How to Pick the Right Paralegal Program Near Fairbanks Alaska
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Fairbanks AK and start your journey that will result in a gratifying career in legal services. However, it's important that you find the ideal school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you need to succeed. As you probably understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more academic choices are being offered, both at school and online. But with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one start? A number of prospective students begin by searching for schools within traveling distance of their Fairbanks residences. Of those alternatives, they look for the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are very important considerations when choosing a college, they are not the only factors you need to consider. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the school ought to be considered too. Later in this post we will review a list of concerns that you need to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare every one prior to making your choice. But first, let's take a look at what a paralegal does and the instructional options that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants for the most part both hold the same job roles and functions, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and are part of a different job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals help Fairbanks AK lawyers with a wide variety of job functions, such as legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job functions are based upon the type of legal firm where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm may help with trial logistics or delivering documents to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is normally billed hourly as are the attorney's. And just like lawyers, they must perform with a high level of professionalism and adhere to a strict code of professional ethics. As noted, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they work, but a few of their routine tasks might involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching related cases and laws
- Composing correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping attorneys prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be involved and quite demanding. However, what they are not legally permitted to do is give legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not limited to administrative or clerical tasks more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys are able to take on a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could alone.
Paralegal Certificates and Degrees and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the educational prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The fastest means to begin your career as a legal assistant in Fairbanks AK is by obtaining a certificate, which can require just six months to complete. A large number of entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more comprehensive education and may be acquired at many 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 obtained either a degree or a certificate, you might want to continue and earn a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alaska to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help boost your job opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. A few 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 certificate or degree from an accredited school (we will address the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two essential first steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Training
Legal assistant and paralegal online schools have become more prevalent and can be an excellent alternative for those searching for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online schools can be especially attractive to Fairbanks AK students who continue to work while earning a certificate or degree. As an added benefit, online programs can sometimes be less expensive than more traditional options. Even secondary expenses for such items as study materials or commuting may be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will cover in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the training you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the school and program you are reviewing are accredited by a respected agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less supervised and formal setting, then obtaining your degree or certificate online may be the ideal choice for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Degree or Certificate Programs
Once you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what training choices are available, you can begin the undertaking of assessing schools. But since there are so many programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Fairbanks AK area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you must know what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is especially true if you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like the majority of prospective students, you will start by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other important 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 programs you are considering so that you can effectively vet each one and make your final decision.
Is the Paralegal Training 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 can also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets distance or online training. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will obtain will be of the highest standard, but it will establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. A number of Fairbanks AK law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited school. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are typically available only for accredited schools.
What's the Program's Reputation? Research what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant programs you are considering. This is of specific importance if you are entering the profession with no previous work history, since employers will have to rely on the caliber of your education exclusively. Confirming that the school you select is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating reports, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also call a few Fairbanks AK law offices that you may be interested 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 ranked, its paralegal program could still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the School Provide Internships? Internship programs offer students a chance to experience working in a law practice or other legal operation while attending school. They can also offer a pathway for students to begin creating contacts within the Fairbanks AK legal community. Ask if the paralegal schools you are assessing offer internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance offered? You will probably want to secure employment quickly after graduation, but getting that first job in a new field can be challenging without help. Ask if the paralegal programs you are interviewing 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 substantiates that their students are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the School Located? Since laws vary from one state to another, it might be advantageous to select a paralegal school located in Alaska or the state where you wish to work after graduating. In addition, it will be necessary to establish relationships in the neighboring legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is even more justification to acquire your education in the community where you desire to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many require a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might want to initially consider those colleges that are within the Fairbanks AK area.
What is the Complete Expense? Paralegal schools can differ in cost based on the credential received and the length of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only cost for your education. Remember to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid might be obtainable to help reduce some of the cost, so make sure to check with the school's financial aid office to find out what is available in Fairbanks AK. Needless to say that if you choose to attend an online school, some of these additional expenses, for instance for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Fit your Schedule? Numerous paralegal students keep working while obtaining their training and require flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend weekend or evening classes near Fairbanks AK, make certain classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make certain that the program you enroll in provides that option. Last, ask what the procedure is for making-up missed classes because of sickness, work or family obligations.
Enroll in the Right Fairbanks Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Selecting the ideal paralegal training school is a crucial first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have covered in this post, you have the option of attending classes on-campus or you can attend them online in the comfort and privacy of your Fairbanks residence. Paralegal training programs are offered in many formats and lengths. 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 selection of a paralegal program 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, choose carefully. Give yourself the greatest possible opportunity to succeed in this fascinating profession. But irrespective of how you elect to acquire your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will have the ability to review each program and make your ultimate selection. And with the appropriate education you can realize your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Fairbanks Alaska.