How to Enroll in the Best Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program Near Homewood Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Homewood AL and begin your journey that will result in a fulfilling career in legal services. However, it's crucial that you locate the ideal school so that you will get 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 increasingly more academic alternatives are becoming available, both at school and online. However with so many options to choose from, where does one start? A number of prospective students begin by trying to find schools within commuting distance of their Homewood homes. Of those alternatives, they search for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are prime considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only factors you should take into consideration. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the program need to be considered also. Later in this article we will cover a list of concerns that you need to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare every one prior to making your choice. But before we do, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic choices that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals basically both fill comparable job roles and functions, only with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and belong to a separate job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals help Homewood AL lawyers with a wide range of job duties, such as 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 work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm may help with the logistics of a trial or transferring files to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is typically billed by the hour as are the lawyer's. And just like attorneys, they must perform with a high level of professionalism and abide by a strict standard of professional ethics. As noted, their responsibilities can be diverse in support of the firms where they are employed, but some of their everyday tasks can include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on related cases and laws
- Drafting correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping attorneys get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal documents, files and other records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be complex and quite demanding. However, what they are not legally permitted to do is give legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not limited to administrative or clerical tasks more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers have the ability to manage a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could on their own.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we previously covered, 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 way to begin your career as a legal assistant in Homewood AL is by earning a certificate, which can involve as little as 6 months to complete. A large number of entry level positions do call for 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, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are offered also. After you have acquired either a degree or a certificate, 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 maximize your job opportunities, but help establish you as a professional as well. A few of the highly respected 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 cover the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 essential initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Classes
Paralegal and legal assistant online programs have become more common and may be an excellent option for those searching for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be especially appealing to Homewood AL students who keep working while earning a certificate or degree. As an additional benefit, online programs can in some cases be less expensive than on campus options. Even ancillary expenses for such items as study materials or commuting can be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all online schools are accredited, which we will address in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the education you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the program and school you are looking into are accredited by a highly regarded organization, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less supervised and formal environment, then obtaining your degree or certificate online may be the ideal option for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Certificate or Degree Programs
Now that you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what educational options are available, you can start the undertaking of evaluating schools. But since there are numerous programs offered at community and junior colleges in the Homewood 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 degree and certificate programs also. If you are like most potential students, you will start by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other critical aspects to consider as well, for instance accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at a few of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are researching so that you can effectively vet each one and make your final choice.
Is the Paralegal Training Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you enroll in need to be accredited by a recognized organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it can also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance training. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will receive will be of the highest quality, but it will establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. A number of Homewood AL law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited school. Also, financial assistance and student loans are usually accessible only for accredited programs.
What's the Program's Reputation? Research what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal schools you are contemplating. This is of particular importance if you are entering the field with no prior work history, since employers will have to rely on the caliber of your education exclusively. Checking that the program you choose 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 rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call some Homewood AL law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask which schools they recommend. Remember that even when a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the Program Sponsor Internships? Internship programs provide students an opportunity to experience working in a law office or other legal establishment while attending school. They can also present a pathway for students to start creating contacts within the Homewood AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal schools you are reviewing provide internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance provided? You will probably want to secure employment quickly after graduating, but getting that first job in a new profession can be challenging without assistance. Ask if the paralegal schools you are considering have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good indication that the schools have substantial networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their students are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the Campus Located? Because laws differ among states, it may be beneficial to select a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you plan to work after graduation. Also, it will be important to create relationships in the local legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is all the more justification to receive your education in the area where you choose to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many charge an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might wish to initially investigate those colleges that are within the Homewood AL area.
How Much is the Total Cost? Paralegal programs can vary in price based on the credential received and the amount of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expense for your training. Remember to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance might be available to help reduce some of the cost, so make sure to talk to the school's financial aid office to find out what is offered in Homewood AL. Naturally if you choose to attend an online school, some of these additional costs, such as for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? Many paralegal students keep working while obtaining their training and need flexibility in class scheduling. If you can only attend night or weekend classes near Homewood AL, make certain classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make certain that the school you enroll in provides that option. Finally, ask what the protocol is for making-up classes missed as a result of sickness, work or family emergencies.
Choose the Best Homewood Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Enrolling in the best legal assistant degree school is a crucial first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have discussed 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 home. Paralegal academic programs are provided in various lengths and formats. Different kinds of private and public institutions offer paralegal training, including 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 opportunities for success in your new profession. Given that there is a wide range in the quality of programs, choose carefully. Give yourself the greatest possible chance to succeed in this rewarding profession. But regardless of how you decide to receive 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 right training you can accomplish your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Homewood Alabama.