How to Pick the Right Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program Near Chandler Arizona
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Chandler AZ and start your journey that will lead to a rewarding profession in legal services. However, it's crucial that you find the right school so that you will get the comprehensive 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 more and more educational options are becoming available, both on campus and online. However with numerous options to choose from, where does one start? Many potential students begin by trying to find schools within commuting range of their Chandler residences. Of those choices, they search for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are important considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only qualifiers you need to take into consideration. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the school must be taken into consideration as well. Later in this article we will review a list of questions that you should ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare every one prior to making your decision. But before we do, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the educational options 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 responsibilities, just with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and belong to a different job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Chandler AZ attorneys with a wide variety of job duties, including maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job functions are relevant to the type of legal firm where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice may assist with the logistics of a trial or delivering documents to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is usually billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And the same as lawyers, they must carry out their duties with a high level of professionalism and follow a strict code of professional ethics. As mentioned, their responsibilities can be varied in support of the firms where they work, but some of their day-to-day tasks can involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching relevant cases and laws
- Composing correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting lawyers prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be complex and very 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 they are not confined to clerical or administrative duties more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers have the ability to handle a much larger number of cases or clients than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational requirements and job prospects will be the same. The fastest means to start your career as a legal assistant in Chandler AZ is by earning a certificate, which can require as little as six months to complete. Most entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more comprehensive education and may be earned at many community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are offered as well. When you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you may want to proceed and receive a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Arizona to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help maximize your job opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. A few of the highly regarded 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 certificate or degree from an accredited program (we will cover the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two crucial first steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Courses
Paralegal and legal assistant online programs have become more prevalent and can be a good option for those searching for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online programs can be particularly appealing to Chandler AZ students who continue to work while obtaining a degree. As an additional advantage, online classes can sometimes be less expensive than on campus options. Even secondary expenses for such things as commuting or study materials can be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all online schools are accredited, which we will address in more detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the education you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the school and program you are reviewing are accredited by a highly regarded agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less structured and formal setting, then earning your certificate or degree online could be the right option for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Since you now you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what educational options are available, you can begin the process of assessing schools. But considering that there are so many programs offered at community and junior 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 compare each one. This is particularly true if you add all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like many prospective students, you will start by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other important issues to think about as well, for instance accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at a few of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are considering so that you can effectively vet each one and make your final decision.
Is the Paralegal School and Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you choose should be accredited by a respected organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it may also get 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 get will be of the highest quality, but it will show future employers that you are a qualified professional also. A number of Chandler AZ law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited school. Also, financial assistance and student loans are often offered only for accredited schools.
What's the Program's Reputation? Find out what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant schools you are contemplating. This is of specific importance if you are entering the field with no previous experience, since employers will have to make a decision based on the quality of your education exclusively. Checking that the program you choose is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating reports, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call several Chandler AZ law practices that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask which schools they recommend. Bear in mind that even if a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an excellent reputation.
Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal enterprise while remaining in school. They can also provide an avenue for students to start developing contacts within the Chandler AZ legal community. Find out if the paralegal programs you are considering offer internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help available? You will probably wish to hit the ground running after graduating, but getting that initial job in a new profession can be difficult without support. Find out if the paralegal schools you are assessing have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have substantial networks and good relationships with Arizona legal services employers. It also corroborates that their graduates are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the Campus Located? Since laws vary among states, it might be beneficial to choose a legal assistant school domiciled in Arizona or the state where you wish to practice after graduating. Also, it will be important to develop relationships in the area legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is all the more justification to acquire your education in the community where you want to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many charge a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may wish to initially look at those colleges that are within the Chandler AZ region.
How Much is the Total Cost? Paralegal schools can vary in price depending on the credential earned and the amount of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your training. Don't forget to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial assistance may be obtainable to help offset part of the expense, so make sure to talk to the school's financial aid office to see what is available in Chandler AZ. Naturally if you opt to attend an online school, a portion these supplementary costs, for instance for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Match your Schedule? Many paralegal students keep working while receiving their training and need flexibility in class scheduling. If you can just attend night or weekend classes near Chandler AZ, make certain classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make certain that the school you select makes available that option. Finally, find out what the procedure is for making-up classes missed because of work, illness or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Best Chandler Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Selecting the right paralegal degree school is an essential first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have discussed in this article, you have the choice of attending classes on campus or you can attend them online in the comfort and privacy of your Chandler home. Paralegal academic programs are offered in numerous lengths and formats. Several 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 pronounced impact on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Since there is a wide range in the quality of programs, choose carefully. Give yourself the greatest possible opportunity to succeed in this rewarding profession. But no matter how you elect to acquire your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will be able to examine each school and make your ultimate selection. And with the appropriate training you can achieve your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Chandler Arizona.