How to Choose the Right Paralegal Program Near Apache Junction Arizona
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Apache Junction AZ and start your journey that will lead to a satisfying profession in legal services. However, it's crucial that you locate the ideal school so that you will get the extensive training that you require to succeed. As you probably know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of educational alternatives are becoming available, both at school and online. But with numerous options to choose from, where does one start? Some prospective students begin by looking for schools within driving distance of their Apache Junction homes. Of those options, they search for the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are necessary considerations when picking a college, they are not the only factors you need to take into consideration. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the school should be taken into consideration also. Later on in this article we will cover a list of concerns that you ought to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare every one prior to making your choice. But before we do, let's take a look at what a paralegal does and the instructional options that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants basically both hold the same job positions and functions, only with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and are part of a separate job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants help 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 functions are based upon the type of legal firm where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm may assist with the logistics of a trial or delivering files to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is typically billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And the same as attorneys, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and comply with a strict standard of professional ethics. As mentioned, their duties can be varied in support of the practices where they work, but some of their regular activities might involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching relevant cases and laws
- Drafting correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting lawyers prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be complicated and rather challenging. However, what they are not legally allowed to do is give legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not confined to administrative or clerical tasks more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the main support systems for lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys have the ability to handle a much larger number of clients or cases than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Certificates and Degrees and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational requirements and opportunities will be the same. The quickest way to begin your career as a legal assistant in Apache Junction AZ is by earning a certificate, which can require just 6 months to accomplish. A large number of entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which provide a more extensive education and can be earned at numerous community colleges in 2 years. For an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are available as well. When you have earned either a certificate or degree, you might want to proceed and get a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Arizona to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help maximize your employment opportunities, but help establish you as a professional as well. Some of the highly regarded 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 degree or certificate from an accredited school (we will cover the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 essential initial steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Training
Legal assistant and paralegal online schools have become more available and can be a good alternative for students looking for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be especially appealing to Apache Junction AZ students who keep working while earning a degree. As an added advantage, online schools can often be less costly than on campus options. Even secondary expenses for such items as commuting or study materials may be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all online programs are accredited, which we will address in more detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the training you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the program and school you are looking into are accredited by a reputable agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to attend classes in a less supervised and conventional setting, then obtaining your degree or certificate online may be the right option for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Programs
Once you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what academic options are offered, you can begin the undertaking of assessing schools. But because there are numerous programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Apache Junction AZ area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you must learn what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is particularly true when you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like the majority of prospective students, you will start by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other critical aspects to think about also, such as accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's go over several of the questions you should be asking the programs you are researching so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your final decision.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you enroll in should be accredited by a respected accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it might also obtain 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 receive will be of the highest standard, but it will demonstrate to potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. A number of Apache Junction AZ law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited school. Also, financial aid and student loans are typically offered only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Research what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal programs you are contemplating. This is of particular importance if you are entering the field with no prior experience, since employers will have to rely on the quality of your education exclusively. Confirming that the program you choose is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating services, such as those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call several Apache Junction AZ law practices that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask what schools they suggest. Remember that even though a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs give students an opportunity to experience working in a law office or other legal establishment while attending school. They can also provide a pathway for students to begin establishing contacts within the Apache Junction AZ legal field. Find out if the paralegal schools you are reviewing provide internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help offered? You will most likely wish to hit the ground running after graduating, but getting that initial job in a new profession can be challenging without support. Find out if the paralegal programs you are interviewing have job placement 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 Arizona legal services employers. It also confirms that their students are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the School's Location? Since laws differ from one state to another, it might be beneficial to choose a legal assistant school located in Arizona or the state where you want to practice after graduating. Also, it will be valuable to build relationships in the local legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is even more reason to acquire your education in the area where you wish to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many charge a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might want to initially investigate those colleges that are within the Apache Junction AZ area.
How Much is the Complete Expense? Paralegal schools can vary in price based on the credential earned and the length of training provided. However, 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 might be available to help reduce part of the expense, so make sure to consult with the school's financial aid office to see what is offered in Apache Junction AZ. Of course if you decide to attend an online program, some of these supplementary costs, such as for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? Many paralegal students continue working while receiving their training and must have flexibility in class scheduling. If you can just attend weekend or evening classes near Apache Junction AZ, verify classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make certain that the program you choose offers that option. Finally, ask what the procedure is for making up classes missed due to work, illness or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Right Apache Junction Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Choosing the right paralegal certificate school is an essential first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have addressed in this article, you have the choice of attending classes on-campus or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Apache Junction home. Paralegal academic programs are provided in various formats and lengths. Different kinds of public and private institutions offer paralegal education, including community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a profound influence on your prospects for success in your new profession. Considering that there is a wide range in the quality of programs, pick carefully. Afford yourself the greatest possible chance to be successful in this fascinating profession. But irrespective of how you decide to receive your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to assess each program and make your final selection. And with the ideal education you can realize your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Apache Junction Arizona.