How to Enroll in the Best Paralegal Studies Certificate Program Near Gateway Alaska
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Gateway AK and begin your journey that will result in a satisfying career in legal services. Nevertheless, it's essential that you find the ideal school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you require to succeed. As you probably understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of academic choices are becoming available, both on campus and online. But with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one start? Some prospective students start by trying to find schools within commuting range of their Gateway residences. Of those alternatives, they try to find the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are important considerations when picking a school, they are not the only factors you need to take into consideration. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the program must be considered as well. Later on in this post we will review a list of questions that you ought to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare each one before making your decision. But first, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic options that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals basically both fill the same 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 different job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Gateway AK lawyers with a wide variety of job functions, including legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job functions are relevant to the type of practice where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice could help with trial logistics or delivering documents to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is normally billed by the hour as are the lawyer's. And the same as attorneys, they must perform with a high level of professionalism and comply with a strict code of professional ethics. As stated, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they work, but a few of their everyday activities may involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on applicable cases and laws
- Preparing correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping lawyers prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be involved and rather demanding. On the other hand, what they are not legally allowed to do is give legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not confined to clerical or administrative duties more apropos 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 ground work and preparation, lawyers have the ability to manage a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could on their own.
Paralegal Certificates and Degrees and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the educational requirements and job prospects will be the same. The fastest way to start your career as a legal assistant in Gateway AK is by earning a certificate, which may involve just six months to accomplish. Many entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more comprehensive education and may be acquired at numerous community colleges in 2 years. For an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are an option also. Once you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you may want to continue and get a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alaska to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help maximize your job opportunities, but help establish you as a professional as well. Some 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 certificate or degree from an accredited program (we will discuss the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 important initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Programs
Online legal assistant or paralegal programs have become more common and may be a good alternative for individuals looking for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online schools can be particularly appealing to Gateway AK students who keep working while earning a degree. As an added advantage, online schools can often be less expensive than more traditional options. Even secondary expenses for such things as study materials or commuting may be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all online programs are accredited, which we will discuss in greater detail later. But at the very least 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 considering are accredited by a reputable agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to attend classes in a less structured and formal environment, then obtaining your certificate or degree online might be the right choice for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Since you now you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what training choices are offered, you can begin the process of evaluating schools. But since there are numerous programs available at community and junior colleges in the Gateway 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 include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like most prospective students, you will begin by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other crucial issues to consider as well, such as accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's go over some of the questions you should be asking the schools you are researching so that you can effectively vet each one and make your ultimate selection.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you choose should be accredited by a respected accrediting agency 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 targets distance or online training. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will get will be of the highest quality, but it will establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Numerous Gateway AK law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited school. Also, financial aid and student loans are typically available only for accredited schools.
What's the School's Reputation? Learn what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal schools you are looking at. This is of special importance if you are new to the profession with no previous experience, since employers will need to rely on the quality of your training exclusively. Verifying that the program you choose is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating services, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact several Gateway AK law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask which schools they recommend. Keep in mind that even when a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an excellent reputation.
Does the Program Offer Internships? Internship programs provide students an opportunity to experience working in a law practice or other legal enterprise while attending school. They can also offer a pathway for students to start creating contacts within the Gateway AK legal field. Ask if the paralegal programs you are considering provide internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help offered? You will most likely want to hit the ground running after graduation, but finding that initial job in a new field can be challenging without support. Find out if the paralegal schools you are considering have job placement 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 corroborates that their graduates are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the School Located? Because laws differ from one state to another, it might be a good idea to enroll in a legal assistant school located in Alaska or the state where you plan to work after graduation. Also, it will be necessary to develop relationships in the local legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is even more reason to obtain your education in the community where you desire to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many require an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might need to initially look at those schools that are within the Gateway AK area.
How Much is the Entire Cost? Paralegal programs can differ in cost based on the credential obtained and the length of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expense for your training. Remember to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial assistance might be available to help reduce some of the expense, so don't forget to consult with the school's financial aid office to see what is available in Gateway AK. Needless to say that if you opt to attend an online school, some of these added costs, for instance for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? A number of legal students continue working while receiving their training and require flexibility in class scheduling. If you can just attend weekend or evening classes near Gateway AK, verify classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, confirm that the program you select makes available that option. Last, find out what the protocol is for making up missed classes due to work, illness or family obligations.
Choose the Best Gateway Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Choosing the ideal legal assistant certificate school is a crucial first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have addressed in this post, you have the option 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 formats and lengths. Different kinds of private and public institutions make available paralegal training, including community colleges, four year universities and colleges, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a profound influence on your opportunities for success in your new career. Given that there is a broad range in the quality of programs, choose carefully. Afford yourself the greatest possible chance to succeed in this exciting profession. But no matter how you elect to obtain your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have provided you will have the ability to review each school and make your final decision. And with the right education you can realize your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Gateway Alaska.