How to Enroll in the Right Paralegal Degree Program Near Coolidge Arizona
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Coolidge AZ and start your journey that will lead to a rewarding career in legal services. However, it's crucial that you locate the ideal school so that you will receive the extensive training that you require to succeed. As you probably know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more academic choices are being offered, both on campus and online. However with numerous options to choose from, where does one begin? Some prospective students begin by trying to find schools within driving range of their Coolidge residences. Of those choices, they search for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are important considerations when picking a school, they are not the only qualifiers you ought to take into consideration. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the school should be taken into consideration too. Later in this post we will review a list of questions that you need to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare each one prior to making your decision. But before we do, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the educational options that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants for the most part both hold the same job positions and responsibilities, only with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and belong to a separate job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Coolidge AZ attorneys with a wide range of job duties, including legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job functions are based upon the type of legal firm where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm may assist with trial logistics or delivering files to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is usually billed by the hour as are the lawyer's. And the same as attorneys, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and follow a strict standard of professional ethics. As stated, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they are employed, but a few of their everyday activities may involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on related laws and cases
- Preparing correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping attorneys 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 complicated and rather challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally allowed to do is give legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not limited to administrative or clerical duties more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the right hand support systems for attorneys. And since they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers have the ability to handle a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could alone.
Paralegal Certificates and Degrees and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the academic prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The fastest means to start your career as a legal assistant in Coolidge AZ is by earning a certificate, which can require just 6 months to accomplish. A large number of entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which provide a more comprehensive education and can be obtained at many community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are offered also. Once you have acquired either a certificate or degree, you may choose to continue and receive a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Arizona to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help maximize your job opportunities, but help establish you as a professional as well. Some 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 benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two important first steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Certificates and Degrees
Online paralegal or legal assistant schools have become more popular and can be an excellent alternative for those searching for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be particularly attractive to Coolidge AZ students who continue to work while earning a certificate or degree. As an added benefit, online classes can in some cases be less expensive than more traditional options. Even supplementary expenses for such things as study materials or commuting may be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will address in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the education you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the program and school you are thinking about are accredited by a respected organization, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less supervised and conventional environment, then obtaining your degree or certificate online might be the ideal choice for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Degree or Certificate Programs
Once you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what educational options are available, you can begin the process of assessing schools. But since there are numerous programs accessible at junior and community colleges in the Coolidge 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 degree and certificate programs also. If you are like many prospective students, you will begin by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other crucial aspects to research as well, including 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 researching so that you can properly vet each one and make your ultimate selection.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you select need to be accredited by a highly regarded organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it might also receive 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 receive will be of the highest quality, but it will show potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. Many Coolidge AZ law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited program. Finally, financial aid and student loans are typically available only for accredited programs.
What's the Program's Reputation? Research what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal programs you are looking at. This is of particular importance if you are entering the profession with no prior work history, since employers will have to rely on the caliber of your education exclusively. Checking that the school you pick is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing 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 Coolidge AZ law offices that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask which schools they suggest. Bear in mind that even if a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the School Sponsor Internships? Internship programs provide students an opportunity to experience working in a law firm or other legal establishment while attending school. They can also offer a pathway for students to start developing contacts within the Coolidge AZ legal community. Ask if the paralegal programs you are reviewing offer internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help offered? 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 support. Find out if the paralegal schools you are interviewing have job placement programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have sizable networks and great relationships with Arizona legal services employers. It also corroborates that their graduates are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the Campus Located? Considering that laws vary from one state to another, it may be advantageous to enroll in a paralegal school located in Arizona or the state where you plan to practice after graduating. Also, it will be necessary to build relationships in the area legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is all the more justification to obtain your education in the area where you desire to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most require an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may wish to first consider those colleges that are within the Coolidge AZ region.
How Much is the Total Cost? Paralegal schools can differ in cost depending on the credential earned and the length of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only expense for your education. Remember to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial assistance might be accessible to help minimize part of the expense, so be sure to talk to the school's financial aid department to see what is available in Coolidge AZ. Naturally if you decide to attend an online program, some of these supplementary costs, for instance for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? Many legal students keep working while obtaining their training and require flexibility to schedule classes. If you can solely attend night or weekend classes near Coolidge AZ, make certain classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make sure that the school you choose offers that option. Last, inquire what the procedure is for making up missed classes as a result of work, illness or family emergencies.
Choose the Right Coolidge Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Selecting the ideal paralegal degree program is an important first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have covered in this article, you have the option of attending classes on campus or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Coolidge home. Paralegal training programs are made available in many formats and lengths. Various kinds of public and private institutions offer paralegal training, including community colleges, four year colleges and universities, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a profound influence on your opportunities for success in your new career. Given that there is a wide range in the quality of schools, pick wisely. Afford yourself the best possible opportunity to succeed in this fascinating profession. But irrespective of how you decide to obtain 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 final decision. And with the appropriate training you can realize your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Coolidge Arizona.