How to Choose a Paralegal School near Central Arizona
Best Wishes regarding your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Central AZ and begin your journey that will result in a gratifying profession in legal services. However, it’s essential that you find the ideal school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you require to succeed. As you probably understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more academic alternatives are being offered, both on campus and online. But with so many options to choose from, where does one start? Many prospective students begin by searching for paralegal schools within driving distance of their Central residences. Of those options, they look for the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are important considerations when picking a college, they are not the only factors you must consider. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the school should be taken into consideration too. Later in this post we will cover a list of concerns that you must ask potential paralegal certificate schools so that you can evaluate and compare every one before making your selection. But before we do, let’s have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the instructional choices that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
What is a Paralegal and What Do They Do?
Paralegals and legal assistants for the most part both hold the same job positions and responsibilities, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and belong to a different job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants help lawyers in Central AZ with a wide range of job functions, such as legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job functions are relevant to the type of legal firm where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm might help with the logistics of a trial or transferring files to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is typically billed hourly as are the attorney’s. And the same as lawyers, they must carry out their duties with a high level of professionalism and comply with a strict standard of professional ethics. As stated, their duties can be varied in support of the firms where they are employed, but a few of their regular tasks may include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on applicable cases and laws
- Preparing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping attorneys prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their duties, the role of a Central AZ paralegal can be involved and very challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally permitted to do is offer legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not restricted 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, lawyers are able to handle a much larger number of cases or clients than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the academic requirements and job prospects will be the same. The quickest means to launch your career in Central AZ as a paralegal is by earning a certificate, which can take just 6 months to accomplish. Many entry level positions do require an Associate’s Degree, which provide a more expansive education and can be acquired at numerous community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor’s Degrees are offered as well. When 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 Arizona to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help improve your employment opportunities, but help establish you as a professional as well. Some of the highly regarded certifying agencies 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 certificate or degree from an accredited program (we will cover the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 essential initial steps that will help guarantee your success as a paralegal in Central AZ.
Paralegal Online Programs
Online paralegal schools have become more common and can be an excellent option for individuals in Central AZ looking for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be particularly appealing to students who continue to work while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an added advantage, online programs can sometimes be less costly than on campus options. Even ancillary expenditures for such items as study materials or commuting can be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will cover in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the training you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the school and program you are thinking about are accredited by a highly regarded agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less supervised and formal setting, then obtaining your degree or certificate online could be the right choice for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Programs
Since you now you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what academic options are available, you can begin the undertaking of assessing Central AZ area schools. But because there are numerous programs offered at junior and community colleges, as well as vocational and trade schools, you need to know what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is especially true when you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like many potential students, you will start by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other significant issues to think about also, such as the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let’s take a look at several of the questions you should be asking the schools you are considering so that you can effectively vet each one and make your ultimate selection.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you select should be accredited by a reputable organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it can also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online education. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will obtain will be of the highest standard, but it will establish with future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. A number of Central AZ law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited program. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are often obtainable only for accredited programs.
What’s the Program’s Reputation? Research what the rankings and reputations are for the Central AZ paralegal programs you are considering. This is of specific importance if you are entering the profession with no prior experience, since employers will need to rely on the caliber of your education exclusively. Checking that the program you pick is accredited is an excellent 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 a few law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask what schools they suggest. Bear in mind that even if a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the School Sponsor Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law practice or other legal establishment while remaining in school. They can also present an avenue for students to begin developing contacts within the Central AZ legal field. Find out if the paralegal schools you are evaluating offer internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help offered? You will undoubtedly wish to secure employment quickly after graduating, but finding that initial job in a new profession can be difficult without assistance. 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 a good indication that the schools have sizable networks and great relationships with Arizona legal services employers. It also corroborates that their students are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the School’s Location? Because laws differ from state to state, it might be a good idea to choose a paralegal school located in the state where you want to practice after graduation. Also, it will be important to create relationships in the area legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is all the more justification to receive your education in the community where you wish to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many require a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may wish to first investigate those schools that are within your Central AZ local area.
What is the Complete Cost? Paralegal schools can vary in price based on the credential earned and the length of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expense for your training. Don’t forget to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid may be obtainable to help offset part of the expense, so don’t forget to talk to the school’s financial aid department to find out what is available in Central AZ. Of course if you choose to attend an online school, a portion these added expenses, such as for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? Numerous paralegal students keep working while getting their training and must have flexibility to schedule classes. If you can solely attend weekend or evening classes near Central AZ, make sure classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make certain that the school you select makes available that option. Finally, ask what the protocol is for making-up classes missed due to sickness, work or family obligations.
Considering Paralegal School in Central AZ?
Choose the Best Paralegal Program near Central AZ
Enrolling in the best paralegal training program is an essential first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have discussed in this post, you have the choice of attending classes on campus or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Central home. Paralegal education programs are offered in many formats and lengths. Several kinds of private and public institutions make available paralegal education, including community colleges, four-year universities and colleges, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a pronounced influence on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Given that there is a broad range in the quality of programs, choose wisely. Afford yourself the best possible opportunity to succeed in this rewarding profession. But irrespective of how you decide to receive your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have provided you will have the ability to review each school and make your ultimate selection. And with the ideal training you can accomplish your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Central AZ.
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