How to Find the Right Paralegal Studies Program Near Sitka Alaska
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Sitka AK and begin your journey that will lead to a satisfying career in legal services. However, it's essential that you locate the right school so that you will receive the extensive training that you require to succeed. As you most likely know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more educational options are being offered, both on campus and online. But with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Some potential students start by looking for schools within commuting range of their Sitka homes. Of those choices, they look for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are important considerations when choosing a college, they are not the only qualifiers you need to take into consideration. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the school must be taken into account as well. Later in this article we will cover a list of concerns that you ought to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare every one before making your selection. 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 for the most part both hold comparable job roles 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 classification. Both legal assistants and paralegals help Sitka AK lawyers with a wide range of job duties, including legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job duties are relevant to the type of practice where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice might assist with trial logistics or transporting files to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is typically billed hourly as are the attorney's. And the same as attorneys, they must carry out their duties with a high level of professionalism and follow a strict code of professional ethics. As mentioned, their duties can be diverse in support of the firms where they are employed, but a few of their day-to-day activities might involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on relevant laws and cases
- Drafting correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping attorneys prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be complex and rather demanding. However, what they are not legally authorized to do is offer legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not restricted to administrative or clerical tasks more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the right hand support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys have the ability to take on a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the educational prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The quickest means to begin your career as a paralegal in Sitka AK is by earning a certificate, which can involve as little as 6 months to complete. Many entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which provide a more extensive education and can be acquired at numerous community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are offered also. Once you have earned 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 practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help increase your career opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. Some of the highly respected certifying agencies 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 degree or certificate from an accredited program (we will cover the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two crucial initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Schools
Legal assistant and paralegal online programs have become more popular and can be a good alternative for individuals searching for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online programs can be particularly attractive to Sitka AK students who keep working while earning a certificate or degree. As an added advantage, online classes can in some cases be less costly than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenditures for such things as commuting or study materials can be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all online schools are accredited, which we will address in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the education you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the school and program you are reviewing are accredited by a reputable organization, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less supervised and conventional setting, then obtaining your certificate or degree online might be the right choice for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Certificate or Degree Programs
Once you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what academic choices are available, you can begin the process of evaluating schools. But considering that there are numerous programs available at community and junior colleges in the Sitka AK area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you must find out what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is especially true when you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like most potential students, you will begin by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other significant factors to think about also, 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 properly vet each one and make your final decision.
Is the Paralegal Training Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you select need to be accredited by a highly regarded organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it may also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance training. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will receive will be of the highest quality, but it will establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Numerous Sitka AK law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited school. Also, financial aid and student loans are typically available only for accredited schools.
What's the Program's Reputation? Research what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal schools you are looking at. This is of specific importance if you are new to the field with no previous experience, since employers will have to make a decision based on the caliber of your training exclusively. Confirming that the program you select is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating services, such as those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call some Sitka AK law practices that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask what schools they suggest. Bear in mind that even though a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs provide students a chance to experience working in a law practice or other legal establishment while attending school. They can also offer a pathway for students to start developing contacts within the Sitka AK legal field. Ask if the paralegal schools you are assessing offer internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance provided? You will most likely wish to hit the ground running after graduating, but finding that first job in a new profession can be difficult without assistance. Ask if the paralegal schools you are considering have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good indication that the schools have large networks and good relationships with Alaska legal services employers. It also corroborates that their students are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the School's Location? Considering that laws differ among states, it might be beneficial to choose a paralegal school located in Alaska or the state where you want to work after graduating. In addition, it will be important to build 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 desire to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most charge an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might wish to initially investigate those schools that are within the Sitka AK region.
What is the Total Cost? Paralegal programs can vary in cost based on the credential earned and the amount of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only cost for your training. Remember to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance may be available to help minimize some of the expense, so make sure to talk to the school's financial aid office to see what is offered in Sitka AK. Of course if you choose to attend an online program, some of these added expenses, for instance for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? Many legal students keep working while obtaining their training and need flexibility in class scheduling. If you can just attend weekend or evening classes near Sitka AK, verify classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make sure that the program you enroll in provides that option. Finally, find out what the protocol is for making up missed classes as a result of work, illness or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Right Sitka Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Enrolling in the best paralegal certificate school is a crucial first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying 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 privacy and comfort of your Sitka residence. Paralegal training programs are offered in various formats and lengths. Different kinds of private and public institutions make available paralegal education, including community colleges, four year colleges and universities, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a pronounced impact on your prospects for success in your new profession. Since there is a broad range in the quality of schools, pick wisely. Give yourself the best possible opportunity to succeed in this exciting profession. But regardless of how you choose to obtain your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have presented you will have the ability to evaluate each school and make your final decision. And with the appropriate education you can accomplish your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Sitka Alaska.