatives that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants essentially both fill comparable job roles 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 classification. Both legal assistants and paralegals help Opelika AL attorneys with a wide range of job duties, such as maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job functions are based upon the type of practice where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm could assist with the logistics of a trial or delivering documents to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is normally billed hourly as are the lawyer’s. And the same as attorneys, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and follow a strict standard of professional ethics. As noted, their responsibilities can be varied in support of the firms where they work, but some of their daily activities may include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching related cases and laws
- Drafting correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting lawyers get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be complicated and rather demanding. On the other hand, what they are not legally authorized to do is give legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not restricted to clerical or administrative duties more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really 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 handle a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could on their own.
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. In any case, for either position the educational prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The fastest means to start your career as a paralegal in Opelika AL is by obtaining a certificate, which may take as little as six months to accomplish. A large number of entry level positions do require an Associate’s Degree, which furnish a more comprehensive education and may be acquired at many community colleges in two years. For an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor’s Degrees are an option as well. Once you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you may choose to proceed and obtain a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help improve your career opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. Some 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 school (we will cover the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two important initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Things to Ask Paralegal Studies Programs
Since you now you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what academic choices are available, you can start the process of assessing schools. But because there are numerous programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Opelika AL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you must know what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is especially true if you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like most potential students, you will begin by searching 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, for instance the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let’s go over a few of the questions you should be asking the schools you are considering so that you can effectively vet each one and make your final selection.
Is the Paralegal School and Program Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you enroll in should 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 online or distance education. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will receive will be of the highest standard, but it will establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Numerous Opelika AL law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited school. Finally, financial aid and student loans are usually accessible only for accredited schools.
What’s the Reputation of the School? Find out what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal schools you are considering. This is of particular importance if you are entering the profession with no previous experience, 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. Reviewing school rating services, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact several Opelika AL law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask what schools they suggest. Keep in mind that even though a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the School Provide Internships? Internship programs provide students an opportunity to experience working in a law practice or other legal operation while attending school. They can also present a means for students to begin establishing contacts within the Opelika AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal programs you are assessing provide internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance provided? You will undoubtedly want to hit the ground running after graduating, but getting that first job in a new profession can be difficult without assistance. Find out if the paralegal programs you are reviewing have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have large networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their students are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the School’s Location? Considering that laws differ from state to state, it may be advantageous to choose a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you want to work after graduating. Also, it will be necessary to develop relationships in the neighboring legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is all the more reason to acquire your education in the community where you wish to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most charge an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may wish to initially consider those schools that are within the Opelika AL region.
What is the Entire Cost? Paralegal programs can vary in price depending on the credential received and the amount of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your training. Remember to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance may be obtainable to help minimize part of the expense, so be sure to contact the school’s financial aid office to see what is available in Opelika AL. Naturally if you decide to attend an online school, a portion these added expenses, for instance for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Accommodate your Schedule? Many legal students continue working while obtaining their training and must have flexibility to schedule classes. If you can just attend weekend or evening classes near Opelika AL, make sure classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, confirm that the school you choose offers that option. Finally, inquire what the procedure is for making up classes missed due to sickness, work or family emergencies.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Degrees
Legal assistant and paralegal online schools have become more available and can be an excellent alternative for individuals looking for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online programs can be especially appealing to individuals who keep working while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an added benefit, online classes can often be less expensive than on campus options. Even secondary expenditures for such things as study materials or commuting may be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will address in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the training you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the school and program you are reviewing are accredited by a highly regarded agency, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to attend classes in a less structured and formal setting, then obtaining your degree or certificate online might be the right option for you.
Will You Attend Paralegal School near Opelika AL?
If you live near Opelika AL or perhaps you are considering attending classes in that area, following is some interesting and useful information regarding the location of your new school campus.
Opelika (pronounced /ˌoʊpəˈlaɪkə/ OH-pə-LY-kə) is a city in and the county seat of Lee County in the east central part of the State of Alabama. It is a principal city of the Auburn-Opelika Metropolitan Area. According to the 2013 Census Estimate, the population of Opelika was 28,635. The Auburn-Opelika, AL MSA with a population of 150,933 which, along with the Columbus, Georgia metropolitan area and Macon County, Alabama, comprises the greater Greater Columbus, Georgia, a region home to 501,649 residents.
The first white settlers in the area now known as Opelika arrived in the late 1830s and established a community called Lebanon. After the removal of the native Creek (Muscogee) peoples by federal troops in 1836-37, the area became known as "Opelika." This word taken from the Muskogee language means "large swamp".
In 1848, the Montgomery and West Point Railroad Company extended a rail line from Montgomery, Alabama, to Opelika, and in 1851, completed a connection to West Point, Georgia, thus connecting Opelika with Atlanta, Georgia. This line was the only direct rail route between New Orleans and the Eastern Seaboard. It rapidly became one of the primary trade lines for shipments of raw cotton from Southern plantations to the North. The Montgomery and West Point was soon joined by a rail connection to Columbus, Georgia, in 1855, and a connection to Birmingham, Alabama, in 1869. Almost overnight, Opelika became a regional hub for commerce.
Select the Ideal Paralegal School near Opelika AL
Choosing the right paralegal training program is an essential first step toward your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have discussed in this article, you have the choice of attending classes on campus or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Opelika home. Paralegal training programs are made available in numerous lengths and formats. Several kinds of public and private institutions provide paralegal training, including community and junior colleges, four-year universities and colleges, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a pronounced influence on your prospects for success in your new career. Considering that there is a wide range in the quality of programs, pick wisely. Afford yourself the greatest possible chance to succeed in this rewarding profession. But no matter how you choose to acquire your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will be able to review each program and make your final decision. And with the appropriate training you can realize your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Opelika AL.
Other Alabama Locations That May Be Of Interest
Business Results 1 - 10 of 1