How to Enroll in the Best Paralegal Certificate Program Near Anchorage Alaska
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Anchorage AK and start your journey that will lead to a fulfilling profession in legal services. However, it's crucial that you locate the best school so that you will receive the extensive training that you need to be successful. As you most likely understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more academic choices are being offered, both at school and online. But with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one start? Many prospective students begin by trying to find schools within traveling range of their Anchorage homes. Of those options, they search for the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are very important considerations when selecting a college, they are not the only factors you ought to take into consideration. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the program must be considered too. Later in this article we will cover a list of questions that you should ask potential paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare every one prior to making your selection. But before we do, let's take a look at 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 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 belong to a separate job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Anchorage AK attorneys with a diverse array of job functions, including maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job functions are based upon the type of legal firm where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice could assist with trial logistics or transferring documents to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is normally billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And just like lawyers, they must carry out their duties with a high level of professionalism and adhere to a strict standard of professional ethics. As noted, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they work, but a few of their everyday tasks may involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching related cases and laws
- Drafting correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting lawyers prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal documents, files and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be complicated and quite demanding. On the other hand, what they are not legally permitted to do is provide legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not limited to clerical or administrative duties more apropos 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 ground work and preparation, lawyers have the ability to handle a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could alone.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the educational prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The quickest means to start your career as a legal assistant in Anchorage AK is by obtaining a certificate, which may involve just 6 months to accomplish. A large number of entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which provide a more extensive education and can be acquired at numerous community colleges in 2 years. For an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are an option also. Once you have earned either a degree or a certificate, you might want to continue and obtain a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alaska to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help boost your employment opportunities, but help establish you as a professional as well. A few of the highly regarded certifying organizations 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 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.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Schools
Paralegal and legal assistant online programs have become more available and can be an excellent alternative for individuals searching for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online programs can be especially attractive to Anchorage AK students who keep working while obtaining a degree. As an added advantage, online programs can often be less expensive than more traditional options. Even secondary expenses for such things as study materials or commuting may be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all online programs 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 caliber. So check to make sure that the program and school you are looking into are accredited by a reputable organization, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to attend classes in a less supervised and formal setting, then obtaining your degree or certificate online could be the ideal choice for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Schools
Since you now you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what training options are available, you can start the process of evaluating schools. But because there are numerous programs accessible at junior and community colleges in the Anchorage AK area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you need to know what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is particularly true when you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like the majority of prospective students, you will begin by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other important issues to research also, for instance the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's go over some of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are researching so that you can effectively vet each one and make your ultimate selection.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you enroll in need to be accredited by a highly regarded organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it might also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets distance or online education. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will get will be of the highest standard, but it will show potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. Many Anchorage AK law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited program. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are usually accessible only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the School? Research what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant schools you are looking at. This is of specific importance if you are entering the field with no prior experience, since employers will need to rely on the quality of your training exclusively. Confirming that the school you pick is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating reports, such as those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call several Anchorage AK law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask which schools they recommend. Bear in mind that even when a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the School Sponsor Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal establishment while still in school. They can also provide a pathway for students to begin creating contacts within the Anchorage AK legal field. Ask if the paralegal programs you are considering provide internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help offered? You will probably wish to secure employment quickly after graduating, 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 success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good indication that the schools have substantial networks and good relationships with Alaska legal services employers. It also corroborates that their students are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the School Located? Since laws differ among states, it may be advantageous to choose a legal assistant school domiciled in Alaska or the state where you wish to work after graduating. In addition, it will be valuable to build relationships in the local legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is even more reason to obtain your education in the area where you choose to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most require a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might need to initially look at those colleges that are within the Anchorage AK region.
How Much is the Entire Expense? Paralegal schools can vary in price based on the credential obtained and the length of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your training. Don't forget to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid might be available to help minimize part of the cost, so be sure to consult with the school's financial aid department to see what is offered in Anchorage AK. Needless to say that if you choose to attend an online school, some of these added expenses, such as for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Accommodate your Schedule? Numerous legal students continue working while getting their training and need flexibility in class scheduling. If you can only attend night or weekend classes near Anchorage AK, make certain classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, confirm that the program you enroll in offers that option. Finally, inquire what the protocol is for making-up missed classes due to work, illness or family obligations.
Enroll in the Right Anchorage Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Choosing the right paralegal degree school is an important first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have addressed in this post, you have the choice of attending classes on campus or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Anchorage home. Paralegal academic programs are offered in numerous lengths and formats. Different kinds of private and public institutions provide paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four year universities and colleges, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a pronounced influence on your prospects for success in your new profession. Since there is a broad range in the quality of programs, choose wisely. Give yourself the greatest possible opportunity to be successful in this exciting profession. But no matter how you decide to receive your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will have the ability to evaluate each program and make your final selection. And with the ideal training you can accomplish your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Anchorage Alaska.