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Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals essentially both fill the same job positions and functions, just with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and are part of a separate job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Alaska lawyers with a diverse array of job duties, such as 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. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice might assist with the logistics of a trial or delivering documents to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is usually billed hourly as are the attorney's. And the same as lawyers, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and adhere to a strict code of professional ethics. As noted, their responsibilities can be varied in support of the practices where they work, but a few of their regular activities might include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on related cases and laws
- Preparing correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting attorneys prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be complicated and rather demanding. On the other hand, what they are not legally allowed to do is give legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not limited to clerical or administrative tasks more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the main support systems for attorneys. And since they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers are able to manage a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could otherwise.
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. As a result, for either position the academic requirements and job prospects will be the same. The quickest means to begin your career as a legal assistant in Alaska is by obtaining a certificate, which may take as little as six months to accomplish. Many entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which provide a more expansive education and can be earned at many community colleges in two years. For an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are offered also. Once you have earned either a certificate or degree, you may want to proceed and receive a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alaska to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help maximize your employment opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. Some 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 program (we will cover the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 essential initial steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Schools
Legal assistant and paralegal online schools have become more prevalent and can be a good alternative for those looking for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be especially attractive to Alaska students who continue to work while obtaining a degree. As an added benefit, online schools can in some cases be less costly than on campus options. Even secondary expenditures for such things as commuting or study materials can be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will address in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the education you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the school and program you are looking into are accredited by a reputable organization, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less supervised and formal setting, then obtaining your degree or certificate online could be the ideal choice for you.