How to Choose the Best Paralegal Studies School Near Gateway Alaska
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Gateway AK and begin your journey that will result in a rewarding profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's important that you locate the ideal school so that you will get the extensive training that you need to achieve success. As you most likely understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more academic options are becoming available, both at school and online. But with so many options to choose from, where does one begin? Many potential students begin by trying to find schools within commuting range of their Gateway residences. Of those choices, they look for the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are prime considerations when selecting 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 taken into consideration also. Later on in this article we will review a list of questions that you need to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare each one prior to making your selection. But first, let's take a look at what a paralegal does and the instructional alternatives that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals essentially both fill the same job roles and functions, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and belong to a separate job classification. Both legal assistants and paralegals help Gateway AK lawyers with a wide range of job duties, including legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job duties are relevant to the type of legal firm where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice could assist with trial logistics or transferring documents to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is usually billed by the hour as are the lawyer's. And the same as lawyers, they must perform with a high level of professionalism and adhere to a strict code of professional ethics. As stated, their responsibilities can be varied in support of the practices where they work, but some of their routine tasks can include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching relevant cases and laws
- Preparing correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting lawyers get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be complex and very demanding. However, what they are not legally permitted to do is provide legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not limited to clerical or administrative duties more apropos 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, attorneys have the ability to manage a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could on their own.
Paralegal Certificates and Degrees and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are actually 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 means to start your career as a legal assistant in Gateway AK is by earning a certificate, which may take as little as 6 months to complete. Many entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which offer a more comprehensive education and may be obtained at numerous community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are an option as well. Once you have acquired either a degree or a certificate, you may want to proceed and earn a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alaska to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help boost your career opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. A few of the highly respected 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 certificate or degree from an accredited program (we will address the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 important initial steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Certificates and Degrees
Online legal assistant or paralegal schools have become more popular and may be an excellent alternative for individuals looking for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be especially attractive to Gateway AK students who keep working while earning a certificate or degree. As an added advantage, online schools can sometimes be less costly than more traditional options. Even supplementary expenditures for such things as study materials or commuting can be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all online programs are accredited, which we will address in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the training you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the school and program you are thinking about are accredited by a highly regarded agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less structured and conventional environment, then earning your degree or certificate online may be the ideal option for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Degree or Certificate Programs
Once you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what educational options are available, you can start the undertaking of evaluating schools. But considering that there are so many programs accessible at junior and community colleges in the Gateway AK area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you must know what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is especially true if you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like most prospective students, you will start by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other crucial issues to research also, such as the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's go over 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 final decision.
Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you pick should be accredited by a recognized 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 targets online or distance training. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will obtain will be of the highest quality, but it will establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. Many Gateway AK law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited school. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are often offered only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Find out what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant schools you are contemplating. This is of specific importance if you are new to the profession with no previous 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. 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 several Gateway AK law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask what schools they suggest. Bear in mind that even when a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an excellent reputation.
Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law practice or other legal enterprise while still in school. They can also present an avenue for students to begin developing contacts within the Gateway AK legal community. Ask if the paralegal programs you are considering offer internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help provided? You will most likely wish to hit the ground running after graduation, but finding that first job in a new field can be difficult without support. Ask if the paralegal programs you are reviewing have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have sizable networks and good relationships with Alaska legal services employers. It also substantiates that their graduates are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the School's Location? Because laws differ from state to state, it might be a good idea to enroll in a paralegal school domiciled in Alaska or the state where you plan to practice after graduation. In addition, it will be valuable to establish relationships in the area legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is even more justification to acquire your education in the area where you wish to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most charge a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may need to initially consider those colleges that are within the Gateway AK area.
What is the Complete Cost? Paralegal schools can vary in cost depending on the credential earned and the amount of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your training. Remember to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance might be available to help minimize some of the expense, so make sure to check with the school's financial aid office to find out what is available in Gateway AK. Needless to say that if you choose to attend an online school, a portion these added expenses, such as for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Fit your Schedule? Numerous paralegal students keep working while getting their training and need flexibility in class scheduling. If you can only attend weekend or evening classes near Gateway AK, make certain classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, confirm that the school you choose offers that option. Last, find out what the procedure is for making up classes missed because of work, illness or family obligations.
Enroll in the Best Gateway Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Enrolling in the best legal assistant certificate program is a vital first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have discussed in this post, you have the choice of attending classes on-campus or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Gateway residence. Paralegal education programs are provided in various formats and lengths. Various kinds of private and public institutions offer paralegal training, including junior and community colleges, four year colleges and universities, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a profound impact on your opportunities for success in your new career. Considering that there is a wide range in the quality of schools, pick carefully. Afford yourself the best possible opportunity to be successful in this exciting profession. But irrespective of how you decide to obtain your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will be able to assess each program and make your ultimate decision. And with the appropriate training you can realize your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Gateway Alaska.