How to Find the Right Paralegal Training Program Near Fairbanks Alaska
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Fairbanks AK and begin your journey that will result in a fulfilling profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's important that you find the right school so that you will get the comprehensive 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 a growing number of educational choices are being offered, both at school and online. However with numerous options to choose from, where does one begin? Some potential students begin by looking for schools within commuting distance of their Fairbanks residences. Of those options, they try to find the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are important considerations when selecting a college, they are not the only qualifiers you need to consider. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the program must be considered too. Later in this post we will cover a list of questions that you should ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare each one before making your choice. But before we do, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the educational 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 fill comparable job roles and functions, just with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and belong to a different job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Fairbanks AK lawyers with a wide range of job functions, including maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job functions are relevant to the type of practice where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice might assist with the logistics of a trial or transferring documents to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is usually billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And just like lawyers, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and adhere to a strict code of professional ethics. As mentioned, their responsibilities can be diverse in support of the firms where they are employed, but a few of their everyday tasks might involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on relevant cases and laws
- Preparing correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping attorneys prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal files, documents and other records
With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be involved and quite challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally authorized to do is give legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not confined to clerical or administrative tasks more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the right hand support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers are able to manage a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could alone.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the academic requirements and job prospects will be the same. The fastest means to start your career as a paralegal in Fairbanks AK is by obtaining a certificate, which may require just six months to complete. Many entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more comprehensive education and may be acquired at numerous community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are an option as well. After you have acquired either a certificate or degree, you may choose to proceed and receive a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alaska to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help improve your employment opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. A few of the highly respected certifying organizations 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 degree or certificate from an accredited program (we will discuss the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two essential initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Schools
Online legal assistant or paralegal schools have become more available and can be an excellent option for those looking for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online schools can be particularly attractive to Fairbanks AK students who keep working while obtaining a degree. As an added advantage, online classes can sometimes be less costly than on campus options. Even ancillary expenses for such items as study materials or commuting can be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all online schools 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 quality. So check to make certain that the program and school you are considering are accredited by a highly regarded organization, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less supervised and formal environment, then earning your certificate or degree online could be the ideal option for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Once you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what educational choices are available, you can begin the process of assessing schools. But considering that there are so many programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Fairbanks AK area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you must find out what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is especially true when you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. If you are like many potential students, you will start by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other critical factors to think about also, including accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at a few of the questions you should be asking the schools you are researching so that you can effectively vet each one and make your ultimate decision.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you enroll in should be accredited by a respected organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it might also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online training. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will receive will be of the highest standard, but it will establish with future employers that you are a qualified professional also. A number of Fairbanks AK law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited program. Also, financial assistance and student loans are often accessible only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Find out what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant schools you are looking at. This is of special importance if you are entering the profession with no previous experience, since employers will need to make a decision based on the quality of your education exclusively. Verifying that the program you choose is accredited is a good first step. Checking 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 some Fairbanks AK law firms that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask what schools they suggest. Bear in mind that even if a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the Program Offer Internships? Internship programs offer students an opportunity to experience working in a law practice or other legal establishment while attending school. They can also present an avenue for students to begin creating contacts within the Fairbanks AK legal community. Find out if the paralegal schools you are evaluating offer internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance provided? You will probably want to secure employment quickly after graduation, but getting that first job in a new profession can be difficult without assistance. Find out if the paralegal programs you are reviewing have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have sizable 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 among states, it may be beneficial to select a paralegal school located in Alaska or the state where you plan to work after graduation. Also, it will be valuable to build relationships in the neighboring legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is all the more reason to receive your education in the area where you want to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most charge an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may need to first investigate those colleges that are within the Fairbanks AK area.
What is the Total Expense? Paralegal schools can vary in cost based on the credential earned and the amount of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expense for your education. Remember to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid may be accessible 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. Naturally if you decide to attend an online program, a portion these additional expenses, for instance for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Fit your Schedule? Numerous paralegal students continue working while receiving their training and require flexibility in class scheduling. If you can just attend weekend or evening classes near Fairbanks AK, make sure classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make sure that the program you choose offers that option. Finally, inquire what the process is for making-up classes missed because of work, illness or family emergencies.
Choose the Best Fairbanks Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Enrolling in the ideal paralegal studies training program is a vital first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have covered in this article, you have the option of attending classes on-campus or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Fairbanks home. Paralegal academic programs are made available in various lengths and formats. Various types of public and private institutions provide paralegal training, including community and junior colleges, four year universities and colleges, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a profound impact on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Since there is a wide range in the quality of schools, choose wisely. Give yourself the best possible opportunity to succeed in this rewarding profession. But no matter how you elect to obtain your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will have the ability to examine each school and make your final decision. And with the appropriate training you can achieve your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Fairbanks Alaska.