How to Select the Right Paralegal Certificate Program 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 satisfying profession in legal services. However, it's essential that you find the right school so that you will get the extensive training that you require to achieve success. As you probably understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of educational alternatives are being offered, both on campus and online. But with so many options to choose from, where does one start? Many potential students start by looking for schools within commuting distance of their Sterling residences. Of those choices, they search for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are necessary considerations when choosing a college, they are not the only qualifiers you ought to consider. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the school ought to be taken into account too. Later in this article we will cover a list of questions that you ought to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare every one before making your selection. But first, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic options that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals for the most part both fill comparable job roles and responsibilities, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and are part of a separate job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Sterling AK attorneys with a wide variety of job functions, including maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job duties are based upon the type of practice where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm might assist with trial logistics or transporting documents to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is usually billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And just like lawyers, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and comply with a strict code of professional ethics. As mentioned, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they are employed, but a few of their routine activities may include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching applicable laws and cases
- Preparing correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping lawyers prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be involved and quite 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 paralegals are not confined to clerical or administrative tasks more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the main support systems for lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys are able to take on a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the academic requirements and opportunities will be the same. The quickest way to launch your career as a legal assistant in Sterling AK is by obtaining a certificate, which can require just six months to complete. Most entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which provide a more expansive education and can be acquired at many community colleges in 2 years. For an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are an option also. When you have earned either a certificate or degree, you might choose to continue and earn a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alaska to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help maximize your employment opportunities, but help substantiate 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 school (we will discuss the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 essential initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Training
Online legal assistant or paralegal schools have become more popular and can be an excellent option for individuals looking for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be especially appealing to Sterling AK students who continue to work while earning a degree. As an added advantage, online classes can sometimes be less costly than more traditional options. Even supplementary expenses for such things as study materials or commuting can be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will discuss in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the education you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the program and school you are thinking about are accredited by a highly regarded agency, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to attend classes in a less supervised and formal environment, then earning your certificate or degree online may be the right choice for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Now that you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what educational choices are offered, you can start the process of evaluating schools. But considering that there are so many programs available at junior and community colleges in the Sterling AK area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you need to find out what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is particularly true when you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like the majority of prospective students, you will start by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other significant aspects to consider also, including accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at a few of the questions you should be asking the schools you are researching so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your final choice.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you pick should be accredited by a reputable organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it might also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets distance or online learning. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will receive will be of the highest standard, but it will demonstrate to potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Numerous Sterling AK law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited program. Finally, financial aid and student loans are usually offered only for accredited programs.
What's the School's Reputation? Research what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal programs you are looking at. This is of particular importance if you are entering the field with no previous experience, since employers will need to rely on the caliber of your training exclusively. Checking that the program you pick is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating services, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also call several Sterling AK law practices that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask which schools they recommend. Keep in mind that even when a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an excellent reputation.
Does the Program Provide Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law practice or other legal operation while remaining 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 assessing offer internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help provided? You will probably want to hit the ground running after graduation, but finding that initial job in a new profession can be challenging without assistance. Ask if the paralegal programs you are interviewing have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good sign that the schools have sizable networks and good relationships with Alaska legal services employers. It also confirms that their students are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the School Located? Considering that laws vary from one state to another, it may be advantageous to choose a paralegal school located in Alaska or the state where you wish to work after graduating. In addition, it will be valuable to establish relationships in the neighboring legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is even more justification to receive your education in the community where you wish to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many charge an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may need to initially investigate those colleges that are within the Sterling AK region.
How Much is the Complete Cost? Paralegal programs can differ in cost depending on the credential received and the amount of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expense for your education. Remember to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid might be available to help reduce some of the cost, so make sure to talk to the school's financial aid office to find out what is offered in Sterling AK. Needless to say that if you decide to attend an online school, some of these supplementary expenses, such as for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Fit your Schedule? Many paralegal students continue working while receiving their training and require flexibility in class scheduling. If you can only attend night or weekend classes near Sterling AK, make sure classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make certain that the program you choose makes available that option. Last, find out what the process is for making up classes missed due to work, illness or family obligations.
Enroll in the Best Sterling Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Selecting the ideal legal assistant degree program is an essential 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 attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Sterling home. Paralegal training programs are made available in various lengths and formats. Several types of private and public institutions provide paralegal training, including community colleges, four-year universities and colleges, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a profound impact on your prospects for success in your new profession. Considering that there is a wide range in the quality of schools, choose carefully. Afford yourself the greatest possible chance to succeed in this exciting profession. But irrespective of how you choose to acquire your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have presented you will have the ability to review each school and make your ultimate decision. And with the appropriate education you can accomplish your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Sterling Alaska.