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How to Enroll in the Right Paralegal Program Near Cottonwood Arizona

Cottonwood Arizona female paralegal speaking with client on phoneCongratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Cottonwood AZ and start your journey that will lead to a satisfying profession in legal services. However, it's crucial that you locate the best school so that you will get the extensive training that you need to be successful. As you probably understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more academic options are being offered, both on campus and online. However with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one start? Many potential students start by trying to find schools within driving range of their Cottonwood residences. Of those options, they try to find the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are prime considerations when choosing a college, they are not the only qualifiers you need to take into consideration. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the school should be taken into account too. Later in this post we will review a list of questions that you must ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare each one before making your decision. But first, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the academic choices that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.

Paralegals and Legal Assistants

Cottonwood Arizona legal library

Legal assistants and paralegals for the most part both hold comparable job positions and functions, just with different titles. On the other hand, 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 attorneys with a diverse array of job functions, such as maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job functions are based upon the type of legal firm where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm could help with the logistics of a trial or transferring documents to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is typically billed hourly as are the attorney's. And the same as lawyers, they must carry out their duties with a high degree of professionalism and follow a strict standard of professional ethics. As noted, their duties can be varied in support of the practices where they are employed, but some of their everyday activities might include:

  • Investigating and fact checking cases
  • Researching applicable cases and laws
  • Preparing correspondence and legal documents
  • Submitting legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
  • 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 job of a paralegal can be involved and quite challenging. However, 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 clerical or administrative tasks more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers have the ability to manage a much larger number of clients or cases than they could on their own.

Paralegal Education and Certification

Cottonwood Arizona male legal assistant speaking on phone taking notes

As we previously covered, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the academic requirements and opportunities will be the same. The quickest means to begin your career as a legal assistant in Cottonwood AZ is by obtaining a certificate, which may involve as little as 6 months to complete. A large number of entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which offer a more extensive education and may be earned at numerous community colleges in 2 years. For an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are available as well. When you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you might choose to proceed and earn a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Arizona to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help maximize your employment opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. Some of the highly regarded 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 school (we will discuss the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 crucial first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.

Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Certificates and Degrees

Cottonwood Arizona woman student attending paralegal online classesOnline paralegal or legal assistant schools have become more prevalent and may be a good option for those looking for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be particularly appealing to Cottonwood AZ students who continue to work while obtaining a degree. As an added advantage, online classes can sometimes be less expensive than on campus options. Even supplementary expenses for such items as study materials or commuting may be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will cover in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the training you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the program and school you are considering are accredited by a respected organization, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less supervised and formal environment, then obtaining your degree or certificate online could be the ideal choice for you.

Things to Ask Paralegal Programs

Once you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what academic choices are available, you can start the undertaking of evaluating schools. But since there are numerous programs offered at community and junior colleges in the Cottonwood AZ area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you need to learn what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is particularly true if you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like many potential students, you will begin by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other significant aspects to research as well, including the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's go over some of the questions you should be asking the schools you are considering so that you can properly vet each one and make your final selection.

Is the Paralegal Training Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you enroll in should be accredited by a reputable 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 targets online or distance education. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will get will be of the highest quality, but it will demonstrate to future employers that you are a qualified professional also. A number of Cottonwood AZ law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited program. Finally, financial aid and student loans are usually obtainable only for accredited programs.

What's the School's Reputation? Investigate what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant programs you are looking at. This is of specific importance if you are entering the profession with no previous work history, since employers will need to rely on the quality of your training exclusively. Checking that the school you pick is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating services, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also call several Cottonwood AZ law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask what schools they recommend. Remember that even when a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an excellent reputation.

Does the Program Provide Internships? Internship programs provide students a chance to experience working in a law firm or other legal enterprise while attending school. They can also present a means for students to begin developing contacts within the Cottonwood AZ legal field. Ask if the paralegal programs you are evaluating offer internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering upon graduation.

Is Job Placement Assistance 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 assistance. Ask if the paralegal programs you are reviewing have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have sizable networks and good relationships with Arizona legal services employers. It also corroborates that their students are well regarded and sought after.

Where is the School's Location? Since laws differ from one state to another, it may be advantageous to choose a legal assistant school located in Arizona or the state where you wish to practice after graduating. Also, it will be valuable to develop relationships in the local legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is even more justification to acquire your education in the area where you wish to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many charge a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may need to initially look at those colleges that are within the Cottonwood AZ region.

How Much is the Complete Expense? Paralegal schools can differ in cost depending on the credential earned and the amount of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only cost for your training. Don't forget to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance may be available to help minimize part of the cost, so be sure to talk to the school's financial aid department to find out what is offered in Cottonwood AZ. Of course if you choose to attend an online school, some of these added expenses, for instance for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.

Do the Classes Fit your Schedule? Many paralegal 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, verify classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, confirm that the school you enroll in offers that option. Last, ask what the protocol is for making-up classes missed because of sickness, work or family obligations.

Learn More About Cottonwood Paralegal Courses

Choose the Right Cottonwood Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program

Choosing the best legal assistant training school is a vital first step toward 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 Cottonwood home. Paralegal training programs are offered in various formats and lengths. Several kinds of private and public institutions offer paralegal training, including junior and community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your selection 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. Give yourself the best possible chance to succeed in this fascinating profession. But no matter how you elect to obtain your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to evaluate each program and make your final decision. And with the appropriate education you can accomplish your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Cottonwood Arizona.


 

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