How to Enroll in the Best Paralegal 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 profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's crucial that you locate the best school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you require to succeed. As you probably know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more educational options are becoming available, both on campus and online. However with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one start? Many potential students start by trying to find schools within driving distance of their Homewood residences. Of those alternatives, they search for the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are prime considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only factors you must take into consideration. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the program ought to be considered also. Later in this article we will review a list of concerns that you should ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare every one prior to making your decision. But first, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the instructional choices that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants essentially both hold the same job roles 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 help Homewood AL attorneys 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 relevant to the type of legal firm where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm may assist with trial logistics or delivering files to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is normally billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And the same as lawyers, 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 a few of their routine tasks may involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on pertinent cases and laws
- Drafting correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping attorneys prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal files, documents and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be involved and very challenging. 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 proceeding. But they are not confined to administrative or clerical functions more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the right hand support systems for attorneys. And since they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers are able to manage a much larger number 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 perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the academic requirements and job prospects will be the same. The quickest means to launch your career as a legal assistant in Homewood AL is by earning a certificate, which can take just six months to accomplish. Most entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more comprehensive education and can be earned at numerous community colleges in two years. For an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are an option as well. When you have acquired either a degree or a certificate, you might choose to proceed and obtain a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help improve your employment opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. Some 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 paralegal certificate or degree from an accredited school (we will cover the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 crucial initial steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Training
Online paralegal or legal assistant schools have become more prevalent and can be a good option for individuals searching for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be particularly appealing to Homewood AL students who continue to work while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an additional advantage, online classes can sometimes be less costly than on campus options. Even secondary expenditures for such items as commuting or study materials may be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all online programs are accredited, which we will address in more detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the training you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the program and school you are reviewing are accredited by a highly regarded organization, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less supervised and formal environment, then obtaining your certificate or degree online may be the right choice for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Degree or Certificate Programs
Now that you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what educational choices are available, you can begin the process of evaluating schools. But since there are numerous programs offered at community and junior colleges in the Homewood AL area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you must learn what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is particularly true if you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like most potential students, you will begin by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other critical aspects to think about as well, for instance accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's go over some of the questions you should be asking the programs you are investigating so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your ultimate selection.
Is the Paralegal School and Program Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you choose need to be accredited by a reputable 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 distance or online training. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will obtain will be of the highest standard, but it will show future employers that you are a qualified professional also. Many Homewood AL law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited program. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are typically offered only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the School? Find out what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant programs you are looking at. This is of special importance if you are new to the profession with no previous work history, since employers will need to rely on the caliber of your training exclusively. Checking that the program you select is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating services, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact some Homewood AL law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask which schools they recommend. Keep in mind that even when a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an excellent reputation.
Does the Program Sponsor Internships? Internship programs provide students an opportunity to experience working in a law firm or other legal operation while attending school. They can also present a means for students to begin establishing contacts within the Homewood AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal programs you are reviewing offer internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance provided? You will probably wish to hit the ground running after graduation, but getting that first job in a new field can be challenging without help. Find out if the paralegal programs you are reviewing have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have substantial networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their graduates are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the Campus Located? Because laws differ from one state to another, it might be beneficial to enroll in a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you wish to work after graduating. In addition, it will be necessary to build relationships in the area legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is even more justification to obtain your education in the community where you choose to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many require a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might want to first investigate those colleges that are within the Homewood AL region.
How Much is the Total Expense? Paralegal programs can vary in price based on the credential obtained and the amount of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only expense for your training. Remember to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid might be accessible to help minimize part of the cost, so don't forget to contact the school's financial aid department to see what is offered in Homewood AL. Of course if you choose to attend an online program, a portion these added expenses, such as for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? Many legal students continue working while getting their training and must have flexibility to schedule classes. If you can just attend weekend or evening classes near Homewood AL, make sure classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make sure that the program you choose makes available that option. Last, ask what the process is for making up classes missed because of sickness, work or family obligations.
Choose the Best Homewood Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Enrolling in the right paralegal studies degree program is a vital 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 education programs are offered in numerous lengths and formats. Several types of public and private institutions make available paralegal education, including community colleges, four year colleges and universities, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a profound influence on your prospects for success in your new profession. Since there is a broad range in the quality of programs, choose carefully. Give yourself the best possible opportunity to succeed in this exciting profession. But regardless of how you choose to receive your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will have the ability to assess each program and make your final decision. And with the ideal education you can achieve your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Homewood Alabama.