How to Choose the Best Paralegal Studies Certificate Program Near Sterling Alaska
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Sterling AK and begin your journey that will result in a satisfying profession in legal services. However, it's crucial that you find the ideal school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you need to be successful. As you probably understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of educational choices are being offered, both at school and online. But with so many options to choose from, where does one begin? A number of prospective students start by searching for schools within driving distance of their Sterling homes. Of those alternatives, they try to find the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are very important considerations when choosing a college, they are not the only factors you should take into consideration. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the program ought to be taken into account too. Later in this article we will cover a list of questions that you should ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare each one before making your selection. But before we do, let's take a look at what a paralegal does and the educational choices that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals essentially both hold the same job positions 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 classification. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Sterling AK attorneys with a diverse array of job duties, such as 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 work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm may assist with the logistics of a trial or transporting documents to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is typically billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And just like lawyers, they must carry out their duties with a high degree of professionalism and follow a strict code of professional ethics. As mentioned, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they are employed, but some of their everyday tasks might include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on relevant laws and cases
- Drafting correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping lawyers get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be complicated and rather challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally allowed to do is offer legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not confined to administrative or clerical functions more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the main support systems for lawyers. And since 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 otherwise.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The quickest means to start your career as a paralegal in Sterling AK is by obtaining a certificate, which can require as little as 6 months to accomplish. A large number of entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more comprehensive education and can be earned at many community colleges in two years. For an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are offered also. Once you have acquired either a certificate or degree, you may want to continue and receive a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alaska to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help increase your employment opportunities, but help establish you as a professional as well. A few of the highly respected certifying organizations 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 certificate or degree from an accredited program (we will cover the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 important initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Programs
Online legal assistant or paralegal schools have become more common and can be a good option for those looking for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be particularly appealing to Sterling AK students who keep working while earning a degree. As an added benefit, online classes can in some cases be less costly than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenses for such items as study materials or commuting may be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all online programs are accredited, which we will address in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the education 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 highly regarded agency, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less structured and formal setting, then obtaining your certificate or degree online could be the ideal choice for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Studies Programs
Now that you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what academic options are available, you can start the process of assessing schools. But considering that there are numerous programs offered at community and junior colleges in the Sterling AK area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you need to 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 as well. If you are like the majority of potential 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 crucial issues to research also, including the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's take a look at several of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are investigating so that you can effectively vet each one and make your final decision.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you enroll in need to be accredited by a reputable organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it can also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets distance or online training. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will receive will be of the highest quality, but it will demonstrate to future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. A number of Sterling AK law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited school. Also, financial aid and student loans are typically accessible only for accredited schools.
What's the Program's Reputation? Research what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal programs you are considering. 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. Verifying that the school you select is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating reports, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact a few Sterling AK law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask what schools they recommend. Keep in mind that even when a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the Program Sponsor Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law firm or other legal operation while still in school. They can also present a pathway for students to begin creating contacts within the Sterling AK legal community. Find out if the paralegal programs you are evaluating offer internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help provided? You will undoubtedly wish to secure employment quickly after graduation, but getting that first job in a new profession can be challenging without help. 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 an excellent sign that the schools have sizable networks and great relationships with Alaska legal services employers. It also corroborates that their graduates are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the Campus Located? Since laws differ among states, it may be advantageous to enroll in a legal assistant school domiciled in Alaska or the state where you plan to work after graduation. Also, it will be valuable to develop relationships in the area legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is even more reason to acquire your education in the community where you want to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most require an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may wish to first consider those colleges that are within the Sterling AK region.
How Much is the Total Cost? Paralegal schools can differ in cost depending on the credential earned and the length of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expense for your education. Don't forget to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial assistance might be available to help reduce part of the expense, so make sure to talk to the school's financial aid office to find out what is available in Sterling AK. Needless to say that if you opt to attend an online school, some of these supplementary costs, for instance for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? Many legal students keep working while getting their training and must have flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend weekend or evening classes near Sterling AK, verify classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make certain that the school you choose offers that option. Finally, find out what the procedure is for making-up classes missed due to sickness, work or family emergencies.
Choose the Right Sterling Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Choosing the right paralegal certificate program 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 Sterling residence. Paralegal education programs are made available in various formats and lengths. Several types of private and public institutions offer paralegal education, including community colleges, four year colleges and universities, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a profound influence on your prospects for success in your new career. Considering that there is a wide range in the quality of schools, pick wisely. Afford yourself the greatest possible chance to succeed in this fascinating profession. But regardless of how you decide to acquire your education 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 ultimate selection. And with the ideal education you can realize your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Sterling Alaska.