How to Select the Right Paralegal Studies Certificate or Degree Program Near Sitka Alaska
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Sitka AK and start your journey that will lead to a satisfying profession in legal services. However, it's essential that you locate the ideal school so that you will receive the extensive 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 more and more academic alternatives are being offered, both on campus and online. However with numerous options to choose from, where does one begin? Some prospective students start by searching for schools within driving range of their Sitka homes. Of those options, they try to find the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are very important considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only factors you need to take into consideration. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the school need to be taken into consideration as well. Later on in this article we will cover a list of questions that you should ask potential paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare every one before making your selection. But first, let's have 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 for the most part both hold comparable job roles and responsibilities, 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 Sitka AK lawyers with a wide range of job duties, such as 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. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm may assist with the logistics of a trial or delivering files to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is normally billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And just like attorneys, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and follow a strict code of professional ethics. As stated, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they work, but some of their routine activities might involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching applicable cases and laws
- Composing correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting lawyers prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal documents, files and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be involved and rather demanding. However, what they are not legally allowed 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 tasks 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, attorneys are able to manage a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could alone.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The quickest means to launch your career as a legal assistant in Sitka AK is by earning a certificate, which may involve as little as 6 months to accomplish. A large number of entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which offer a more comprehensive education and can be earned at numerous community colleges in 2 years. For an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are offered as well. When you have earned either a degree or a certificate, you might choose to proceed and obtain a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alaska to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help maximize your career opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. 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 program (we will discuss the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two essential first steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Programs
Legal assistant and paralegal online schools have become more prevalent and may be a good option for students looking for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online schools can be especially attractive to Sitka AK students who keep working while earning a degree. As an added benefit, online classes can often be less costly than more traditional options. Even supplementary expenditures for such things as commuting or study materials can be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will cover in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the training you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the school and program you are considering are accredited by a reputable agency, such as 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 might be the right choice for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Schools
Since you now you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what training options are offered, you can start the undertaking of evaluating schools. But since there are so many programs accessible at community and junior colleges in the Sitka AK area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you must learn what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is particularly true if you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like the majority of prospective students, you will begin by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other significant factors to research as well, such as accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's go over a few of the questions you should be asking the programs you are researching so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your final choice.
Is the Paralegal School and Program Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you pick should be accredited by a respected organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it might also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets online or distance education. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will obtain will be of the highest standard, but it will demonstrate to potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Many Sitka AK law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited school. Finally, financial aid and student loans are often accessible only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the School? Investigate what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant programs you are contemplating. This is of specific importance if you are entering the field with no previous work history, since employers will have to rely on the caliber of your education exclusively. Checking that the program you choose is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating reports, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also call several Sitka AK law practices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask what schools they suggest. Bear in mind that even when a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the Program Sponsor Internships? Internship programs offer students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal operation while still in school. They can also offer an avenue for students to begin creating contacts within the Sitka AK legal community. Ask if the paralegal schools you are considering offer internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help provided? You will undoubtedly want to secure employment quickly after graduating, but finding that initial job in a new profession can be challenging without assistance. Find out if the paralegal programs you are reviewing have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good indication that the schools have substantial networks and great relationships with Alaska legal services employers. It also corroborates that their students are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the School's Location? Because laws vary from one state to another, it may be a good idea to select a legal assistant school domiciled in Alaska or the state where you wish to practice after graduation. In addition, it will be necessary to establish relationships in the area legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is all the more reason to obtain your education in the area where you desire to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many require an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might need to first investigate those colleges that are within the Sitka AK region.
What is the Entire Cost? Paralegal programs can vary in cost depending on the credential received and the length of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your training. Don't forget to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid might be accessible to help minimize some of the expense, so make sure to talk to the school's financial aid department to find out what is available in Sitka AK. Needless to say that 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 Accommodate your Schedule? Numerous legal students continue working while obtaining their training and require flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend weekend or evening classes near Sitka AK, make certain classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, confirm that the program you choose offers that option. Finally, find out what the process is for making-up classes missed as a result of work, illness or family emergencies.
Choose the Right Sitka Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Choosing the right paralegal studies certificate program is a vital first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have discussed in this post, you have the option of attending classes at school or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Sitka residence. Paralegal academic programs are made available in various formats and lengths. Various types of public and private institutions provide paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four-year colleges and universities, as well as 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 broad range in the quality of programs, choose wisely. Give yourself the greatest possible opportunity to succeed in this rewarding profession. But irrespective of how you elect to receive your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have presented you will be able to examine each program and make your final decision. And with the ideal education you can realize your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Sitka Alaska.