How to Enroll in the Best Paralegal Studies Certificate Program Near Cottonwood Arizona
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Cottonwood AZ and start your journey that will result in a rewarding profession in legal services. However, it's important that you locate the right school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you need to achieve success. As you most likely know, the legal field is among 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 begin? Many prospective students start by searching for schools within commuting distance of their Cottonwood homes. Of those options, they look for the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are prime considerations when choosing a school, they are not the only factors you must consider. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the school should be taken into account as well. Later in this article we will review a list of questions that you should ask potential paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare each one before making your selection. But first, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the academic choices that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants for the most part both hold comparable job positions and responsibilities, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and are part of a different job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Cottonwood AZ lawyers with a diverse array of job functions, such as maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job duties are relevant to the type of legal firm where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice could assist with trial logistics or delivering documents to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is normally billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And the same as attorneys, they must carry out their duties with a high level of professionalism and abide by a strict code of professional ethics. As noted, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they are employed, but some of their routine activities can involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on relevant cases and laws
- Drafting correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting lawyers get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be involved and very challenging. 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 action. But paralegals are not limited to administrative or clerical tasks 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 have the ability to manage a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could on their own.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably 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 start your career as a paralegal in Cottonwood AZ is by earning a certificate, which can require as little as six months to accomplish. Many entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more expansive 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 an option as well. Once you have acquired either a certificate or degree, you may want to proceed and earn a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Arizona to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help maximize your job opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. Some of the highly regarded certifying organizations 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 school (we will cover the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 crucial first steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Schools
Legal assistant and paralegal online programs have become more common and can be an excellent option for those looking for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be particularly attractive to Cottonwood AZ students who continue to work while earning a certificate or degree. As an added advantage, online programs can in some cases be less costly than on campus options. Even ancillary expenditures for such items as commuting or study materials may be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will cover in more detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the training you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the school and program you are considering are accredited by a highly regarded agency, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less structured and formal environment, then earning your degree or certificate online could be the ideal option for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Schools
Once you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what academic options are available, you can start the process of evaluating schools. But because there are numerous programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Cottonwood AZ area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you need to know what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is particularly true when you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like the majority of potential students, you will start by searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other significant aspects to research as well, including accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at several of the questions you should be asking the programs you are considering so that you can properly vet each one and make your ultimate selection.
Is the Paralegal Training Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you enroll in should be accredited by a highly regarded accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it can also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance training. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will get will be of the highest quality, but it will establish with future employers that you are a qualified professional also. A number of Cottonwood AZ law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited school. Finally, financial aid and student loans are often accessible only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Find out what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal programs you are contemplating. This is of special importance if you are new to the field with no previous experience, since employers will have to rely on the caliber of your training exclusively. Verifying that the school you select is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating reports, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also call some Cottonwood AZ law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask which schools they suggest. Remember that even though a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an excellent reputation.
Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs offer students an opportunity to experience working in a law firm or other legal operation while still in school. They can also offer a means for students to start establishing contacts within the Cottonwood AZ legal community. Find out if the paralegal schools you are evaluating offer internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will probably want to secure employment quickly after graduation, but getting that initial job in a new profession can be difficult without assistance. Ask if the paralegal schools you are interviewing have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have substantial networks and great relationships with Arizona legal services employers. It also substantiates that their students are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the School Located? Considering that laws differ from one state to another, it might be a good idea to select a legal assistant school domiciled in Arizona or the state where you plan to work after graduation. Also, it will be important to establish relationships in the area legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is even more justification to obtain your education in the community where you desire to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most require a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might want to first consider those schools that are within the Cottonwood AZ region.
What is the Complete Cost? Paralegal programs can differ in cost based on the credential obtained and the amount of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your education. Don't forget to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid might be available to help minimize part of the cost, so make sure to contact the school's financial aid office to see what is offered in Cottonwood AZ. Needless to say that if you choose to attend an online school, some of these supplementary costs, for instance for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Match your Schedule? A number of legal students continue working while obtaining their training and need flexibility in class scheduling. If you can just attend night or weekend classes near Cottonwood 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 choose provides that option. Last, inquire what the procedure is for making-up classes missed because of sickness, work or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Best Cottonwood Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Selecting the ideal paralegal studies degree school is a crucial 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 attend them online in the comfort and privacy of your Cottonwood residence. Paralegal education programs are provided in many formats and lengths. Various kinds of public and private institutions provide paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four year universities and colleges, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a profound impact on your prospects for success in your new career. Considering that there is a broad range in the quality of schools, pick wisely. Afford yourself the best possible opportunity to succeed in this exciting profession. But regardless of how you choose to obtain your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have provided you will have the ability to examine each school and make your final decision. And with the right training you can realize your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Cottonwood Arizona.