How to Choose the Right Paralegal Training Program Near Homewood Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Homewood AL and begin your journey that will lead to a satisfying career in legal services. However, it's important that you locate the best school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you need to succeed. As you probably know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of educational alternatives are being offered, both at school and online. However with so many options to choose from, where does one begin? Some prospective students begin by searching for schools within driving range of their Homewood residences. Of those choices, they search for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are prime considerations when choosing a college, they are not the only factors you ought to consider. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the program ought to be considered as well. Later in this article we will review a list of questions that you must ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare every one prior to making your selection. But first, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the educational alternatives that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants for the most part 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 belong to a different job classification. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Homewood AL lawyers with a diverse array of job functions, such as maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job functions are based upon the type of practice where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm might assist with the logistics of a trial or delivering documents to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is normally billed hourly as are the attorney's. And just like attorneys, they must carry out their duties with a high degree of professionalism and adhere to a strict standard of professional ethics. As stated, their duties can be varied in support of the firms where they are employed, but some of their regular tasks can include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on relevant cases and laws
- Composing correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting attorneys prepare for trial and stay 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. However, what they are not legally permitted to do is give legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not confined to administrative or clerical functions more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys are able to manage a much larger number of cases or clients than they could alone.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the academic requirements and job prospects will be the same. The fastest means to launch your career as a legal assistant in Homewood AL is by earning a certificate, which can take just six months to complete. Most entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which provide a more expansive education and may be obtained at numerous community colleges in 2 years. For an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are offered as well. When you have earned either a certificate or degree, you might want to proceed and obtain a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help increase your job 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 program (we will address the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 essential first steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Programs
Paralegal and legal assistant online schools have become more common and can be a good alternative for individuals searching for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online schools can be especially appealing to Homewood AL students who keep working while earning a certificate or degree. As an additional advantage, online schools can in some cases be less expensive than more traditional options. Even secondary expenses for such things as commuting or study materials can be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all online schools are accredited, which we will discuss in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the training you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the program and school you are considering are accredited by a reputable organization, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less structured and formal environment, then earning your certificate or degree online could be the right option for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Certificate or Degree Programs
Once you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what educational options are available, you can begin the process of assessing schools. But because there are so many programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Homewood AL area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you must learn what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is especially true when you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like most prospective students, you will start by searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other important factors to research 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 schools you are researching so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your ultimate choice.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you enroll in should be accredited by a reputable organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it may also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets online or distance education. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will get will be of the highest standard, but it will establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. A number of Homewood 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 programs.
What's the Program's Reputation? Find out what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant 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 quality of your training exclusively. Confirming that the school you pick is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating reports, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also call several Homewood AL law practices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask which schools they recommend. Bear in mind that even if a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an excellent reputation.
Does the Program Sponsor Internships? Internship programs provide students a chance to experience working in a law practice or other legal establishment while still in school. They can also offer an avenue for students to begin establishing contacts within the Homewood AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal programs you are evaluating provide internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help available? You will probably wish to secure employment quickly after graduating, but finding that first job in a new field can be difficult without assistance. Find out if the paralegal schools you are interviewing have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good sign that the schools have substantial networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their students are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the School's Location? Since laws vary from one state to another, it may be beneficial to select a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you want to practice after graduating. In addition, it will be necessary to develop relationships in the neighboring legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is all the more reason to acquire your education in the community where you desire to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many charge a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might wish to first investigate those colleges that are within the Homewood AL region.
How Much is the Complete Expense? Paralegal schools can vary in price based on the credential obtained and the amount of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your education. Remember to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial assistance may be available to help minimize some of the cost, so make sure to contact the school's financial aid department to find out what is available in Homewood AL. Needless to say that if you choose to attend an online program, some of these supplementary expenses, such as for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? A number of legal students continue working while receiving their training and require flexibility to schedule classes. If you can solely attend weekend or evening classes near Homewood AL, verify classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make sure that the school you select provides that option. Last, inquire what the process is for making-up missed classes due to work, illness or family emergencies.
Choose the Best Homewood Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Enrolling in the ideal paralegal studies certificate school is a crucial first step toward your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have covered in this post, you have the option of attending classes on-campus or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Homewood residence. Paralegal training programs are made available in various lengths and formats. Several types of public and private institutions offer paralegal education, including community colleges, four year universities and colleges, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a pronounced influence on your opportunities for success in your new career. Since there is a broad range in the quality of programs, pick carefully. Give yourself the best possible opportunity to succeed in this exciting profession. But regardless of how you elect to receive your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will have the ability to examine each school and make your ultimate decision. And with the right education you can accomplish your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Homewood Alabama.