How to Pick the Best Paralegal Studies Certificate Program Near Sterling Alaska
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Sterling AK and start your journey that will lead to a satisfying profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's important that you locate the right school so that you will get the extensive training that you require to succeed. As you probably know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more academic options are becoming available, both at school and online. However with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Some prospective students start by looking for schools within traveling distance of their Sterling homes. Of those alternatives, they try to find the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are necessary considerations when selecting a college, they are not the only factors you need to consider. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the school ought to be taken into consideration too. Later in this post we will review a list of questions that you ought to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare every one before making your selection. But before we do, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the academic alternatives that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants essentially both fill the same job positions 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 paralegals and legal assistants assist Sterling AK attorneys with a diverse array of job duties, including maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job duties are based upon the type of legal firm where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice may help with the logistics of a trial or transporting documents 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 conduct themselves with a high degree of professionalism and follow a strict code of professional ethics. As noted, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they are employed, but some of their regular activities may include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on applicable cases and laws
- Drafting correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting attorneys get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be complicated and quite challenging. 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 functions more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the right hand support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers have the ability to manage a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could alone.
Paralegal Programs 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 academic prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The quickest means to begin your career as a paralegal in Sterling AK is by obtaining a certificate, which may require as little as six months to accomplish. Most entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which provide a more comprehensive education and may be acquired at many community colleges in two years. For an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are offered as well. When you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you may choose to proceed and get a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alaska to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help maximize your employment opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. Some 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 address the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two crucial initial steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Classes
Online legal assistant or paralegal programs have become more available and may be a good option for students looking for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be especially appealing to Sterling AK students who continue to work while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an added benefit, online classes can often be less costly than on campus options. Even secondary expenditures for such things as study materials or commuting can be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all online schools are accredited, which we will discuss in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the education you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the school and program you are looking into are accredited by a reputable organization, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less structured and conventional environment, then obtaining your certificate or degree online could be the ideal option for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Studies Programs
Now that you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what academic options are offered, you can start the undertaking of evaluating schools. But since there are so many programs offered at community and junior colleges in the Sterling AK area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you must find out what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is especially true if you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like the majority of prospective students, you will start by searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other crucial factors to think about as well, for instance accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's go over a few of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are researching so that you can effectively vet each one and make your final decision.
Is the Paralegal Training Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you enroll in need to be accredited by a highly regarded accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it can also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance training. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will get will be of the highest standard, but it will establish with 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 have graduated from an accredited program. Finally, financial aid and student loans are often obtainable only for accredited programs.
What's the School's Reputation? Learn what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal schools you are contemplating. This is of particular importance if you are entering the profession with no previous experience, since employers will have to make a decision based on the caliber of your training exclusively. Confirming that the school you choose is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating reports, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact several Sterling AK law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask which schools they recommend. Bear in mind that even though a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the School Sponsor Internships? Internship programs offer students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal establishment while attending school. They can also provide a means for students to begin establishing contacts within the Sterling AK legal field. Ask if the paralegal schools you are assessing provide internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance offered? You will undoubtedly wish to secure employment quickly after graduation, but finding that initial job in a new field can be challenging without assistance. Ask if the paralegal schools you are reviewing have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good sign that the schools have large networks and good relationships with Alaska legal services employers. It also corroborates that their graduates are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the School Located? Because laws differ from one state to another, it might be a good idea to select a paralegal school located in Alaska or the state where you want to practice after graduation. In addition, it will be valuable to build relationships in the local legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is all the more justification to receive your education in the community where you desire to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many require a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might need to first consider those colleges that are within the Sterling AK area.
How Much is the Total Expense? Paralegal schools can differ in cost based on the credential obtained and the amount of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expense for your training. Remember to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance might be available to help minimize some of the expense, so don't forget to talk to the school's financial aid department to find out what is offered in Sterling AK. Naturally if you decide to attend an online program, a portion these added expenses, for instance for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Fit your Schedule? Many paralegal students continue working while receiving their training and require flexibility in class scheduling. If you can just attend night or weekend classes near Sterling AK, make certain classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make certain that the program you select makes available that option. Last, find out what the procedure is for making up missed classes due to sickness, work or family obligations.
Choose the Best Sterling Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Choosing the right legal assistant degree school is a crucial first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have discussed in this post, you have the choice of attending classes on-campus or you can attend them online in the comfort and privacy of your Sterling home. Paralegal academic programs are offered in various formats and lengths. Various kinds of public and private institutions offer paralegal training, including community colleges, four year colleges and universities, as well as 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 schools, choose carefully. Afford yourself the best possible chance to succeed in this fascinating profession. But irrespective of how you choose to acquire your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will be able to assess each program and make your ultimate decision. And with the appropriate training you can achieve your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Sterling Alaska.