How to Choose the Right Paralegal Studies School Near Chandler Arizona
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Chandler AZ and begin your journey that will result in a gratifying career in legal services. However, it's essential that you find the best school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you need to be successful. As you most likely understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more academic alternatives are being offered, both on campus and online. But with numerous options to choose from, where does one begin? Many prospective students begin by looking for schools within commuting range of their Chandler homes. Of those alternatives, they try to find the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are necessary considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only factors you need to take into consideration. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the school must be considered as well. Later on in this article we will cover a list of questions that you need to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare each one before making your choice. But before we do, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the educational choices that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals essentially both fill comparable job positions and functions, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and are part of a different job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Chandler AZ attorneys with a wide range of job functions, such as legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job duties are relevant to 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 delivering files to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is usually billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And just like lawyers, they must perform with a high level of professionalism and follow a strict standard of professional ethics. As stated, their duties can be varied in support of the firms where they work, but some of their routine activities can involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching applicable laws and cases
- Drafting correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping lawyers get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal documents, files and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be involved and quite demanding. However, what they are not legally allowed to do is provide legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not restricted to clerical or administrative duties more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers have the ability to handle a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could alone.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are basically 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 way to begin your career as a paralegal in Chandler AZ is by earning a certificate, which may require just six months to accomplish. Many entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which offer a more extensive education and can be acquired at many community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are an option as well. When you have earned either a degree or a certificate, you might want to proceed and obtain a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Arizona to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help boost your job opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. A few 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 certificate or degree from an accredited program (we will address the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two crucial first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Schools
Online legal assistant or paralegal schools have become more common and may be an excellent alternative for students looking for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be particularly attractive to Chandler AZ students who keep working while earning a certificate or degree. As an added benefit, online classes can sometimes be less costly than on campus options. Even supplementary expenses for such things as commuting or study materials can be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all online schools are accredited, which we will discuss in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the training you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the school and program you are thinking about are accredited by a reputable agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less supervised and formal setting, then obtaining your degree or certificate online may be the right option for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Schools
Now that you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what educational choices are offered, you can begin the undertaking of assessing schools. But considering that there are numerous programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Chandler AZ area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you need to find out what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is especially true if you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like most potential students, you will start by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other important aspects to research also, 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 schools you are researching so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your final decision.
Is the Paralegal Training Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you choose need to be accredited by a highly regarded 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 targets online or distance training. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will receive will be of the highest quality, but it will establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Many Chandler AZ law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited program. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are often accessible only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Research what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant schools you are contemplating. This is of special importance if you are new to the profession with no previous experience, since employers will need to rely on the caliber of your training exclusively. Verifying that the program you choose is accredited is a good 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 call some Chandler AZ law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask which schools they suggest. Remember that even if a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the School Sponsor Internships? Internship programs provide students an opportunity to experience working in a law practice or other legal enterprise while remaining in school. They can also present an avenue for students to begin developing contacts within the Chandler AZ legal field. Find out if the paralegal programs you are reviewing offer internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will undoubtedly wish to secure employment quickly after graduating, but finding that first job in a new profession can be challenging without help. Find out if the paralegal programs you are interviewing have job placement programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have substantial networks and good relationships with Arizona legal services employers. It also substantiates that their students are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the School Located? Considering that laws vary among states, it might be beneficial 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 cultivate relationships in the area legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is all the more reason to obtain your education in the area 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 might want to initially investigate those colleges that are within the Chandler AZ region.
How Much is the Total Expense? Paralegal schools can differ in price depending on the credential obtained and the amount of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only cost for your training. Remember to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid may be obtainable to help offset part of the cost, so make sure to consult with the school's financial aid office to see what is available in Chandler AZ. Needless to say that if you choose to attend an online school, some of these added expenses, such as for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Match your Schedule? A number of legal students continue working while receiving their training and must have flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend weekend or evening classes near Chandler AZ, make sure 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. Last, find out what the procedure is for making up classes missed because of work, illness or family emergencies.
Choose the Best Chandler Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Choosing the best legal assistant training 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 participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Chandler home. Paralegal education programs are made available in many lengths and formats. Different kinds of public and private institutions provide paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four year universities and colleges, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a profound impact on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Since there is a wide range in the quality of programs, choose wisely. Afford yourself the best possible chance to succeed in this exciting profession. But irrespective of how you choose to obtain your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have presented you will have the ability to assess each program and make your final selection. And with the right education you can achieve your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Chandler Arizona.