How to Choose the Best Paralegal Program Near Palmer Alaska
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Palmer AK and start your journey that will lead to a gratifying career in legal services. Nevertheless, it's essential that you find the best school so that you will receive the extensive training that you require to succeed. As you most likely understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of academic choices are being offered, both on campus and online. But with numerous options to choose from, where does one begin? Many potential students begin by looking for schools within driving distance of their Palmer homes. Of those alternatives, they try to find the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are necessary considerations when choosing a college, they are not the only qualifiers you ought to consider. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the school must be considered also. Later in this article we will review a list of concerns that you should ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare every one prior to making your choice. But first, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the instructional choices that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals for the most part both fill the same job roles and functions, only with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and belong to a separate job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Palmer AK attorneys 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 practice where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm may assist with the logistics of a trial or transferring documents to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is usually billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And the same as attorneys, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and adhere to a strict standard of professional ethics. As stated, their duties can be diverse in support of the firms where they work, but some of their routine tasks may include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching pertinent laws and cases
- Preparing correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting attorneys prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal files, documents and other records
With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be involved and quite challenging. 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 confined to clerical or administrative duties more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the main support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys are able to handle a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could alone.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the academic prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The quickest means to start your career as a legal assistant in Palmer AK is by obtaining a certificate, which can involve as little as 6 months to complete. Most entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which offer a more comprehensive education and can be earned at many community colleges in 2 years. For an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are an option as well. Once you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you may want to continue and receive a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alaska to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help maximize your employment opportunities, but help establish you as a professional as well. 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 degree or certificate from an accredited school (we will address the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 crucial initial 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 available and may be a good alternative for individuals looking for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be especially appealing to Palmer AK students who continue to work while earning a certificate or degree. As an additional benefit, online schools can sometimes be less costly than on campus options. Even secondary expenses for such items as study materials or commuting can be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all online programs are accredited, which we will discuss 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 sure that the school and program you are considering are accredited by a respected agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less structured and conventional environment, then earning your degree or certificate online could be the ideal option for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Schools
Now that you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what training choices are available, you can begin the process of assessing schools. But since there are so many programs available at junior and community colleges in the Palmer AK area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you need to find out 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 also. If you are like many potential students, you will begin by searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other critical aspects to research also, including accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at some of the questions you should be asking the programs you are researching so that you can effectively vet each one and make your ultimate selection.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you enroll in need to be accredited by a highly regarded organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it might also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance education. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will receive will be of the highest quality, but it will show future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. A number of Palmer AK law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited program. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are typically available only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the School? Research what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant programs you are contemplating. This is of special importance if you are new to the profession with no prior experience, since employers will need to make a decision based on the caliber of your education exclusively. Checking that the program you select is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating services, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call a few Palmer AK law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask which 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 Sponsor Internships? Internship programs offer students an opportunity to experience working in a law office or other legal enterprise while attending school. They can also offer a means for students to start creating contacts within the Palmer AK legal community. Find out if the paralegal programs you are considering offer internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance provided? You will probably want to secure employment quickly after graduation, but finding that initial job in a new field can be challenging without support. Ask if the paralegal programs you are reviewing have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good sign that the schools have large networks and great relationships with Alaska legal services employers. It also substantiates that their graduates are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the School Located? Considering that laws differ among states, it may be advantageous to enroll in a paralegal school located in Alaska or the state where you want to practice after graduating. Also, it will be important to build relationships in the area legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is even more reason to acquire your education in the area where you desire to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many 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 Palmer AK region.
What is the Complete Expense? Paralegal programs can differ in cost based on the credential obtained and the amount of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only expense for your training. Don't forget to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid might be accessible to help offset some of the expense, so be sure to consult with the school's financial aid office to find out what is available in Palmer AK. Of course if you decide to attend an online program, some of these supplementary costs, for instance for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Fit your Schedule? A number of paralegal students keep working while receiving their training and must have flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend weekend or evening classes near Palmer 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 select provides that option. Finally, inquire what the procedure is for making up classes missed due to work, illness or family obligations.
Choose the Right Palmer Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Selecting the ideal paralegal degree school is a vital first step toward your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have addressed in this post, you have the option of attending classes on-campus or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Palmer home. Paralegal academic programs are offered in various lengths and formats. Various types of public and private institutions offer paralegal training, including junior and community colleges, four year universities and colleges, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a profound influence on your prospects for success in your new profession. Since there is a broad range in the quality of programs, pick wisely. Give yourself the greatest possible opportunity to succeed in this fascinating profession. But irrespective of how you decide to receive your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to examine each school and make your final decision. And with the appropriate education you can realize your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Palmer Alaska.