How to Select the Best Paralegal Program Near Juneau Alaska
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Juneau AK and start your journey that will lead to a satisfying career in legal services. However, it's crucial that you locate the ideal school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you need to achieve success. As you probably understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of educational options are being offered, both on campus and online. However with numerous options to choose from, where does one begin? Many prospective students start by looking for schools within commuting distance of their Juneau homes. Of those choices, 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 should consider. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the program should be taken into account also. 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 every one before making your decision. But first, let's take a look at what a paralegal does and the academic options that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals basically both hold comparable job positions and responsibilities, just with different titles. However, 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 assist Juneau AK attorneys with a wide variety of job duties, including legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job duties are relevant to the type of legal firm where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm may help with trial logistics or delivering documents to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is typically billed hourly as are the attorney'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 noted, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they are employed, but some of their regular activities might involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on relevant cases and laws
- Preparing correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping attorneys prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be complex and very demanding. However, what they are not legally permitted to do is offer legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not limited to clerical or administrative functions more apropos 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 preparation and ground work, lawyers are able to manage a much larger number of clients or cases than they could alone.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the academic prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The quickest means to begin your career as a paralegal in Juneau AK is by earning a certificate, which may involve as little as six months to complete. A large number of entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which provide a more expansive education and may be earned at numerous community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are available as well. Once you have acquired either a certificate or degree, you may want to proceed and earn a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alaska to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help increase your job opportunities, but help establish you as a professional as well. A few 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 address the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 important first steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Training
Legal assistant and paralegal online programs have become more prevalent and may be an excellent alternative for individuals looking for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be especially attractive to Juneau AK students who keep working while obtaining a degree. As an additional benefit, online schools can in some cases be less expensive than on campus options. Even ancillary expenditures for such things as study materials or commuting may be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all online programs are accredited, which we will address in greater detail later. But at a minimum 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 thinking about are accredited by a respected agency, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less supervised and formal environment, then earning your degree or certificate online may be the right choice for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Schools
Since you now you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what educational options are available, you can start the undertaking of assessing schools. But considering that there are so many programs available at community and junior colleges in the Juneau AK area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you need to learn what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is especially true if you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like many potential students, you will start by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other crucial aspects to consider as well, for instance accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at some of the questions you should be asking the schools you are researching so that you can properly vet each one and make your final selection.
Is the Paralegal School and Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you choose should be accredited by a highly regarded accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it can also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance education. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will receive will be of the highest quality, but it will demonstrate to future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Many Juneau AK law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited school. Finally, financial aid and student loans are often offered only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Investigate what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal schools you are contemplating. This is of specific importance if you are new to the field with no prior work history, since employers will have to rely on the caliber of your education exclusively. Confirming that the school you pick is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating services, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact a few Juneau AK law practices that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask what schools they recommend. Keep in mind that even if a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the Program Offer Internships? Internship programs offer students an opportunity to experience working in a law office or other legal establishment while remaining in school. They can also present an avenue for students to begin creating contacts within the Juneau AK legal community. Find out if the paralegal programs you are evaluating provide internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance offered? You will probably want to hit the ground running after graduating, but getting that first job in a new field can be challenging without support. Ask if the paralegal programs you are considering have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have substantial networks and good relationships with Alaska legal services employers. It also corroborates that their students are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the Campus Located? Considering that laws vary 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 practice after graduating. Also, it will be important to build relationships in the local legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is all the more reason to acquire your education in the area where you desire 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 want to initially look at those schools that are within the Juneau AK area.
What is the Complete Expense? Paralegal schools can vary in price based on the credential received and the amount of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only cost for your training. Don't forget to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid might be obtainable to help offset part of the cost, so be sure to consult with the school's financial aid office to see what is offered in Juneau AK. Needless to say that if you choose to attend an online school, a portion these additional costs, such as for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? Many legal students continue working while obtaining their training and require flexibility to schedule classes. If you can solely attend weekend or evening classes near Juneau AK, verify classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make sure that the school you choose makes available that option. Finally, find out what the procedure is for making-up classes missed because of sickness, work or family emergencies.
Choose the Best Juneau Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Choosing the right paralegal studies training program is a crucial first step toward your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have discussed in this article, you have the choice of attending classes on campus or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Juneau home. Paralegal education programs are provided in many formats and lengths. Several types of public and private institutions offer 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 profound influence on your prospects for success in your new profession. Since there is a wide range in the quality of programs, pick wisely. Give yourself the greatest possible chance to be successful in this exciting profession. But irrespective of how you choose to acquire your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will have the ability to assess each school and make your ultimate selection. And with the ideal education you can realize your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Juneau Alaska.