How to Select the Right Paralegal Studies Training Program Near Gateway Alaska
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Gateway AK and start your journey that will result in a gratifying profession in legal services. However, it's important that you locate the best school so that you will get the extensive training that you require to succeed. As you most likely understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more academic alternatives are becoming available, both at school and online. However with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one start? Many prospective students begin by searching for schools within driving distance of their Gateway homes. Of those choices, they try to find the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are very important considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only qualifiers you need to consider. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the program ought to be considered as well. Later on in this post we will review a list of concerns that you should ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare each one prior to making your selection. But before we do, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic alternatives that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants basically both fill the same job roles 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 paralegals and legal assistants assist Gateway AK attorneys with a wide variety of job duties, including legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job duties are based upon the type of legal firm where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm could assist with the logistics of a trial or transferring files to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is typically billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And the same as lawyers, they must conduct themselves with a high degree of professionalism and abide by a strict code of professional ethics. As stated, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they are employed, but a few of their routine activities can include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on related laws and cases
- Preparing correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping lawyers prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal files, documents and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be involved and very challenging. However, what they are not legally authorized to do is give legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not limited to clerical or administrative functions more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers have the ability to handle a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could on their own.
Paralegal Certificates and Degrees and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably 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 paralegal in Gateway AK is by obtaining a certificate, which may require as little as 6 months to accomplish. Most entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more comprehensive education and can be obtained at many community colleges in two years. For an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are offered also. When you have acquired either a certificate or degree, you may choose to proceed and receive a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Alaska to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help improve your career opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. A few of the highly regarded 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 degree or certificate from an accredited school (we will address the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 crucial initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Classes
Legal assistant and paralegal online programs have become more prevalent and may be a good alternative for those looking for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be particularly appealing to Gateway AK students who keep working while earning a certificate or degree. As an added benefit, online programs can often be less expensive than on campus options. Even ancillary expenditures for such items as commuting or study materials may be minimized 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 guarantee that the training you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the school and program you are thinking about are accredited by a respected organization, 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 right option for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Degree or Certificate Programs
Once you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what training choices are offered, you can begin the process of assessing schools. But since there are so many programs available at junior and community colleges in the Gateway AK area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you must know what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is particularly true if you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. If you are like most potential students, you will start by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other important factors to think about as well, including accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at several of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are investigating so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your ultimate choice.
Is the Paralegal Training Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you pick should be accredited by a reputable accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it may also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets online or distance training. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will receive will be of the highest standard, but it will demonstrate to potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. Numerous Gateway AK law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited program. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are usually accessible only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Investigate what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant schools you are contemplating. This is of specific importance if you are entering the field with no prior work history, since employers will have to rely on the quality of your training exclusively. Confirming that the school you choose is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating reports, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also call some Gateway AK law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask what schools they suggest. Remember that even though a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the Program Sponsor Internships? Internship programs provide students a chance to experience working in a law practice or other legal operation while attending school. They can also provide a pathway for students to begin creating contacts within the Gateway AK legal field. Find out if the paralegal programs you are reviewing offer internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help available? You will undoubtedly want to hit the ground running after graduation, but finding that initial job in a new field can be difficult without support. Find out if the paralegal schools you are reviewing have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good sign that the schools have substantial networks and great relationships with Alaska legal services employers. It also substantiates that their graduates are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the Campus Located? Because laws differ among states, it may be beneficial to select a paralegal school domiciled in Alaska or the state where you plan to work after graduating. Also, it will be necessary to create relationships in the neighboring legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is all the more reason to acquire your education in the community where you want to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many charge an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might need to initially consider those schools that are within the Gateway AK area.
How Much is the Complete Expense? Paralegal programs can vary in cost based on the credential received and the length of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your training. Don't forget to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance may be accessible to help reduce some of the cost, so be sure to contact the school's financial aid department to see what is available in Gateway AK. Of course if you choose to attend an online program, a portion these additional expenses, such as for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? Numerous paralegal students continue working while obtaining their training and need flexibility in class scheduling. If you can solely attend weekend or evening classes near Gateway AK, verify classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, confirm that the program you choose provides that option. Last, inquire what the procedure is for making up missed classes due to sickness, work or family obligations.
Choose the Right Gateway Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Enrolling in the best paralegal studies training program is a vital first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have addressed in this post, you have the choice of attending classes on campus or you can attend them online in the comfort and privacy of your Gateway residence. Paralegal training programs are provided in many lengths and formats. Several types of public and private institutions provide paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four-year colleges and universities, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a pronounced influence on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Since there is a wide range in the quality of programs, choose carefully. Give yourself the greatest possible opportunity to be successful in this fascinating profession. But no matter how you elect to receive your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to evaluate each program and make your ultimate selection. And with the right education you can realize your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Gateway Alaska.