How to Enroll in the Right Paralegal Studies Degree 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 rewarding 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 know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of educational choices are being offered, both on campus and online. However with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Some prospective students begin by searching for schools within commuting range of their Gateway homes. Of those alternatives, they look for the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are important considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only factors you must take into consideration. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the school need to be taken into consideration as well. Later in this post we will cover a list of questions that you should ask potential paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare every one prior to making your choice. But first, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the instructional alternatives that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals essentially both hold comparable job roles and responsibilities, only 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 assist Gateway AK attorneys with a diverse array of job duties, such as maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job duties are relevant to the type of legal firm where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice could assist with trial logistics or delivering documents to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is typically billed by the hour as are the lawyer's. And the same as attorneys, they must carry out their duties with a high degree of professionalism and comply with a strict code of professional ethics. As noted, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they are employed, but a few of their routine activities might include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on pertinent cases and laws
- Preparing correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping attorneys prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal documents, files and other records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be complex and very challenging. However, what they are not legally allowed to do is offer legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not confined to clerical or administrative tasks more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly 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 take on a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could alone.
Paralegal Programs 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 requirements and job prospects will be the same. The quickest means to launch your career as a paralegal in Gateway AK is by earning a certificate, which may require just six months to accomplish. Many entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which provide a more comprehensive education and may be acquired at numerous community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are offered as well. After you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you may want to proceed and receive a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alaska to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help increase your job opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. Some of the highly respected certifying agencies 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 address the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 essential initial steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Schools
Legal assistant and paralegal online programs have become more popular and may be an excellent alternative for students searching for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be especially attractive to Gateway AK students who continue to work while obtaining a degree. As an added advantage, online schools can in some cases be less expensive than more traditional options. Even secondary expenses for such things as study materials or commuting may be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will address in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the training you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the school and program you are thinking about are accredited by a reputable agency, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to attend classes in a less supervised and conventional setting, then obtaining your degree or certificate online might be the right choice for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Certificate or Degree Programs
Now that you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what training options are offered, you can begin the undertaking of assessing schools. But considering that there are numerous programs accessible at junior and community colleges in the Gateway AK area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you must learn what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is particularly true if you add all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like many prospective students, you will start by searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other important aspects to consider also, including accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at some of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are researching so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your ultimate decision.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you enroll in should be accredited by a respected accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it can also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance training. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will obtain will be of the highest quality, but it will show potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Numerous 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 obtainable only for accredited programs.
What's the Program's Reputation? Find out what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant schools you are considering. This is of specific importance if you are entering the field with no prior experience, since employers will need to rely on the caliber of your education exclusively. Confirming that the program you select is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating services, such as those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact some Gateway AK law firms that you may be interested 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 exceptional reputation.
Does the School Provide Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal operation while still in school. They can also present a means for students to start creating contacts within the Gateway AK legal field. Find out if the paralegal programs you are assessing offer internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance offered? You will probably want to hit the ground running after graduation, but finding that initial job in a new profession can be difficult without help. Ask if the paralegal schools you are considering have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good indication that the schools have large networks and good relationships with Alaska legal services employers. It also corroborates that their graduates are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the Campus Located? Since laws differ from one state to another, it may be beneficial to choose a legal assistant school located in Alaska or the state where you wish to practice after graduating. Also, it will be valuable to build relationships in the neighboring legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is all the more reason to obtain your education in the area where you want to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most charge an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might want to initially investigate those schools that are within the Gateway AK region.
What is the Total Expense? Paralegal schools can vary in price depending on the credential obtained and the length of training furnished. 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 obtainable to help minimize some of the cost, so make sure to contact the school's financial aid office to find out what is offered in Gateway AK. Needless to say that if you choose to attend an online school, a portion these added expenses, for instance for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? Many legal students continue working while getting their training and require flexibility in class scheduling. If you can solely 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, make sure that the program you select provides that option. Finally, ask what the protocol is for making up missed classes because of work, illness or family emergencies.
Choose the Right Gateway Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Choosing the best paralegal studies training program is an important first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have addressed in this article, you have the option of attending classes on campus or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Gateway residence. Paralegal training programs are made available in numerous lengths and formats. Various types of public and private institutions make available paralegal training, including junior and community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a profound influence on your prospects for success in your new profession. Considering that there is a broad range in the quality of programs, choose carefully. Afford yourself the best possible chance to succeed in this fascinating profession. But no matter 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 review each program and make your ultimate selection. And with the right training you can accomplish your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Gateway Alaska.