How to Choose the Right Paralegal Program Near Cottonwood Arizona
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Cottonwood AZ and begin your journey that will lead to a rewarding career in legal services. However, it's crucial that you locate the best school so that you will receive the extensive training that you require to be successful. As you most likely know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of academic alternatives are becoming available, both at school and online. But with numerous options to choose from, where does one begin? A number of potential students begin by trying to find schools within commuting range of their Cottonwood homes. Of those alternatives, they look for the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are very important considerations when selecting a college, they are not the only qualifiers you must consider. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the program should be considered too. Later on in this post we will cover a list of concerns that you ought to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare each one prior to making your choice. But before we do, let's take a look at exactly 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, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and belong to a separate job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Cottonwood AZ attorneys with a wide range of job duties, including legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job duties are based upon the type of legal firm where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm might help with the logistics of a trial or transferring files to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is typically billed by the hour as are the lawyer's. And just like lawyers, they must carry out their duties with a high degree of professionalism and adhere to a strict code of professional ethics. As mentioned, their duties can be varied in support of the firms where they work, but a few of their regular tasks might include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on relevant laws and cases
- Drafting correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting attorneys get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be complicated and rather demanding. On the other hand, what they are not legally permitted to do is give legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not confined to administrative or clerical functions 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, attorneys are able to handle a much larger number of clients or cases than they could alone.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, 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 Cottonwood AZ is by earning a certificate, which can require just six months to complete. A large number of entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which offer a more expansive education and may be obtained at numerous community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are available as well. After you have earned either a degree or a certificate, you may want to proceed and earn a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Arizona to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help maximize your job opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. 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 degree or certificate from an accredited program (we will cover the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two crucial initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Training
Online legal assistant or paralegal programs have become more common and may be a good option for students looking for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be particularly appealing to Cottonwood AZ students who keep working while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an additional benefit, online schools can in some cases be less costly than on campus options. Even supplementary expenditures for such items as commuting or study materials can be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will address in more detail later. But at the very least 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 thinking about are accredited by a respected agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less structured and formal environment, then earning your certificate or degree online might be the ideal option for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Studies Programs
Once you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what training options are available, you can begin the process of assessing schools. But since there are so many programs offered at community and junior colleges in the Cottonwood AZ area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you need to learn what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is particularly true if you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like most potential students, you will start by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other significant issues to think about as well, for instance the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's take a look at several of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are researching so that you can effectively vet each one and make your ultimate choice.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you enroll in should be accredited by a respected accrediting agency 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 help guarantee that the training you will get will be of the highest quality, but it will demonstrate to potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Numerous Cottonwood AZ law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited program. Also, financial assistance and student loans are typically obtainable only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Research what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal schools you are contemplating. This is of special importance if you are entering the profession with no prior experience, since employers will need to make a decision based on the caliber of your training exclusively. Verifying that the program you choose is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating reports, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact several Cottonwood AZ law offices that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask which schools they recommend. Bear in mind that even though a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the Program Sponsor Internships? Internship programs give students an opportunity to experience working in a law firm or other legal establishment while attending school. They can also present an avenue for students to begin establishing contacts within the Cottonwood AZ legal community. Find out if the paralegal schools you are assessing offer internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will probably want to hit the ground running after graduation, but finding that first job in a new profession can be difficult without assistance. Find out if the paralegal schools you are assessing have job placement programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have sizable networks and great relationships with Arizona legal services employers. It also corroborates that their graduates are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the School Located? Since laws vary among states, it might be beneficial to enroll in a paralegal school domiciled in Arizona or the state where you wish to work after graduating. In addition, it will be necessary to build relationships in the neighboring legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is even more reason to obtain your education in the area where you want to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most charge a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might wish to first consider those schools that are within the Cottonwood AZ area.
What is the Complete Expense? Paralegal programs can vary in price based on the credential earned and the amount of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only expense for your training. Remember to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid may be accessible to help reduce part of the cost, so be sure to contact the school's financial aid office to see what is offered in Cottonwood AZ. Naturally if you choose to attend an online school, a portion these added expenses, such as for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Match your Schedule? A number of paralegal students continue working while receiving their training and require flexibility to schedule classes. If you can solely attend night or weekend classes near Cottonwood AZ, verify classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, confirm that the program you enroll in makes available that option. Last, find out what the procedure is for making up missed classes as a result of sickness, work or family obligations.
Choose the Right Cottonwood Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Enrolling in the right legal assistant training school is an important first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have discussed in this article, you have the option of attending classes on campus or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Cottonwood home. Paralegal training programs are offered in numerous formats and lengths. Various kinds of public and private institutions offer paralegal education, including community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a profound impact on your prospects for success in your new profession. Considering that there is a broad range in the quality of schools, pick wisely. 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 furnished you will have the ability to assess each school and make your final selection. And with the ideal training you can achieve your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Cottonwood Arizona.