How to Pick the Right Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program Near Russellville Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Russellville AL and start your journey that will lead to a fulfilling profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's essential that you locate the ideal school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you need to achieve success. As you probably know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more educational options are becoming available, both at school and online. However with numerous options to choose from, where does one start? Many potential students start by searching for schools within commuting distance of their Russellville residences. Of those choices, they search for the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are prime considerations when picking a college, they are not the only factors you must consider. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the program must be taken into consideration too. Later on in this post we will review a list of concerns that you ought to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare every one prior to making your choice. But first, let's take a look at what a paralegal does and the instructional alternatives that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals basically both hold comparable job positions and functions, only with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and are part of a different job classification. Both legal assistants and paralegals help Russellville AL attorneys with a diverse array of job functions, such as legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job functions are relevant to the type of legal firm where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice may help with trial logistics or transporting documents to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is normally billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And just like lawyers, they must perform with a high level of professionalism and follow a strict standard of professional ethics. As mentioned, their duties can be diverse in support of the firms where they work, but some of their daily tasks can include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching relevant laws and cases
- Preparing correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping attorneys get ready for trial and stay 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 complex and rather demanding. However, 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 limited to administrative or clerical tasks more suited 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 preparation and ground work, lawyers are able to handle a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could alone.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the academic requirements and opportunities will be the same. The fastest way to begin your career as a paralegal in Russellville AL is by earning a certificate, which may take as little as six months to complete. A large number of entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more comprehensive education and can be acquired at many community colleges in two years. For an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are an option as well. After you have acquired either a certificate or degree, you may choose 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 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 degree or certificate from an accredited program (we will address the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two essential initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Programs
Legal assistant and paralegal online schools have become more popular and can be an excellent option for those searching for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online schools can be particularly attractive to Russellville AL students who keep working while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an added benefit, online schools can sometimes be less costly than on campus options. Even secondary expenses for such items as study materials or commuting can be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will address in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the education you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the school and program you are thinking about are accredited by a respected organization, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less supervised and conventional setting, then earning your certificate or degree online may be the right choice for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Once you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what academic choices are available, you can start the undertaking of evaluating schools. But because there are numerous programs available at community and junior colleges in the Russellville AL area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you need to know what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is especially true if you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. If you are like the majority of potential students, you will start by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other critical factors to research also, including accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's go over a few of the questions you should be asking the schools you are investigating so that you can effectively vet each one and make your final decision.
Is the Paralegal School and Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you pick need to be accredited by a recognized accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it might also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets online or distance learning. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will get will be of the highest standard, but it will establish with future employers that you are a qualified professional also. A number of Russellville AL law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited school. Also, financial assistance and student loans are usually obtainable only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Find out what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal schools you are contemplating. This is of specific importance if you are entering the field with no prior experience, since employers will have to rely on the caliber of your education exclusively. Verifying that the school you pick is accredited is a good 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 Russellville AL law practices that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask what schools they recommend. Remember that even when a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the Program Sponsor Internships? Internship programs give students an opportunity to experience working in a law firm or other legal enterprise while remaining in school. They can also present a means for students to begin developing contacts within the Russellville AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal programs you are assessing offer internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will most likely want to hit the ground running after graduating, but finding that initial job in a new field can be challenging without help. Ask if the paralegal schools you are reviewing have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good 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 sought after.
Where is the School's Location? Considering that laws vary among states, it may be a good idea to choose a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you wish to work after graduation. In addition, it will be necessary to build relationships in the area legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is all the more justification to receive your education in the area where you wish to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many charge a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may wish to first consider those colleges that are within the Russellville AL region.
How Much is the Complete Expense? Paralegal programs can differ in cost based on the credential earned and the amount of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only cost for your education. Don't forget to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial assistance might be available to help reduce part of the cost, so don't forget to consult with the school's financial aid office to find out what is offered in Russellville AL. Naturally if you opt to attend an online school, a portion these added expenses, such as for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Fit your Schedule? Numerous legal students keep working while obtaining their training and must have flexibility in class scheduling. If you can only attend night or weekend classes near Russellville AL, make certain classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make certain that the program you enroll in makes available that option. Finally, ask what the process is for making up missed classes as a result of work, illness or family emergencies.
Choose the Best Russellville Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Choosing the ideal legal assistant degree program is an essential first step toward your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have addressed in this post, you have the option of attending classes on campus or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Russellville home. Paralegal training programs are provided in many formats and lengths. Different types of private and public institutions provide paralegal education, including junior and community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a pronounced impact on your prospects for success in your new career. Considering that there is a broad range in the quality of programs, choose wisely. Afford yourself the greatest possible opportunity to succeed in this fascinating profession. But no matter how you elect to acquire your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to review each program and make your final decision. And with the appropriate training you can achieve your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Russellville Alabama.