How to Choose the Right Paralegal Studies Program Near Russellville Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Russellville AL and begin your journey that will lead to a satisfying career in legal services. Nevertheless, it's important that you locate the best school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you need to be successful. As you most likely understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more educational options are being offered, both on campus and online. But with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Some potential students start by looking for schools within commuting distance of their Russellville homes. Of those choices, they look for the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are very important considerations when choosing a school, they are not the only qualifiers you must take into consideration. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the school must be considered too. Later on in this article we will cover a list of concerns that you must ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare each one before making your decision. But first, let's take a look at what a paralegal does and the educational options that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals essentially both hold comparable job roles and functions, only 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 paralegals and legal assistants assist Russellville AL attorneys with a wide variety of job functions, including maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular 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 may assist with trial logistics or transferring files to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is typically billed hourly as are the attorney's. And just like lawyers, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and follow a strict code of professional ethics. As stated, their responsibilities can be diverse in support of the practices where they are employed, but a few of their routine tasks can involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching applicable laws and cases
- Drafting correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting lawyers get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be complicated and quite challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally permitted to do is provide legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not confined to administrative or clerical tasks more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the main support systems for lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys have the ability to handle a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could on their own.
Paralegal Certificates and Degrees and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational requirements and job prospects will be the same. The fastest way to begin your career as a legal assistant in Russellville AL 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 offer a more extensive education and may be obtained at many community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are available as well. When you have acquired either a certificate or degree, you might want to proceed and get a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help increase your career opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. Some of the highly regarded certifying agencies 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 certificate or degree from an accredited school (we will address the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two important initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Programs
Paralegal and legal assistant online programs have become more available and can be an excellent alternative for individuals looking for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be particularly appealing to Russellville AL students who continue to work while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an additional benefit, online programs can sometimes be less costly than on campus options. Even supplementary expenditures for such things as commuting or study materials can be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all online programs are accredited, which we will discuss 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 school and program you are reviewing 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 conventional setting, then obtaining your degree or certificate online might be the right choice for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Degree or Certificate Programs
Once you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what educational options are available, you can begin the process of assessing schools. But since there are numerous programs accessible at junior and community colleges in the Russellville AL area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you need to find out what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is especially true when you add all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. If you are like the majority of prospective students, you will begin by searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other important aspects to research also, 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 investigating so that you can effectively vet each one and make your final decision.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you select should be accredited by a reputable organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it can also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online education. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will obtain will be of the highest quality, but it will establish with future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. A number of Russellville AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited school. Also, financial aid and student loans are typically accessible only for accredited schools.
What's the School's Reputation? Learn what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal schools you are considering. This is of special importance if you are entering the profession with no previous experience, since employers will need to make a decision based on the quality of your training exclusively. Confirming that the school you pick is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating services, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact several Russellville AL law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask which schools they recommend. Keep in mind that even when a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the School Sponsor Internships? Internship programs offer students an opportunity to experience working in a law practice or other legal establishment while attending school. They can also offer a means for students to start developing contacts within the Russellville AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal programs you are assessing provide internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help provided? You will most likely want to hit the ground running after graduation, but getting that first job in a new profession can be challenging without assistance. Find out if the paralegal programs you are interviewing have job placement programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good indication that the schools have substantial networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their students are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the Campus Located? Considering that laws differ from state to state, it might be advantageous to enroll in a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you wish to practice after graduation. Also, it will be necessary to develop relationships in the local legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is all the more reason to receive your education in the community where you desire to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many require an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may wish to first consider those schools that are within the Russellville AL region.
How Much is the Entire Expense? Paralegal schools can differ in price based on the credential received and the amount of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only cost for your education. Remember to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid might be available to help reduce part of the cost, so be sure to consult with the school's financial aid department to find out what is available in Russellville AL. Of course if you opt to attend an online program, some of these additional expenses, such as for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Fit your Schedule? Many legal students continue working while receiving their training and must have flexibility in class scheduling. If you can only attend weekend or evening classes near Russellville AL, make sure classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, confirm that the program you choose makes available that option. Finally, ask what the protocol is for making up classes missed as a result of work, illness or family emergencies.
Choose the Right Russellville Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Enrolling in the best paralegal training school is a vital first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have covered in this article, you have the option of attending classes at school or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Russellville home. Paralegal training programs are made available in various formats and lengths. Different types of public and private institutions provide paralegal education, including community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a profound impact on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Considering that there is a wide range in the quality of programs, pick carefully. Afford yourself the greatest possible opportunity to succeed in this exciting profession. But regardless of how you choose to obtain your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have provided you will have the ability to examine each school and make your ultimate selection. And with the appropriate education you can achieve your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Russellville Alabama.