How to Select the Right Paralegal School Near Homewood Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Homewood AL and begin your journey that will lead to a fulfilling career in legal services. However, it's important that you find the right school so that you will receive the extensive training that you require to be successful. As you most likely understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of academic alternatives are being offered, both on campus and online. However with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Many prospective students start by searching for schools within commuting distance of their Homewood residences. Of those options, they look for the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are important considerations when selecting a college, they are not the only factors you need to consider. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the school ought to be taken into account also. Later in this post we will cover a list of concerns that you must ask potential paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare each one before making your choice. But first, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the instructional alternatives that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals essentially both fill comparable job positions and responsibilities, only with different titles. On the other hand, 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 Homewood AL attorneys with a wide variety of job duties, including legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job duties are relevant to the type of practice where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice might assist with the logistics of a trial or transferring files to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is typically billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And just like attorneys, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and comply with a strict code of professional ethics. As mentioned, their responsibilities can be diverse in support of the practices where they work, but some of their regular activities may involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on relevant cases and laws
- Preparing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping lawyers get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be complex and rather demanding. However, what they are not legally authorized to do is provide legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not restricted to clerical or administrative tasks more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers have the ability to manage a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational requirements and opportunities will be the same. The fastest way to begin your career as a paralegal in Homewood AL is by earning a certificate, which may require as little as six months to complete. Most entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which provide a more extensive education and can be earned at numerous community colleges in two years. For an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are available also. Once you have acquired either a certificate or degree, you may choose to proceed and earn a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help improve your job opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. A few of the highly respected 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 degree or certificate from an accredited program (we will discuss the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two important first steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Programs
Legal assistant and paralegal online programs have become more common and may be an excellent alternative for individuals searching for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online schools can be especially appealing to Homewood AL students who continue to work while earning a certificate or degree. As an added advantage, online classes can in some cases be less expensive than on campus options. Even secondary expenditures for such items as study materials or commuting may be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all online schools are accredited, which we will cover in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the training you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the school and program you are considering are accredited by a respected organization, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less structured and conventional setting, then earning your degree or certificate online may be the right option for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Certificate or Degree Programs
Now that you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what training options are available, you can begin the process of evaluating schools. But considering that there are numerous programs offered at community and junior colleges in the Homewood AL area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you need to learn what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is particularly true if you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like the majority of 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 significant aspects to think about also, for instance the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's take a look at some of the questions you should be asking the schools you are researching so that you can properly vet each one and make your ultimate selection.
Is the Paralegal School and Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you enroll in should be accredited by a respected accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it might also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online training. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will obtain will be of the highest standard, but it will establish with potential 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 school. Finally, financial aid and student loans are typically offered only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Learn what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant schools you are considering. This is of particular importance if you are entering the profession with no prior experience, since employers will need to make a decision based on the caliber of your education exclusively. Checking that the school you choose is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating reports, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact some Homewood AL law firms that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask what schools they suggest. Bear in mind that even though a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an excellent reputation.
Does the Program Offer Internships? Internship programs offer students a chance to experience working in a law firm or other legal enterprise while still in school. They can also provide a pathway for students to begin establishing contacts within the Homewood AL legal field. Ask if the paralegal programs you are assessing offer internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help offered? You will undoubtedly wish to secure employment quickly after graduation, but finding that first job in a new field can be difficult without support. Find out if the paralegal programs you are reviewing have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good indication that the schools have sizable networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their students are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the Campus Located? Since laws vary from one state to another, it might be beneficial to enroll in a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you wish to practice after graduation. In addition, it will be important to create relationships in the local legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is all the more reason to obtain your education in the area where you desire to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most charge a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might want to first consider those colleges that are within the Homewood AL area.
How Much is the Total Expense? Paralegal programs can differ in price depending on the credential obtained and the length of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only cost for your training. Don't forget to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial assistance may be accessible to help offset some of the expense, so be sure to contact the school's financial aid department to find out what is offered in Homewood AL. Of course if you choose to attend an online school, some of these supplementary expenses, such as for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? Many paralegal students continue working while obtaining their training and require flexibility in class scheduling. If you can solely attend night or weekend classes near Homewood AL, make certain classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make certain that the program you choose offers that option. Last, find out what the protocol is for making up classes missed as a result of work, illness or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Right Homewood Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Choosing the ideal paralegal degree school is an important first step toward your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have covered in this article, you have the option of attending classes on campus or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Homewood residence. Paralegal academic programs are offered in numerous lengths and formats. Different types of private and public institutions make available paralegal education, including community colleges, four year colleges and universities, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a pronounced impact on your opportunities for success in your new career. Considering that there is a wide range in the quality of schools, pick wisely. Afford yourself the best possible opportunity to succeed in this exciting profession. But regardless of how you elect to obtain your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have presented you will be able to assess each school and make your final decision. And with the ideal education you can realize your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Homewood Alabama.