How to Enroll in the Right Paralegal Studies School Near Apache Junction Arizona
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Apache Junction AZ and start your journey that will lead to a rewarding profession in legal services. However, it's essential that you find the right school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you need to succeed. As you most likely know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more academic alternatives are being offered, both on campus and online. However with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one start? A number of prospective students start by trying to find schools within driving distance of their Apache Junction homes. Of those options, they search for the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are important considerations when selecting a college, they are not the only factors you ought to take into consideration. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the program should be taken into consideration also. Later on in this post we will cover a list of questions that you should ask potential paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare each one before making your selection. But before we do, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the educational options that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals essentially both hold the same job positions and functions, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and belong to a separate job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Apache Junction AZ attorneys with a wide range of job duties, including maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job duties are based upon the type of legal firm where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm might help with the logistics of a trial or transporting documents to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is usually billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And just like lawyers, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and follow a strict standard of professional ethics. As stated, their duties can be varied in support of the practices where they are employed, but a few of their routine activities can involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on pertinent laws and cases
- Composing correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping attorneys get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be complicated and rather challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally allowed to do is provide legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not limited to clerical or administrative functions more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the main support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys are able to handle a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are actually 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 fastest way to start your career as a paralegal in Apache Junction AZ is by obtaining a certificate, which may involve as little as 6 months to accomplish. Many entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which offer a more comprehensive education and may be obtained at many community colleges in two years. For an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are available as well. After you have earned either a degree or a certificate, you might choose to continue and obtain a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Arizona to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help increase your job opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. Some of the highly respected 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 paralegal degree or certificate from an accredited program (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.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Certificates and Degrees
Legal assistant and paralegal online programs have become more popular and can be a good alternative for those searching for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be especially appealing to Apache Junction AZ students who continue to work while earning a certificate or degree. As an additional advantage, online programs can in some cases be less expensive than on campus options. Even ancillary expenditures for such things as commuting or study materials may be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will cover in more detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the education you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the school and program you are reviewing are accredited by a respected agency, for instance 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 may be the ideal option for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Schools
Now that you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what academic options are offered, you can start the process of assessing schools. But because there are numerous programs available at community and junior colleges in the Apache Junction AZ area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you must find out what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is especially true if you add all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like the majority of potential students, you will begin by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other important aspects to consider as well, such as accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's go over some of the questions you should be asking the schools you are researching so that you can properly vet each one and make your ultimate decision.
Is the Paralegal Training Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you enroll in should be accredited by a recognized organization 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 distance or online education. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will get will be of the highest standard, but it will show potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. Many Apache Junction AZ law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited school. Also, financial assistance and student loans are often accessible only for accredited schools.
What's the Program's Reputation? Learn what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal schools you are considering. This is of particular importance if you are entering the field with no previous work history, since employers will need to make a decision based on the quality of your education exclusively. Verifying that the school you select is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating services, 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 a few Apache Junction AZ law offices that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask what schools they suggest. Bear in mind that even if a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the School Provide Internships? Internship programs offer students a chance to experience working in a law firm or other legal establishment while remaining in school. They can also provide a pathway for students to begin creating contacts within the Apache Junction AZ legal community. Ask if the paralegal schools you are considering provide internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help provided? You will undoubtedly want to secure employment quickly after graduating, but getting that first job in a new profession can be difficult without help. Find out if the paralegal programs you are interviewing have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have sizable networks and great relationships with Arizona legal services employers. It also substantiates that their students are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the School Located? Because laws differ among states, it might be a good idea to select a legal assistant school located in Arizona or the state where you want to practice after graduation. In addition, it will be important to establish relationships in the local legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is even more reason to acquire your education in the community where you choose to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many charge a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might want to initially investigate those schools that are within the Apache Junction AZ region.
What is the Complete Expense? Paralegal programs can differ in price depending on the credential received and the length of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only expense for your education. Remember to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid might be available to help offset some of the expense, so don't forget to contact the school's financial aid office to see what is available in Apache Junction AZ. Needless to say that if you choose to attend an online program, a portion these additional expenses, for instance for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Fit your Schedule? A number of paralegal students continue working while obtaining their training and must have flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend weekend or evening classes near Apache Junction AZ, verify classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, confirm that the program you choose provides that option. Finally, ask what the protocol is for making-up classes missed as a result of work, illness or family obligations.
Choose the Right Apache Junction Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Enrolling in the right paralegal training program is an important first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have discussed in this article, you have the option of attending classes at school or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Apache Junction home. Paralegal academic programs are offered in many formats and lengths. Various types of public and private institutions make available paralegal training, including community and junior colleges, four-year universities and colleges, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a profound influence on your prospects for success in your new career. Since there is a broad range in the quality of schools, choose wisely. Give yourself the best possible opportunity to succeed in this exciting profession. But no matter how you elect to acquire your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will have the ability to review each school and make your ultimate selection. And with the appropriate education you can achieve your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Apache Junction Arizona.