How to Select the Right Paralegal School Near Catalina Arizona
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Catalina AZ and start your journey that will lead to a fulfilling career in legal services. Nevertheless, it's important that you find the right school so that you will get the extensive training that you need to succeed. As you probably know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more educational options are becoming available, both at school and online. However with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one start? Some prospective students begin by searching for schools within traveling range of their Catalina homes. Of those options, they search for the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are necessary considerations when picking a school, they are not the only qualifiers you must consider. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the program need to be taken into account as well. Later in this article we will review a list of questions that you should ask potential paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare every one prior to making your decision. But before we do, let's take a look at what a paralegal does and the instructional choices that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals essentially both fill 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 different job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Catalina AZ attorneys with a wide range of job duties, including legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job duties are relevant to the type of practice where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice could help with trial logistics or transferring documents to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is usually billed by the hour as are the lawyer's. And just like attorneys, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and adhere to a strict code of professional ethics. As mentioned, their responsibilities can be diverse in support of the practices where they work, but a few of their regular tasks may include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on applicable laws and cases
- Composing correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting attorneys get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be involved and quite demanding. On the other hand, what they are not legally authorized to do is give legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not limited to administrative or clerical functions more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the right hand support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers are able to manage a much larger number of clients or cases than they could alone.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the academic requirements and job prospects will be the same. The fastest means to begin your career as a legal assistant in Catalina AZ is by earning a certificate, which can involve as little as 6 months to accomplish. Most entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which offer a more extensive education and can be obtained at numerous community colleges in 2 years. For an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are available also. After you have acquired either a degree or a certificate, you might choose to proceed and earn a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Arizona to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help boost your employment opportunities, but help establish you as a professional as well. Some of the highly respected certifying agencies 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 address the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 important first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Courses
Online legal assistant or paralegal schools have become more common and can be an excellent alternative for students searching for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be especially appealing to Catalina AZ students who continue to work while earning a certificate or degree. As an additional benefit, online classes can sometimes be less costly than on campus options. Even ancillary expenditures for such things as study materials or commuting may be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all online 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 sure that the program and school you are looking into are accredited by a respected agency, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less supervised and formal environment, then earning your certificate or degree online could be the right choice for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Programs
Since you now you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what educational choices are offered, you can start the process of evaluating schools. But since there are numerous programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Catalina AZ area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you need to find out what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is particularly true when you add all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like the majority of potential students, you will start by searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other crucial factors to research as well, such as accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at several of the questions you should be asking the programs you are considering so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your final choice.
Is the Paralegal Training Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you select need to be accredited by a reputable accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it may also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online learning. 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 as well. A number of Catalina AZ law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited school. Also, financial assistance and student loans are typically available only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the School? Investigate what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal schools you are contemplating. This is of specific importance if you are entering the profession with no prior work history, since employers will need to make a decision based on the quality of your training exclusively. Checking that the program you select is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating reports, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact a few Catalina AZ law offices that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask which schools they suggest. Remember that even though a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the Program Provide Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal enterprise while attending school. They can also provide a pathway for students to begin establishing contacts within the Catalina AZ legal field. Ask if the paralegal schools you are assessing provide internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help provided? You will probably wish to secure employment quickly after graduating, but getting that first job in a new profession can be challenging without support. Ask if the paralegal programs you are reviewing have job assistance programs and what their success 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 substantiates that their graduates are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the Campus Located? Since laws differ from one state to another, it might be beneficial to select a legal assistant school located in Arizona or the state where you want to practice after graduating. Also, it will be valuable to develop relationships in the neighboring legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is even more justification to receive your education in the community where you wish to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most require an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might need to initially consider those colleges that are within the Catalina AZ area.
What is the Entire Expense? Paralegal schools can differ in price depending on the credential earned and the amount of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only cost for your training. Don't forget to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid might be obtainable to help offset some of the cost, so be sure to check with the school's financial aid office to find out what is available in Catalina AZ. Needless to say that if you decide to attend an online program, some of these supplementary expenses, for instance for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? A number of paralegal students continue working while getting their training and must have flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend weekend or evening classes near Catalina AZ, verify classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make sure that the school you enroll in provides that option. Last, inquire what the procedure is for making up classes missed due to work, illness or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Best Catalina Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Selecting the ideal legal assistant certificate school is a vital first step toward 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 participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Catalina residence. Paralegal training programs are made available in many formats and lengths. Different kinds of private and public institutions make available paralegal education, including junior and community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a profound influence on your opportunities for success in your new career. Since there is a wide range in the quality of programs, choose wisely. Afford yourself the best possible opportunity to succeed in this rewarding profession. But regardless of how you elect to obtain your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will have the ability to examine each school and make your ultimate decision. And with the right training you can achieve your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Catalina Arizona.