How to Choose the Best Paralegal Course Near Fairbanks Alaska
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Fairbanks AK and begin your journey that will result in a satisfying profession in legal services. However, it's crucial that you locate the ideal school so that you will get 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 a growing number of educational alternatives are being offered, both at school and online. But with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? A number of prospective students begin by looking for schools within driving distance of their Fairbanks homes. Of those choices, they search for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are very important considerations when choosing a college, they are not the only factors you ought to take into consideration. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the program ought to be considered too. Later on in this post we will cover a list of concerns that you must ask potential paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare each one prior to making your decision. But first, let's take a look at what a paralegal does and the academic choices that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants essentially both hold comparable job positions and functions, only with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and are part of a separate job classification. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Fairbanks AK lawyers with a wide range of job functions, such as legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job duties 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 the logistics of a trial or transferring documents to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is typically billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And just like attorneys, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and comply with a strict code of professional ethics. As noted, their responsibilities can be diverse in support of the firms where they are employed, but a few of their routine activities can involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching applicable laws and cases
- Preparing correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping attorneys prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal documents, files and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be complicated and rather demanding. However, what they are not legally allowed to do is give legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not restricted to clerical or administrative functions more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the right hand support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys are able to take on a much larger number of clients or cases than they could alone.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the academic requirements and job prospects will be the same. The fastest way to launch your career as a legal assistant in Fairbanks AK is by earning a certificate, which can take just 6 months to accomplish. Most entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which provide a more expansive education and may be earned at numerous community colleges in 2 years. For an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are available as well. Once you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you might choose to continue and get a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alaska to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help maximize your job opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. Some of the highly respected certifying agencies 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 certificate or degree from an accredited school (we will address the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two important initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Classes
Legal assistant and paralegal online programs have become more available and can be an excellent alternative for students searching for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be particularly attractive to Fairbanks AK students who keep working while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an additional benefit, online schools can sometimes be less costly than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenditures for such things as study materials or commuting may be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will cover in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the education you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the school and program you are looking into are accredited by a highly regarded agency, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to attend classes in a less structured and formal setting, then earning your degree or certificate online may be the ideal choice for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Programs
Now that you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what training choices are offered, you can begin the process of evaluating schools. But because there are so many programs available at community and junior colleges in the Fairbanks AK area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you must find out what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is especially true if you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. If you are like most prospective students, you will begin by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other critical aspects to consider 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 programs you are researching so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your final decision.
Is the Paralegal School and Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you pick need to be accredited by a respected organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it may also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets online or distance training. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will obtain will be of the highest standard, but it will show potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. A number of Fairbanks AK law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited program. Finally, financial aid and student loans are typically offered only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Learn what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant schools you are contemplating. This is of specific importance if you are entering the profession with no previous work history, since employers will have to make a decision based on the quality of your training exclusively. Checking that the school you choose is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating services, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also call some Fairbanks AK law firms that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask what schools they suggest. Remember that even if a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an excellent reputation.
Does the Program Offer Internships? Internship programs give students an opportunity to experience working in a law practice or other legal establishment while still in school. They can also present an avenue for students to start developing contacts within the Fairbanks AK legal field. Ask if the paralegal programs 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 provided? You will most likely wish to secure employment quickly after graduation, but getting that initial job in a new field can be challenging without assistance. Find out if the paralegal programs you are reviewing have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent 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's Location? Because laws vary among states, it may be a good idea to enroll in a paralegal school located in Alaska or the state where you wish to work after graduation. In addition, it will be necessary to create relationships in the local legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is even more reason to acquire your education in the area where you choose to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most charge an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may want to initially consider those colleges that are within the Fairbanks AK area.
How Much is the Total Cost? Paralegal programs can vary in cost based on the credential obtained and the length of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only cost for your training. Don't forget to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance may be obtainable to help reduce part of the cost, so don't forget to consult with the school's financial aid office to see what is offered in Fairbanks AK. Of course if you decide to attend an online school, some of these added costs, for instance for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Match your Schedule? A number of legal students keep working while getting their training and require flexibility in class scheduling. If you can only attend weekend or evening classes near Fairbanks AK, make sure classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make certain that the school you select makes available that option. Last, ask what the process is for making-up classes missed due to sickness, work or family obligations.
Choose the Best Fairbanks Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Choosing the best legal assistant certificate school is a crucial first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have addressed in this post, you have the choice of attending classes on-campus or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Fairbanks residence. Paralegal education programs are offered in numerous formats and lengths. Different kinds of public and private institutions provide paralegal education, including junior and community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a pronounced impact on your prospects for success in your new profession. Given that there is a wide range in the quality of programs, choose wisely. Give yourself the best possible opportunity to be successful in this fascinating profession. But irrespective of how you choose to receive 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 ideal education you can achieve your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Fairbanks Alaska.