How to Pick the Right Paralegal Studies Certificate or Degree Program 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 gratifying career in legal services. Nevertheless, it's crucial that you locate the ideal school so that you will get the extensive training that you need to succeed. As you probably know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of academic alternatives are becoming available, both on campus and online. But with so many options to choose from, where does one begin? A number of prospective students start by looking for schools within driving distance of their Anchorage homes. Of those alternatives, they look for the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are very important considerations when picking a school, they are not the only qualifiers you ought to take into consideration. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the school ought to be considered also. Later on in this article we will cover a list of questions that you need to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare each one prior to making your selection. But before we do, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic alternatives that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals essentially both hold the same job roles and responsibilities, only with different titles. On the other hand, 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 help Anchorage AK attorneys with a diverse array of job duties, such as legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job duties are based upon the type of practice where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm might help with trial logistics or transporting documents to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is usually billed hourly as are the attorney's. And just like attorneys, they must conduct themselves with a high degree of professionalism and follow a strict standard of professional ethics. As mentioned, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they work, but some of their routine activities may include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching pertinent laws and cases
- Composing correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting attorneys get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal documents, files and other records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be involved and rather demanding. However, what they are not legally permitted to do is provide legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not confined to clerical or administrative duties 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 preparation and ground work, lawyers are able to handle a much larger number of clients or cases than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we previously covered, 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 opportunities will be the same. The quickest way to start your career as a legal assistant in Anchorage AK is by earning a certificate, which may take as little as 6 months to complete. A large number of entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which offer a more expansive education and may be earned at many community colleges in 2 years. For an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are available also. Once you have acquired either a degree or a certificate, you may want to proceed and earn a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alaska to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help improve your job opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. Some 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 certificate or degree from an accredited program (we will address the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 essential first steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Courses
Online legal assistant or paralegal programs have become more prevalent and can be a good alternative for individuals searching for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online schools can be especially appealing to Anchorage AK students who continue to work while earning a certificate or degree. As an added advantage, online programs can sometimes be less expensive than on campus options. Even ancillary expenses for such things as commuting or study materials can be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will address in more detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the education you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the school and program you are thinking about are accredited by a highly regarded organization, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less supervised and formal environment, then earning your degree or certificate online could be the ideal choice for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Since you now you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what academic options are available, you can begin the undertaking of evaluating schools. But since there are so many programs available at junior and community colleges in the Anchorage AK area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you need to know what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is particularly true when you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. 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 crucial aspects to think about also, 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 considering so that you can effectively vet each one and make your final decision.
Is the Paralegal 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 might also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets online or distance learning. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will obtain 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 hire entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited program. Also, financial assistance and student loans are usually available only for accredited programs.
What's the School's Reputation? Learn what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal programs you are contemplating. This is of special importance if you are new to the profession with no previous experience, since employers will have to make a decision based on the caliber of your training exclusively. Checking that the school you select is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating reports, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact several Anchorage AK law firms that you may have an interest 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 rated, its paralegal program may still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the Program Provide Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal establishment while attending school. They can also offer a means for students to start creating contacts within the Anchorage AK legal field. Find out if the paralegal schools you are assessing provide internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance provided? You will undoubtedly want to hit the ground running after graduating, but finding 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 placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good sign that the schools have sizable networks and great relationships with Alaska legal services employers. It also substantiates that their students are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the School Located? Because laws differ from state to state, it may be a good idea to choose a paralegal school domiciled in Alaska or the state where you plan to practice after graduation. In addition, it will be necessary to build relationships in the neighboring legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is even more reason to obtain your education in the community where you want 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 consider those schools that are within the Anchorage AK region.
How Much is the Entire Cost? Paralegal schools can differ in price based on the credential obtained and the length of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your education. Don't forget to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid might be accessible to help reduce some of the cost, so don't forget to consult with the school's financial aid office to find out what is available in Anchorage AK. Needless to say that if you choose to attend an online school, a portion these additional costs, such as for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Accommodate your Schedule? Many legal students continue working while obtaining their training and require flexibility to schedule classes. If you can solely attend weekend or evening classes near Anchorage AK, make certain classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make certain that the school you choose provides that option. Last, inquire what the process is for making-up missed classes because of sickness, work or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Best Anchorage Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Enrolling in the right paralegal studies degree school is an important first step toward your success in the rewarding 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 training programs are made available in numerous lengths and formats. Various types of private and public institutions offer paralegal education, including community colleges, four-year universities and colleges, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a profound impact on your prospects for success in your new career. Since there is a broad range in the quality of schools, pick wisely. Give yourself the best possible opportunity to succeed in this rewarding profession. But irrespective of how you elect to receive your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will be able to review each program and make your final selection. And with the ideal training you can achieve your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Anchorage Alaska.