How to Enroll in the Right Paralegal Studies Degree Program Near Bethel Alaska
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Bethel AK and start your journey that will lead to a satisfying profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's important that you find the right school so that you will get the comprehensive 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 increasingly more educational options are becoming available, both at school and online. But with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? A number of potential students start by searching for schools within commuting distance of their Bethel homes. Of those alternatives, they try to find the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are necessary considerations when picking a college, they are not the only qualifiers you should take into consideration. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the program need to be taken into account also. Later in this post we will review a list of concerns that you should ask potential paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare every one before making your decision. But first, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the instructional options that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals for the most part both hold the same job positions and responsibilities, just with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and are part of a different job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Bethel 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 practice where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm may help with trial logistics or transferring documents to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is usually billed hourly as are the attorney's. And the same as lawyers, they must conduct themselves with a high degree of professionalism and follow a strict standard of professional ethics. As mentioned, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they work, but some of their regular tasks might include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on relevant cases and laws
- Drafting correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping lawyers prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal documents, files and other records
With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be complicated and rather demanding. However, what they are not legally authorized to do is give legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not confined to administrative or clerical functions more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly 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 handle a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could alone.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are essentially 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 fastest means to begin your career as a legal assistant in Bethel AK is by earning a certificate, which can require as little as six months to complete. Many entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which offer a more comprehensive education and can be earned at numerous community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are an option also. Once you have acquired either a certificate or degree, you might choose to continue and get a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alaska to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help improve your job opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. A few of the highly regarded certifying agencies 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 address the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 important first steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Training
Legal assistant and paralegal online programs have become more popular and may be an excellent option for students looking for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be particularly appealing to Bethel AK students who keep working while obtaining a degree. As an added advantage, online programs can in some cases be less costly than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenditures for such things as commuting or study materials may be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all online schools are accredited, which we will address in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the training you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the school and program you are considering are accredited by a reputable agency, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less structured and formal environment, then earning your degree or certificate online might be the ideal choice for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Once you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what academic options are offered, you can begin the process of evaluating schools. But considering that there are so many programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Bethel AK area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you must know what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is especially true if you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like the majority of potential students, you will begin by searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other crucial issues to research also, including 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 investigating so that you can properly 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 recognized accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it may also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets distance or online learning. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will obtain will be of the highest quality, but it will establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. A number of Bethel AK law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited school. Also, financial assistance and student loans are often offered only for accredited programs.
What's the Program's Reputation? Learn what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant programs you are considering. This is of particular importance if you are new to the profession with no prior work history, since employers will have to make a decision based on the quality of your education exclusively. Confirming that the school you pick is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating reports, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also call several Bethel AK law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask what schools they recommend. Keep 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 School Sponsor Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law practice or other legal enterprise while attending school. They can also present a pathway for students to begin developing contacts within the Bethel AK legal community. Ask if the paralegal programs you are reviewing provide internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help provided? You will most likely wish to secure employment quickly after graduating, but finding that first job in a new field can be challenging without assistance. Find out if the paralegal schools you are interviewing have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good sign that the schools have large networks and great relationships with Alaska legal services employers. It also substantiates that their graduates are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the School Located? Since laws vary from state to state, it may be advantageous to select a legal assistant school located in Alaska or the state where you plan to practice after graduation. In addition, it will be important to develop relationships in the area legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is even more reason to receive your education in the area where you want to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most require a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might want to initially investigate those schools that are within the Bethel AK region.
How Much is the Complete Expense? Paralegal programs can vary in cost based on the credential obtained and the length of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only expense for your education. Don't forget to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance might be available to help offset part of the expense, so make sure to contact the school's financial aid department to see what is available in Bethel AK. Of course if you decide to attend an online school, some of these added costs, for instance for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Match your Schedule? Many paralegal students keep working while getting their training and must have flexibility in class scheduling. If you can solely attend weekend or evening classes near Bethel 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 select makes available that option. Finally, ask what the process is for making up missed classes because of work, illness or family emergencies.
Choose the Best Bethel Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Choosing the right legal assistant training program is a vital first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have addressed in this post, you have the option of attending classes on campus or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Bethel home. Paralegal academic programs are made available in various formats and lengths. Several types of public and private institutions offer paralegal education, including community colleges, four-year universities and colleges, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a pronounced influence on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Since there is a broad range in the quality of programs, pick carefully. Afford yourself the best possible opportunity to succeed in this fascinating profession. But no matter how you decide to obtain your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have provided you will have the ability to assess each school and make your ultimate selection. And with the appropriate education you can accomplish your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Bethel Alaska.