How to Choose the Best Paralegal Certificate Program Near Catalina Arizona
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Catalina AZ and start your journey that will lead to a satisfying career in legal services. However, it's essential that you find the best school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you require to achieve success. As you most likely understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more academic choices are becoming available, both on campus and online. However with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one start? Some prospective students start by searching for schools within traveling range of their Catalina residences. Of those choices, they look for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are prime considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only qualifiers you ought to take into consideration. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the program should be considered as well. Later on in this post we will review a list of concerns that you need to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare each one before making your decision. But before we do, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the educational alternatives that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals essentially both fill comparable 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 classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Catalina AZ attorneys with a wide range of job functions, such as maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job functions are relevant to the type of practice where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm could help with trial logistics or delivering documents to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is usually billed hourly as are the attorney's. And just like attorneys, they must conduct themselves with a high degree of professionalism and abide by a strict code of professional ethics. As stated, their duties can be diverse in support of the firms where they work, but a few of their daily tasks may involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on applicable cases and laws
- Composing correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting lawyers prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal documents, files and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be complicated and very challenging. However, what they are not legally allowed to do is offer legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not limited to clerical or administrative duties more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the main support systems for lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers are able to take on a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could on their own.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we discussed earlier, 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 quickest way to launch your career as a paralegal in Catalina AZ is by earning a certificate, which can take as little as 6 months to accomplish. A large number of entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more comprehensive education and may be acquired at numerous community colleges in 2 years. For an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are an option as well. After you have acquired either a certificate or degree, you may choose to continue and earn a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Arizona to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help maximize your career opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. A few 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 discuss the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two important initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Courses
Online paralegal or legal assistant schools have become more prevalent and can be a good option for individuals looking for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online schools can be particularly appealing to Catalina AZ students who keep working while obtaining a degree. As an additional advantage, online schools can in some cases be less expensive than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenses for such things as commuting or study materials can be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will cover in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the education you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the program and school you are looking into are accredited by a reputable organization, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less supervised and formal environment, then obtaining your degree or certificate online could be the ideal option for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Schools
Once you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what educational options are available, you can begin the undertaking of assessing schools. But because there are numerous programs available at junior and community colleges in the Catalina AZ area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you must know what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is particularly true when you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. If you are like most prospective students, you will start by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other crucial factors to consider as well, such as accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's go over a few of the questions you should be asking the schools you are researching so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your ultimate selection.
Is the Paralegal School and Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you choose need to be accredited by a respected 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 online or distance learning. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will get will be of the highest quality, but it will demonstrate to potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Many Catalina AZ law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited program. Also, financial aid and student loans are usually offered only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the School? Find out what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant programs you are considering. This is of specific importance if you are entering the field with no prior work history, since employers will have to rely on the caliber of your education exclusively. Verifying that the school you pick is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating services, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact several Catalina AZ law practices that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask which schools they recommend. Bear in mind that even when a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an excellent reputation.
Does the School Provide Internships? Internship programs offer students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal establishment while remaining in school. They can also provide a means for students to begin developing contacts within the Catalina AZ legal community. Find out if the paralegal programs you are assessing offer internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help provided? You will most likely want to hit the ground running after graduating, but finding that first job in a new profession can be difficult without help. Ask if the paralegal schools you are reviewing have job assistance 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 confirms that their students are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the School's Location? Since laws differ from one state to another, it might be advantageous to enroll in a paralegal school located in Arizona or the state where you wish to practice after graduating. In addition, it will be valuable to build relationships in the neighboring legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is even more justification to obtain your education in the community where you choose to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many charge an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may want to first investigate those schools that are within the Catalina AZ region.
How Much is the Complete Expense? Paralegal schools can vary in cost depending on the credential obtained and the length of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only cost for your training. Don't forget to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid may be available to help offset some of the expense, so don't forget to contact the school's financial aid department to see what is available in Catalina AZ. Of course if you opt to attend an online school, a portion these added expenses, for instance for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Fit your Schedule? A number of legal students continue working while receiving their training and must have flexibility to schedule classes. If you can just attend weekend or evening classes near Catalina AZ, make certain classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make certain that the program you select makes available that option. Last, find out what the process is for making up missed classes due to work, illness or family obligations.
Choose the Best Catalina Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Selecting the right paralegal degree school is a crucial first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have covered in this post, you have the choice of attending classes on campus or you can attend them online in the comfort and privacy of your Catalina residence. Paralegal education programs are provided in numerous lengths and formats. Different kinds of private and public 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 program will have a pronounced impact on your prospects for success in your new career. Given that there is a wide range in the quality of programs, choose carefully. Afford yourself the greatest possible opportunity to succeed in this rewarding profession. But irrespective of how you choose 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 school and make your ultimate selection. And with the ideal training you can achieve your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Catalina Arizona.