How to Pick the Best Paralegal Studies School Near Anchorage Alaska
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Anchorage AK and begin your journey that will lead to a satisfying career in legal services. However, it's important that you locate the ideal school so that you will receive the extensive training that you need to succeed. As you probably know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of educational options are being offered, both at school and online. But with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Some potential students begin by looking for schools within traveling range of their Anchorage residences. Of those choices, they look for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are prime considerations when choosing a college, they are not the only factors you should consider. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the program must be taken into consideration as well. Later on in this article we will cover a list of questions that you should ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare every one prior to making your choice. But first, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the instructional choices that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals for the most part both fill comparable job positions and responsibilities, just with different titles. However, 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 help Anchorage AK lawyers with a diverse array of job functions, including maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job duties are based upon the type of legal firm where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm might assist with the logistics of a trial or delivering documents to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is usually billed by the hour as are the lawyer's. And just like attorneys, they must carry out their duties with a high degree of professionalism and abide by a strict code of professional ethics. As noted, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they work, but some of their regular activities might include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on applicable cases and laws
- Drafting correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping lawyers get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be involved and quite demanding. On the other hand, what they are not legally permitted to do is give legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not limited to clerical or administrative functions more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the right hand support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys have the ability to take on a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could on their own.
Paralegal Training 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 educational prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The quickest way to launch your career as a legal assistant in Anchorage AK is by earning a certificate, which may require as little as 6 months to accomplish. Many entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which offer a more comprehensive education and can be obtained at numerous community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are available also. When you have acquired either a certificate or degree, you might choose to proceed and receive a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alaska to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help improve your employment opportunities, but help establish you as a professional as well. A few of the highly regarded 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 certificate or degree from an accredited school (we will cover the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two essential first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Schools
Legal assistant and paralegal online schools have become more prevalent and can be a good option for students searching for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be particularly attractive to Anchorage AK students who keep working while earning a certificate or degree. As an added advantage, online classes can in some cases be less expensive than on campus options. Even ancillary expenses for such things as commuting or study materials can be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all online schools are accredited, which we will discuss in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the education you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the school and program you are considering are accredited by a highly regarded organization, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less structured and formal setting, then earning your certificate or degree online could be the right option for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Now that you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what educational choices are available, you can start the process of assessing schools. But because there are so many programs offered at community and junior 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 compare each one. This is especially true if you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate 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 discussed, there are other significant factors to research as well, such as the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's go over a few of the questions you should be asking the schools you are investigating so that you can properly vet each one and make your ultimate selection.
Is the Paralegal School and Program Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you enroll in should be accredited by a reputable 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 distance or online education. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will receive will be of the highest standard, but it will show potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. A number of Anchorage AK law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited school. Also, financial aid and student loans are often accessible only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Investigate what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal schools you are considering. This is of special importance if you are entering the field with no prior work history, since employers will need to make a decision based on the caliber of your training exclusively. Confirming that the school you pick is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating services, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact several Anchorage AK law firms that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask which schools they recommend. Bear in mind that even when a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an excellent reputation.
Does the Program Sponsor Internships? Internship programs provide students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal enterprise while remaining in school. They can also present a pathway for students to begin establishing contacts within the Anchorage AK legal field. Ask if the paralegal programs you are assessing offer internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will most likely want to hit the ground running after graduation, but getting that initial job in a new field can be challenging without help. Find out if the paralegal programs you are considering have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good indication that the schools have substantial networks and great relationships with Alaska legal services employers. It also corroborates that their students are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the School Located? Considering that laws vary among states, it may be advantageous to choose a legal assistant school located in Alaska or the state where you want to practice after graduating. Also, it will be valuable to develop relationships in the area legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is all the more reason to receive your education in the area where you wish to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most require an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may want to first look at those colleges that are within the Anchorage AK region.
How Much is the Total Expense? Paralegal programs can vary in price based on the credential received and the length 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 aid might be accessible to help minimize part of the cost, so don't forget to check with the school's financial aid department to find out what is offered in Anchorage AK. Naturally if you opt to attend an online program, a portion these added costs, such as for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? Many paralegal students keep working while receiving their training and need flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend night or weekend classes near Anchorage AK, verify classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make certain that the program you choose provides that option. Finally, inquire what the process is for making-up classes missed because of sickness, work or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Best Anchorage Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Enrolling in the ideal paralegal degree school is a vital first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have addressed in this article, you have the option of attending classes at school or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Anchorage home. Paralegal academic programs are offered in various formats and lengths. Various types of public and private institutions offer paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four year colleges and universities, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a profound influence on your prospects for success in your new profession. Given that there is a wide range in the quality of schools, choose carefully. Afford yourself the best possible opportunity to be successful in this exciting profession. But no matter how you decide to obtain your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will be able to review each school and make your ultimate selection. And with the appropriate education you can achieve your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Anchorage Alaska.