How to Choose a Paralegal Degree Program near Opelika Alabama
Best Wishes regarding your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Opelika AL and begin your journey that will result in a satisfying career in legal services. However, it’s essential that you locate the right school so that you will receive the extensive training that you need to be successful. As you probably understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of academic alternatives are becoming available, both at school and online. But with numerous options to choose from, where does one begin? A number of potential students begin by searching for paralegal schools within traveling distance of their Opelika residences. Of those choices, they try to find the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are prime considerations when choosing a school, they are not the only factors you must take into consideration. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the school need to be considered as well. Later in this post we will review a list of questions that you need to ask prospective paralegal certificate schools so that you can examine and compare each one before making your selection. But before we do, let’s have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the educational options that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
What is a Paralegal and What Do They Do?
Paralegals and legal assistants for the most part both fill the same job positions and functions, just with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and belong to a separate job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants help attorneys in Opelika AL with a wide range of job functions, including maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job duties are based upon the type of legal firm where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm could help with trial logistics or delivering files to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is usually billed by the hour as are the attorney’s. And just like attorneys, they must conduct themselves with a high degree of professionalism and comply with a strict code of professional ethics. As noted, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they work, but a few of their everyday tasks can include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on pertinent laws and cases
- Preparing correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping lawyers prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal files, documents and other records
With all of their duties, the role of a Opelika AL paralegal can be complex and quite demanding. On the other hand, what they are not legally allowed to do is offer legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not restricted to clerical or administrative duties more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the main support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys have the ability to take on a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could on their own.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the academic requirements and opportunities will be the same. The fastest means to begin your career in Opelika AL as a paralegal is by earning a certificate, which can require just 6 months to accomplish. A large number of entry level positions do require an Associate’s Degree, which provide a more extensive education and can be obtained at many community colleges in two years. For an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor’s Degrees are available also. After you have earned either a certificate or degree, you may want to continue and get a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help boost your career opportunities, but help establish 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 certificate or degree from an accredited program (we will address the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 crucial initial steps that will help guarantee your success as a paralegal in Opelika AL.
Paralegal Online Classes
Online paralegal programs have become more prevalent and may be a good option for students in Opelika AL searching for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be especially appealing to individuals who continue to work while earning a degree. As an added advantage, online classes can in some cases be less costly than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenses for such things as commuting or study materials can be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will address in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the education you receive is of the highest caliber. 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 disciplined enough to attend classes in a less supervised and formal environment, then obtaining your degree or certificate online may be the ideal choice for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Programs
Now that you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what training choices are offered, you can begin the process of assessing Opelika AL area schools. But since there are so many programs offered at community and junior colleges, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you must find out what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is especially true if you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like many potential 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 factors to research as well, including the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let’s take a look at several of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are considering so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your ultimate decision.
Is the Paralegal School and Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you select 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 learning. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will receive will be of the highest standard, but it will establish with future employers that you are a qualified professional also. A number of Opelika AL law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited school. Finally, financial aid and student loans are typically available only for accredited schools.
What’s the Program’s Reputation? Learn what the reputations and rankings are for the Opelika AL paralegal programs you are looking at. This is of particular importance if you are new to the profession with no previous experience, since employers will need to rely on the caliber of your training exclusively. Verifying that the program you choose is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating services, 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 a few law firms that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask what schools they recommend. Remember that even though a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an excellent reputation.
Does the Program Sponsor Internships? Internship programs offer students an opportunity to experience working in a law firm or other legal operation while still in school. They can also provide an avenue for students to begin establishing contacts within the Opelika AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal schools you are reviewing offer internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will most likely want to hit the ground running after graduation, but finding that first job in a new profession can be challenging without assistance. Ask if the paralegal programs you are considering have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have sizable networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their graduates are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the Campus Located? Because laws differ among states, it might be a good idea to enroll in a paralegal school domiciled in the state where you wish to work after graduating. In addition, it will be important to establish relationships in the neighboring legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is even more justification to obtain your education in the area where you desire to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most charge an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might wish to first consider those schools that are within your Opelika AL local region.
What is the Complete Expense? Paralegal schools can differ in cost based on the credential obtained and the amount of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expense for your education. Remember to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid might be obtainable to help reduce some of the expense, so be sure to check with the school’s financial aid office to see what is offered in Opelika AL. Of course if you opt to attend an online school, some of these added costs, for instance for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Match your Schedule? Numerous paralegal students keep working while getting their training and require flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend night or weekend classes near Opelika AL, make sure 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 emergencies.
Considering Paralegal School in Opelika AL?
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.
To manage this rapid growth, Opelika was incorporated as a town on February 9, 1854, then within Russell County. As a result of Opelika's transportation infrastructure, many warehouses for storing cotton and other goods were built. With the onset of the Civil War, these warehouses were converted to Confederate supply depots. In 1864 and 1865, Union raids commanded by Lovell Rousseau and James H. Wilson attacked Opelika, tearing up the railroads and destroying all government property, including Opelika's warehouses.
Enroll in the Best Paralegal Degree Program near Opelika AL
Selecting the best paralegal training program is a vital first step toward your success in the gratifying 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 Opelika home. Paralegal education programs are made available in numerous lengths and formats. Different kinds of private and public institutions provide paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four year universities and colleges, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a pronounced impact on your opportunities for success in your new career. Given that there is a broad range in the quality of schools, choose carefully. Afford yourself the best possible chance to succeed in this exciting profession. But irrespective of how you decide to obtain your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have presented you will be able to examine each school and make your ultimate decision. And with the appropriate education you can realize your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Opelika AL.
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