How to Enroll in the Best Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program Near Catalina Foothills Arizona
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Catalina Foothills AZ and start your journey that will lead to a gratifying career in legal services. Nevertheless, it's essential that you find the best school so that you will get the extensive training that you require to achieve success. As you probably understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more academic choices are being offered, both at school and online. But with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Many potential students start by looking for schools within commuting range of their Catalina Foothills homes. Of those choices, they look for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are very important considerations when choosing a school, they are not the only factors you ought to consider. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the school must be considered too. Later on in this article we will review a list of concerns that you ought to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare every one before making your choice. But first, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the educational alternatives that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants basically both fill the same job roles and functions, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and are part of a separate job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Catalina Foothills AZ lawyers with a diverse array of job duties, such as maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job functions are based upon the type of practice where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice could assist with trial logistics or transporting files to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is typically billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And just like lawyers, they must conduct themselves with a high degree of professionalism and comply with a strict standard of professional ethics. As mentioned, their responsibilities can be varied in support of the firms where they work, but a few of their regular tasks can involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on related laws and cases
- Composing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting lawyers get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be involved and very demanding. On the other hand, what they are not legally authorized to do is offer legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not limited to administrative or clerical duties more apropos 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 ground work and preparation, lawyers have the ability to handle a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are actually 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 means to start your career as a legal assistant in Catalina Foothills AZ is by earning a certificate, which may involve as little as 6 months to complete. Most 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. For an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are an option as well. After you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you might choose to continue and get a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Arizona to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help increase your employment opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. A few of the highly respected certifying organizations 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 discuss the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 essential first steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Schools
Online paralegal or legal assistant programs have become more prevalent and may be an excellent option for students searching for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be especially attractive to Catalina Foothills AZ students who continue to work while earning a certificate or degree. As an additional benefit, online schools can often be less costly than on campus options. Even supplementary expenses for such items as study materials or commuting can be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will discuss in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the education you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the program and school you are considering are accredited by a reputable agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less structured and formal environment, then obtaining your certificate or degree online may be the right option for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Now that you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what educational choices are available, you can start the process of evaluating schools. But considering that there are numerous programs offered at community and junior colleges in the Catalina Foothills AZ area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you must know what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is especially 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 driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other significant aspects to consider also, for instance accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at some of the questions you should be asking the programs you are researching so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your ultimate decision.
Is the Paralegal Training Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you pick should be accredited by a recognized accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it can also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets distance or online learning. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will obtain will be of the highest standard, but it will demonstrate to potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. A number of Catalina Foothills AZ law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited school. Also, financial assistance and student loans are usually offered only for accredited programs.
What's the Program's Reputation? Investigate what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal schools you are considering. This is of specific importance if you are entering the field with no previous work history, since employers will have to rely on the caliber of your training exclusively. Confirming that the school you select is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating reports, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact some Catalina Foothills AZ law firms that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask what schools they suggest. Keep in mind that even when a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an excellent reputation.
Does the School Sponsor Internships? Internship programs offer students an opportunity to experience working in a law office or other legal enterprise while attending school. They can also offer an avenue for students to begin establishing contacts within the Catalina Foothills AZ legal field. Find out if the paralegal programs you are considering provide internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help offered? You will probably want to secure employment quickly after graduating, but getting that first job in a new field can be difficult without assistance. Find out if the paralegal programs you are assessing have job placement programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good indication that the schools have large networks and great relationships with Arizona legal services employers. It also corroborates that their students are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the School Located? Considering that laws differ among states, it may be advantageous to choose a legal assistant school domiciled in Arizona or the state where you wish to practice after graduation. In addition, it will be valuable to build relationships in the area legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is even more reason to obtain your education in the area where you desire to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many charge an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might want to initially investigate those schools that are within the Catalina Foothills AZ area.
What is the Complete Expense? Paralegal schools can differ in price depending on the credential obtained and the length of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only cost for your education. Remember to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance may be obtainable to help minimize part of the expense, so be sure to talk to the school's financial aid department to find out what is offered in Catalina Foothills AZ. Naturally if you choose to attend an online program, a portion these added costs, for instance for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? Numerous legal students keep working while getting their training and must have flexibility to schedule classes. If you can just attend weekend or evening classes near Catalina Foothills AZ, make sure classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, confirm that the program you choose offers that option. Last, ask what the process is for making up classes missed as a result of work, illness or family obligations.
Enroll in the Right Catalina Foothills Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Enrolling in the right paralegal studies training school is an important first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have discussed in this article, you have the option of attending classes on-campus or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Catalina Foothills home. Paralegal education programs are provided in various lengths and formats. Different types of public and private institutions provide paralegal training, including community colleges, four year universities and colleges, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a profound influence on your prospects for success in your new profession. Considering that there is a broad range in the quality of schools, choose carefully. Afford yourself the best possible chance to be successful in this exciting profession. But no matter how you decide to receive your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to evaluate each program and make your ultimate selection. And with the right training you can realize your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Catalina Foothills Arizona.