How to Pick the Right Paralegal Studies Certificate or Degree Program Near Fairbanks Alaska
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Fairbanks AK and start your journey that will lead to a fulfilling career in legal services. However, it's crucial that you locate the right school so that you will receive the extensive training that you need to achieve success. As you most likely understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more academic options are being offered, 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 driving distance of their Fairbanks homes. Of those alternatives, they search for the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are prime considerations when picking a school, they are not the only factors you ought to take into consideration. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the school should be taken into consideration as well. Later on in this article we will cover a list of questions that you should ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare every one prior to making your choice. But before we do, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the instructional alternatives that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals basically both hold the same job roles and functions, only with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and are part of a separate job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Fairbanks AK lawyers with a diverse array of job duties, including legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job functions are based upon the type of practice where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm could help with the logistics of a trial or delivering documents to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is normally billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And just like attorneys, they must carry out their duties with a high degree of professionalism and comply with a strict standard of professional ethics. As noted, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they are employed, but some of their everyday tasks may involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching related cases and laws
- Preparing correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting lawyers get ready 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 involved and rather challenging. However, what they are not legally permitted to do is offer legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not limited to administrative or clerical duties more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the right hand support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers have the ability to manage a much larger number of clients or cases than they could alone.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we discussed earlier, 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 prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The quickest way to launch your career as a paralegal in Fairbanks AK is by earning a certificate, which can require 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 acquired at many community colleges in two years. For an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are an option also. After you have earned either a degree or a certificate, you might want to continue and obtain a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alaska to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help maximize your career opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. 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 degree or certificate from an accredited program (we will cover the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two essential first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Certificates and Degrees
Online legal assistant or paralegal programs have become more common and can be an excellent alternative for individuals looking for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be especially appealing to Fairbanks AK students who keep working while obtaining a degree. As an additional advantage, online schools can in some cases be less expensive than on campus options. Even secondary expenditures for such items as commuting or study materials may be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all online 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 program and school you are looking into are accredited by a reputable agency, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less supervised and formal environment, then earning your certificate or degree online might be the ideal option for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Studies Programs
Now that you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what academic choices are available, you can begin the undertaking of evaluating schools. But because there are so many programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Fairbanks AK area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you need to know what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is particularly true when you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like most potential students, you will begin by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other critical aspects to think about as well, such as the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's take a look at a few of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are researching so that you can properly vet each one and make your ultimate selection.
Is the Paralegal School and Program Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you choose need to be accredited by a recognized 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 focuses on online or distance education. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will obtain will be of the highest standard, but it will demonstrate to future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Many Fairbanks AK law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited program. Also, financial assistance and student loans are usually accessible only for accredited programs.
What's the School's Reputation? Learn what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal schools you are contemplating. This is of special importance if you are new to the profession with no prior experience, since employers will need to make a decision based on the caliber of your education exclusively. Verifying that the program you select is accredited is a good first step. Checking 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 contact several Fairbanks AK law practices that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask what schools they recommend. Bear in mind that even if a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs give students an opportunity to experience working in a law firm or other legal establishment while still in school. They can also present a means for students to start establishing contacts within the Fairbanks AK legal field. Find out if the paralegal schools you are assessing offer internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help offered? You will undoubtedly wish to secure employment quickly after graduation, but getting that initial job in a new profession can be difficult without assistance. Find out if the paralegal programs you are assessing have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good indication 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's Location? Since laws differ from state to state, it may be a good idea to choose a legal assistant school domiciled in Alaska or the state where you wish to work after graduating. In addition, it will be valuable to cultivate relationships in the local legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is even more reason to receive your education in the community where you want to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many charge a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may need to initially investigate those colleges that are within the Fairbanks AK region.
What is the Total Expense? Paralegal schools can vary in cost based on the credential received and the length of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only expense for your training. Don't forget to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid may be accessible to help offset part of the expense, so don't forget to consult with the school's financial aid office to see what is offered in Fairbanks AK. Needless to say that if you decide to attend an online school, a portion these supplementary costs, such as for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Match your Schedule? A number of paralegal students continue working while obtaining their training and require flexibility in class scheduling. If you can solely 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 school you choose makes available that option. Finally, find out what the protocol is for making-up classes missed as a result of work, illness or family obligations.
Choose the Best Fairbanks Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Choosing the best paralegal studies training program is a vital first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have discussed 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 residence. Paralegal education programs are made available in many formats and lengths. Various types of public and private institutions make available paralegal training, including community and junior colleges, four year colleges and universities, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a pronounced impact on your opportunities for success in your new career. Since there is a broad range in the quality of programs, choose wisely. Give yourself the best possible opportunity to succeed in this fascinating profession. But regardless of how you choose to receive your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will be able to assess each program and make your final decision. And with the right education you can accomplish your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Fairbanks Alaska.