How to Find the Right Paralegal Studies School Near Fairbanks Alaska
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Fairbanks AK and begin your journey that will lead to a fulfilling profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's important that you locate the ideal school so that you will get the extensive training that you require to achieve success. As you most likely understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more academic options are becoming available, both at school and online. But with so many options to choose from, where does one start? Many prospective students start by looking for schools within driving distance of their Fairbanks residences. Of those options, they try to find the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are prime considerations when picking a school, they are not the only qualifiers you need to take into consideration. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the school ought to be considered as well. Later in this post we will review a list of questions that you ought to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare every one before making your choice. But first, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic options that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals basically both hold comparable job roles and responsibilities, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and belong to a different job classification. Both legal assistants and paralegals help Fairbanks AK attorneys with a wide variety of job duties, such as 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. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice might help with the logistics of a trial or transporting files to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is normally billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And just like attorneys, they must conduct themselves with a high degree of professionalism and follow a strict standard of professional ethics. As noted, their duties can be diverse in support of the practices where they work, but some of their everyday tasks may include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on relevant cases and laws
- Preparing correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping lawyers get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be complex and rather challenging. However, what they are not legally authorized to do is offer legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not restricted to administrative or clerical functions more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the main support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers have the ability to handle a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could alone.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are basically 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 means to begin your career as a paralegal in Fairbanks AK is by earning a certificate, which can involve as little as 6 months to complete. Many entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which provide a more extensive education and can be acquired at numerous community colleges in two years. For an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are available as well. When you have earned either a certificate or degree, you might want to continue and receive a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alaska to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help boost your job opportunities, but help establish you as a professional as well. A few 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 school (we will address the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two crucial first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Courses
Legal assistant and paralegal online schools have become more available and can be a good option for those searching for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be particularly attractive to Fairbanks AK students who keep working while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an added benefit, online programs can in some cases be less costly than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenses for such things as commuting or study materials can be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will address in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure 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 reputable organization, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less structured and conventional environment, then earning your certificate or degree online might be the ideal option for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Degree or Certificate Programs
Once you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what educational options are offered, you can begin the undertaking of assessing schools. But since there are numerous programs accessible at junior and community colleges in the Fairbanks AK area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you must learn what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is particularly true if you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. 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 previously discussed, there are other crucial issues to think about as well, for instance accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at a few of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are researching so that you can effectively vet each one and make your final selection.
Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you choose need to be accredited by a reputable organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it can also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets online or distance learning. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will receive will be of the highest standard, but it will show 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 aid and student loans are typically offered only for accredited programs.
What's the Program's Reputation? Learn what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal programs you are looking at. This is of specific importance if you are new to the profession with no previous work history, since employers will have to make a decision based on the caliber of your training exclusively. Verifying that the school you pick is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating services, such as those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact several Fairbanks AK law firms that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask what schools they recommend. Keep in mind that even if a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an excellent reputation.
Does the Program Provide Internships? Internship programs provide students an opportunity to experience working in a law office or other legal enterprise while still in school. They can also present a pathway for students to begin developing contacts within the Fairbanks AK legal community. Find out if the paralegal schools you are evaluating offer internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance offered? You will undoubtedly want to secure employment quickly after graduating, but getting that initial job in a new field can be difficult without help. Find out if the paralegal schools you are reviewing have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have large networks and good relationships with Alaska legal services employers. It also confirms that their students are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the Campus Located? Since laws vary from state to state, it may be advantageous to select a paralegal school located in Alaska or the state where you plan to practice after graduating. In addition, it will be necessary to establish relationships in the area legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is all the more justification to receive your education in the area where you wish to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many charge a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might wish to initially investigate those colleges that are within the Fairbanks AK area.
How Much is the Complete Expense? Paralegal schools can vary in price depending on the credential received and the amount of training furnished. 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 as well. Financial aid may be obtainable to help reduce part of the cost, so don't forget to consult with the school's financial aid office to find out what is available in Fairbanks AK. Needless to say that if you decide to attend an online school, some of these additional costs, such as for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Accommodate your Schedule? A number of legal students keep working while getting their training and need flexibility in class scheduling. If you can just attend weekend or evening classes near Fairbanks AK, verify classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make sure that the program you enroll in provides that option. Last, ask what the protocol is for making-up missed classes because of sickness, work or family obligations.
Enroll in the Right Fairbanks Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Enrolling in the best paralegal studies training program 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 at school or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Fairbanks home. Paralegal education programs are offered in many lengths and formats. Different kinds of private and public institutions offer paralegal education, including community colleges, four year universities and colleges, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a pronounced impact on your prospects for success in your new profession. Considering that there is a wide range in the quality of schools, pick carefully. Afford yourself the best possible chance to succeed in this exciting profession. But no matter how you choose to obtain your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have presented you will have the ability to review each program and make your ultimate decision. And with the right training you can realize your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Fairbanks Alaska.