How to Select the Right Paralegal Studies Certificate or Degree Program Near Meadow Lakes Alaska
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Meadow Lakes AK and begin your journey that will result in a rewarding profession in legal services. However, it's essential that you find the best school so that you will receive the extensive training that you require to be successful. As you most likely know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more academic options are being offered, both on campus and online. But with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one start? Some prospective students start by looking for schools within commuting distance of their Meadow Lakes residences. Of those options, they try to find the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are very important considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only qualifiers you need to take into consideration. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the program ought to be considered too. Later on in this article we will cover a list of concerns that you must ask potential paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare every one before making your choice. But first, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the educational choices that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants for the most part both fill the same job roles and responsibilities, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and are part of a different job classification. Both legal assistants and paralegals help Meadow Lakes AK attorneys with a wide variety of job functions, such as legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job functions are based upon the type of practice where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm might assist with the logistics of a trial or delivering files to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is typically billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And just like attorneys, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and adhere to a strict standard of professional ethics. As stated, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they work, but a few of their regular activities might include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on pertinent cases and laws
- Composing correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping attorneys get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be involved and quite challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally permitted to do is offer legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not restricted to clerical or administrative duties more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the main support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys are able to take on a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Certificates and Degrees and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the academic requirements and opportunities will be the same. The fastest way to launch your career as a paralegal in Meadow Lakes AK is by obtaining a certificate, which can take just six months to complete. Many entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which offer a more extensive education and can be obtained at many community colleges in 2 years. For an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are offered as well. When you have earned either a certificate or degree, you may want to continue and obtain a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alaska to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help maximize your employment opportunities, but help establish you as a professional as well. A few of the highly regarded 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 certificate or degree from an accredited program (we will discuss the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two essential first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Programs
Legal assistant and paralegal online programs have become more common and can be an excellent alternative for those looking for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online schools can be particularly appealing to Meadow Lakes AK students who continue to work while earning a certificate or degree. As an added advantage, online schools can often be less costly than on campus options. Even secondary expenses for such things as study materials or commuting can be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will cover in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the training you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the program and school you are looking into are accredited by a reputable organization, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to attend classes in a less supervised and formal environment, then earning your certificate or degree online could be the ideal choice for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Programs
Once you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what training choices are available, you can start the process of evaluating schools. But considering that there are numerous programs accessible at junior and community colleges in the Meadow Lakes AK area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you need to know what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is particularly true when you add 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 critical factors to think about as well, such as the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's take a look at a few of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are researching so that you can effectively vet each one and make your ultimate choice.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you enroll in should be accredited by a reputable organization 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 targets distance or online learning. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will receive will be of the highest standard, but it will establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. Numerous Meadow Lakes AK law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited school. Also, financial assistance and student loans are usually accessible only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the School? Research what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant schools you are considering. This is of particular importance if you are new to the field with no previous experience, since employers will have to make a decision based on the quality of your training exclusively. Confirming that the program you select is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating services, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call several Meadow Lakes AK law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask what schools they suggest. Remember that even when a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an excellent reputation.
Does the Program Offer Internships? Internship programs give students an opportunity to experience working in a law office or other legal enterprise while attending school. They can also provide a pathway for students to begin establishing contacts within the Meadow Lakes AK legal community. Find out if the paralegal schools you are assessing provide internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help offered? You will undoubtedly wish to secure employment quickly after graduation, but getting 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 indication that the schools have substantial networks and good relationships with Alaska legal services employers. It also corroborates that their graduates are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the School's Location? Since laws vary among states, it might be beneficial 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 cultivate 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 community where you want to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many require a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might want to first consider those schools that are within the Meadow Lakes AK area.
How Much is the Complete Cost? Paralegal programs can differ in price based on the credential received and the length of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your education. Don't forget to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance may be accessible to help reduce part of the cost, so be sure to check with the school's financial aid office to see what is available in Meadow Lakes AK. Of course if you decide to attend an online school, some of these additional expenses, for instance for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Match your Schedule? Many legal students continue working while obtaining their training and require flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend night or weekend classes near Meadow Lakes AK, verify classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make sure that the school you enroll in offers that option. Finally, inquire what the process is for making up classes missed as a result of work, illness or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Right Meadow Lakes Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Choosing the best legal assistant training program is an essential first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have addressed in this post, you have the choice of attending classes on-campus or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Meadow Lakes home. Paralegal education programs are made available in various formats and lengths. Several types of private and public institutions make available paralegal training, including community colleges, four year universities and colleges, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a profound impact on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Since there is a broad range in the quality of schools, choose carefully. Afford yourself the greatest possible chance to be successful in this exciting profession. But no matter how you choose to acquire your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to assess each school and make your ultimate decision. And with the appropriate education you can accomplish your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Meadow Lakes Alaska.