In 2016, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics found 730 paralegals employed in Alaska, most of them working for law firms, corporations and government agencies. The survey also found that Alaska offered the 2nd highest average wage in the country.
The Alaska Supreme Court’s Rule of Professional Conduct 5.3 requires that lawyers provide direct supervision to any nonlawyer assistants, including paralegals. Rule 5.3 also states that lawyers must instruct their assistants in ethics and confidentiality, and must assume responsibility for their employees’ professional conduct.
Alaska state law does not require that paralegals meet training or education requirements prior to employment. Thus, aspiring paralegals can begin their careers either by earning a certificate or degree in paralegal studies.
Is There Paralegal Certification in Alaska?
As the profession of the paralegal becomes more prominent within the legal community, increasing numbers of aspiring paralegals are choosing education as their entry-point into a career. Paralegal studies courses are available through certificate and degree programs.
Both associate and bachelor’s degrees can be earned in paralegal studies. Degree programs offer students both specialized courses in their field and general education courses to introduce students a broader spectrum of learning. Degree programs usually take two to five years to complete.
Alaska Job Statistics
Certificate programs usually take less time to complete than degree programs because they do not require many general education courses. Some certificate programs do not require applicants to have any previous higher education. Others, called post-baccalaureate certificate programs, require that applicants have previously earned a bachelor’s degree in any subject. These programs offer coursework exclusively in paralegal studies to prepare graduates for their new career.
With any educational program, it is important to research whether or not the program is offered by an accredited school or is approved by the American Bar Association. Employers and bar associations may desire that the certificate or degree meets certain standards. Additionally, if a paralegal is considering national certification, accreditation or ABA-approval may make qualifying to take the certification exam easier.
Paralegals who earn educational certificates are called certificated paralegals. Paralegals that meet educational or work experience requirements and also pass a national certification exam are called certified paralegals. National certification is one way for paralegals to demonstrate their command of their field, gain the esteem of their colleagues, and further the advancement of the paralegal profession. Currently the three professional organizations offer four national exams from which to select:
- The PACE offered by the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA)
- The PCC also offered by National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA)
- The CLA/CP offered by the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA)
- The PP offered by the Association for Legal Professionals (NALS)
Requirements for the national exams differ between the three national paralegal organizations. A comparison can be found here.
Alaska has three active professional paralegal associations. In Anchorage, the Alaska Paralegal Association (APP), an affiliate of the NFPA, offers continuing education, a job bank, networking opportunities and current information about the profession to its members. It also helps members prepare for national certification through the PACE/PCC exams. The AAP is also working towards voluntary paralegal certification within Alaska.
NALS of Anchorage represents not only legal secretaries, but any legal support staff including paralegals. NALS of Anchorage offers continuing legal education, support for those seeking to become nationally certified, and networking opportunities. NALS’ focus is on increasing the professionalism of legal support workers and helping their members increase their skill level.
Fairbanks is home to the furthest north affiliate of NALA, the Fairbanks Association of Legal Assistants (FALA). FALA’s goals include organizing continuing education hours for its members, promoting professional development, supporting members who wish to become nationally certified though the CLA/CP exam, and establishing good working relationship with other legal groups in the interior of Alaska. FALA also offers social activities, scholarships, and advocacy for the paralegal profession.
Law firms are often a good entry-point into a career as a paralegal. Large law firms often hire paralegals in greater numbers than other employers. Alaska’s large law firms include: