How to Enroll in the Right Paralegal Studies Program Near Palmer Alaska
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Palmer AK and start your journey that will result in a fulfilling career in legal services. Nevertheless, it's essential that you locate the right school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you require to be successful. As you probably understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more educational choices are becoming available, both at school and online. But with so many options to choose from, where does one begin? Many prospective students start by trying to find schools within driving range of their Palmer homes. Of those options, they try to find the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are important considerations when selecting a college, they are not the only qualifiers you ought to consider. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the school ought to be taken into account too. Later on in this post we will cover a list of concerns that you should ask potential paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare each one prior to making your choice. But before we do, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the educational options that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants basically both hold the same job roles and functions, only 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 legal assistants and paralegals help Palmer AK attorneys with a wide range of job functions, including maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job functions are based upon the type of legal firm where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice may assist with the logistics of a trial or transporting documents to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is typically billed hourly as are the attorney's. And just like lawyers, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and follow a strict standard of professional ethics. As stated, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they are employed, but some of their regular activities might include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on applicable cases and laws
- Preparing correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting attorneys prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be complex and quite demanding. However, what they are not legally permitted to do is give legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not restricted to clerical or administrative duties more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the main support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers have the ability to handle a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could alone.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational requirements and job prospects will be the same. The fastest way to start your career as a paralegal in Palmer AK is by obtaining a certificate, which can take just 6 months to accomplish. A large number of entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which provide a more expansive education and can be obtained at numerous community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are an option as well. When you have acquired either a degree or a certificate, you may want to proceed and obtain a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alaska to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help increase your career opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. Some of the highly regarded 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 certificate or degree from an accredited program (we will discuss the benefits 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 Courses
Online legal assistant or paralegal programs have become more prevalent and may be an excellent option for students looking for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online programs can be particularly appealing to Palmer AK students who keep working while earning a certificate or degree. As an additional advantage, online programs can in some cases be less expensive than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenses for such things as commuting or study materials can be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all online schools are accredited, which we will cover in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the training you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the school and program you are looking into are accredited by a respected agency, such as 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 might be the right option for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Studies Programs
Since you now you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what academic options are offered, you can begin the undertaking of assessing schools. But considering that there are so many programs available at junior and community colleges in the Palmer AK area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you need to find out 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 prospective students, you will begin by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other important issues to consider as well, including the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's go over several of the questions you should be asking the programs you are considering so that you can properly vet each one and make your final decision.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you select need to be accredited by a reputable organization 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 targets online or distance learning. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will receive will be of the highest standard, but it will show future employers that you are a qualified professional also. Numerous Palmer AK law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited program. Finally, financial aid and student loans are usually accessible only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Learn what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant programs you are contemplating. This is of specific importance if you are new to the field with no prior experience, since employers will have to rely on the caliber of your training exclusively. Checking that the program you select is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating reports, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call some Palmer AK law offices that you may be interested 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 outstanding reputation.
Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law firm or other legal establishment while attending school. They can also offer an avenue 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 are most interested in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance offered? You will undoubtedly want to hit the ground running after graduating, but getting that first job in a new profession can be challenging without help. Ask if the paralegal schools you are reviewing have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have large networks and good relationships with Alaska legal services employers. It also substantiates that their students are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the School Located? Because laws vary from state to state, it may be a good idea to select a legal assistant school located in Alaska or the state where you wish to work after graduation. Also, it will be important to establish relationships in the area legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is even more justification to acquire your education in the area where you wish to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most charge an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may need to first investigate those schools that are within the Palmer AK area.
What is the Total Cost? Paralegal programs can vary in cost based on the credential obtained and the length of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only cost for your education. Don't forget to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance may be accessible to help minimize some of the expense, so be sure to contact the school's financial aid office to find out what is available in Palmer AK. Of course if you choose to attend an online program, some of these supplementary expenses, for instance for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Match your Schedule? A number of legal students continue working while getting their training and need flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend night or weekend classes near Palmer AK, make certain classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make certain that the school you choose makes available that option. Finally, ask what the process is for making-up missed classes due to work, illness or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Best Palmer Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Choosing the ideal legal assistant training program is an important first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have covered in this article, you have the option of attending classes on campus or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Palmer residence. Paralegal academic programs are offered in many lengths and formats. Several types of public and private institutions make available paralegal training, including junior and community colleges, four year colleges and universities, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a pronounced impact on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Considering that there is a wide range in the quality of schools, choose wisely. Afford yourself the best possible chance to be successful in this fascinating profession. But no matter how you decide to obtain your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have presented you will be able to assess each program and make your final decision. And with the right training you can achieve your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Palmer Alaska.