How to Select the Right Paralegal Course Near Anchorage Alaska
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Anchorage AK and begin your journey that will lead to a rewarding profession in legal services. However, it's important that you find the ideal school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you need to achieve success. As you probably understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more academic options are being offered, both on campus and online. However with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Some prospective students begin by looking for schools within commuting range of their Anchorage homes. Of those choices, they search for the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are necessary considerations when choosing a college, they are not the only factors you should take into consideration. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the program ought to be taken into account too. Later in this post we will review a list of concerns that you should ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare each one prior to making your choice. But before we do, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the instructional alternatives that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants basically both fill the same job positions and functions, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and are part of a separate job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Anchorage AK lawyers with a diverse array of job duties, such as legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job functions are based upon the type of legal firm where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm may assist with the logistics of a trial or transferring files to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is typically billed hourly as are the attorney's. And the same as lawyers, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and adhere to a strict code of professional ethics. As noted, their responsibilities can be diverse in support of the practices where they work, but a few of their regular activities can involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching pertinent laws and cases
- Drafting correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping lawyers get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be complicated and rather challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally authorized to do is give legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not confined to clerical or administrative functions more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really 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 actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the academic prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The quickest means to launch your career as a legal assistant in Anchorage AK is by earning a certificate, which can require just 6 months to complete. Most entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which provide a more comprehensive education and can be acquired at numerous community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are an option as well. Once you have acquired either a degree or a certificate, you may choose to continue and earn a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Alaska to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help improve your career 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 degree or certificate from an accredited school (we will discuss the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 important initial 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 common and can be an excellent option for those searching for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be especially appealing to Anchorage AK students who keep working while earning a degree. As an added benefit, online classes can in some cases be less expensive than more traditional options. Even secondary expenses for such things as commuting or study materials may be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will discuss in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the education you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the program and school you are considering are accredited by a respected agency, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less supervised and conventional setting, then obtaining your certificate or degree online might be the right option for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Once you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what educational options are available, you can start the process of evaluating schools. But since there are so many programs available at junior and community colleges in the Anchorage AK area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you need to find out what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is especially true if you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like many potential students, you will start by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other critical aspects to research as well, including the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's take a look at a few of the questions you should be asking the programs you are researching so that you can properly vet each one and make your final selection.
Is the Paralegal School and Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you enroll in should be accredited by a highly regarded accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it may also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets online or distance training. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will receive will be of the highest standard, but it will establish with 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 school. Finally, financial aid and student loans are typically offered only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the School? Investigate what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant schools you are considering. This is of particular importance if you are new to the profession with no previous work history, since employers will have to rely on the caliber of your training exclusively. Confirming that the school you select is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating services, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call a few Anchorage AK law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask what schools they suggest. Bear in mind that even when a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the School Provide Internships? Internship programs offer students an opportunity to experience working in a law office or other legal operation while attending school. They can also provide a pathway for students to begin establishing contacts within the Anchorage AK legal field. Find out if the paralegal programs you are evaluating offer internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance provided? You will undoubtedly wish to secure employment quickly after graduating, but getting that first job in a new field can be challenging without help. Find out if the paralegal programs you are interviewing have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have substantial networks and good relationships with Alaska legal services employers. It also corroborates that their students are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the Campus Located? Considering that laws differ among states, it might be a good idea to choose a paralegal school domiciled in Alaska or the state where you plan to work after graduation. Also, it will be necessary to develop relationships in the local legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is all the more justification to acquire your education in the community where you wish to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most charge a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may wish to initially investigate those colleges that are within the Anchorage AK area.
How Much is the Total Cost? Paralegal schools can differ in cost based on the credential earned and the amount of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only cost for your training. Remember to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid may be available to help offset some of the expense, so be sure to check with the school's financial aid department to see what is offered in Anchorage AK. Of course if you opt to attend an online school, a portion these additional expenses, such as for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Match your Schedule? Many paralegal students keep working while getting their training and require flexibility to schedule classes. If you can solely attend night or weekend classes near Anchorage AK, make sure classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make sure that the school you enroll in offers that option. Last, inquire what the protocol is for making up classes missed because of work, illness or family obligations.
Enroll in the Right Anchorage Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Enrolling in the ideal paralegal certificate school is an important first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have discussed in this article, you have the choice of attending classes on campus or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Anchorage home. Paralegal academic programs are provided in various lengths and formats. Several kinds of private and public institutions make available paralegal training, including junior and community colleges, four year universities and colleges, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a pronounced impact on your prospects for success in your new profession. Given that there is a broad range in the quality of programs, pick wisely. Afford yourself the greatest possible opportunity to succeed in this exciting profession. But irrespective of how you elect to receive your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to evaluate each school and make your final decision. And with the ideal training you can achieve your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Anchorage Alaska.