How to Choose the Best Paralegal Studies Course Near Sterling Alaska
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Sterling AK and start your journey that will lead to a rewarding career in legal services. However, it's essential that you locate the ideal school so that you will receive the extensive 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 increasingly more educational options are becoming available, both on campus and online. However with so many options to choose from, where does one begin? Some prospective students begin by trying to find schools within driving range of their Sterling residences. Of those choices, they search for the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are necessary considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only qualifiers you must take into consideration. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the program need to be taken into consideration also. Later in this article we will cover a list of concerns that you need to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare every one prior to making your decision. But first, let's take a look at what a paralegal does and the academic options that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants basically both fill the same 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 belong to a separate job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Sterling AK lawyers with a wide variety 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 practice where they are employed. 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 firms, the work of a paralegal is typically billed hourly as are the attorney's. And just like attorneys, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and abide by a strict code of professional ethics. As stated, their responsibilities can be diverse in support of the practices where they are employed, but some of their regular tasks may involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching pertinent laws and cases
- Preparing correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting attorneys prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal documents, files and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be involved and quite demanding. On the other hand, 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 limited to administrative or clerical duties more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys have the ability to take on a much larger number of cases or clients than they could alone.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the academic requirements and opportunities will be the same. The fastest way to launch your career as a legal assistant in Sterling AK is by earning a certificate, which can require as little as 6 months to complete. Many entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which provide a more extensive education and can be obtained at numerous community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are an option also. After you have earned either a certificate or degree, you might choose to proceed and get a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alaska to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help increase 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 certificate or degree from an accredited school (we will cover the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two essential initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Classes
Paralegal and legal assistant online programs have become more popular and may be a good alternative for those looking for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be particularly appealing to Sterling AK students who continue to work while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an added benefit, online schools can often be less costly than on campus options. Even secondary expenditures for such items as commuting or study materials can be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will address in greater detail later. But at a minimum 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 considering 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 conventional setting, then earning your certificate or degree online might be the right choice for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Certificate or Degree Programs
Now that you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what academic options are offered, you can start the undertaking of evaluating schools. But because there are numerous programs accessible at junior and community colleges in the Sterling AK area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you need to learn what questions to ask in order to compare 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 potential students, you will start by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other important issues to consider also, including accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at several of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are considering so that you can properly vet each one and make your final choice.
Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you select need to be accredited by a reputable accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it may also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online training. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will obtain will be of the highest standard, but it will show potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Numerous Sterling AK law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited program. Also, financial assistance and student loans are often accessible only for accredited schools.
What's the Program's Reputation? Research what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal programs you are considering. This is of special importance if you are entering 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 school you choose is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating services, including 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 Sterling AK law practices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask what schools they recommend. Bear in mind that even when a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the Program Offer Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law practice or other legal enterprise while attending school. They can also present a pathway for students to start developing contacts within the Sterling AK legal field. Ask if the paralegal schools you are evaluating provide internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance provided? You will undoubtedly wish to hit the ground running after graduating, but getting that initial job in a new profession can be difficult without support. Find out if the paralegal programs you are considering have job placement programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have large networks and great relationships with Alaska legal services employers. It also corroborates that their students are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the School's Location? Considering that laws vary from state to state, it may be beneficial to select a legal assistant school domiciled in Alaska or the state where you want to work after graduating. In addition, it will be important to cultivate relationships in the neighboring legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is all the more justification to acquire your education in the community where you wish to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most require an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might wish to initially look at those schools that are within the Sterling AK area.
How Much is the Entire Expense? Paralegal schools can vary in cost based on the credential received and the amount of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only cost for your education. Remember to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance might be obtainable to help reduce some of the expense, so be sure to contact the school's financial aid department to find out what is offered in Sterling AK. Naturally if you opt to attend an online program, a portion these additional costs, for instance for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Fit your Schedule? Many paralegal students keep working while getting their training and require flexibility in class scheduling. If you can just attend weekend or evening classes near Sterling AK, make sure classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, confirm that the school you select makes available that option. Last, find out what the procedure is for making-up classes missed as a result of work, illness or family obligations.
Enroll in the Right Sterling Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Selecting the best paralegal studies degree school is a crucial first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have discussed in this article, you have the choice of attending classes on-campus or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Sterling residence. Paralegal training programs are offered in numerous lengths and formats. Various types of public and private institutions offer paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four year colleges and universities, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a profound influence on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Since there is a broad range in the quality of programs, choose carefully. Give yourself the greatest possible chance to be successful in this fascinating profession. But irrespective of how you elect to obtain your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will be able to review each school and make your final selection. And with the ideal education you can accomplish your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Sterling Alaska.