How to Find the Right Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program Near Cottonwood Arizona
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Cottonwood AZ and begin your journey that will result in a rewarding profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's crucial that you find the ideal school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you require to succeed. As you most likely know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of educational options are being offered, both at school and online. But with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one start? Many prospective students begin by searching for schools within traveling range of their Cottonwood homes. Of those choices, they try to find the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are important considerations when selecting a college, they are not the only qualifiers you should consider. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the program need to be taken into account also. Later in this article we will review a list of concerns that you need to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare every one before making your choice. But before we do, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the academic options that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants essentially both fill the same job roles and functions, only with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and are part of a separate job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Cottonwood AZ attorneys with a wide range of job functions, including maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job duties are based upon the type of practice where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice might help with the logistics of a trial or delivering files to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is typically billed by the hour as are the lawyer's. And the same as attorneys, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and abide by a strict standard of professional ethics. As noted, their duties can be diverse in support of the firms where they work, but some of their routine activities might include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching related laws and cases
- Drafting correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping lawyers prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal files, documents and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be complex and quite demanding. On the other hand, what they are not legally allowed to do is offer legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not limited to clerical or administrative duties more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the main support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys are able to take on a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could alone.
Paralegal Certificates and Degrees and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the educational requirements and opportunities will be the same. The fastest way to begin your career as a legal assistant in Cottonwood AZ is by earning a certificate, which may involve just 6 months to complete. Most entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which offer a more comprehensive education and may be acquired at many community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are an option as well. After you have acquired either a degree or a certificate, you might want to continue and receive a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Arizona to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help increase your employment opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. Some of the highly respected certifying organizations 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 advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 important initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Programs
Paralegal and legal assistant online programs have become more available and can be a good option for those searching for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online schools can be particularly attractive to Cottonwood AZ students who continue to work while obtaining a degree. As an additional benefit, online classes can in some cases be less costly than on campus options. Even ancillary expenditures for such items as study materials or commuting can be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will discuss in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the training you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the school and program you are reviewing are accredited by a respected agency, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less structured and formal setting, then earning your degree or certificate online may be the right choice for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Schools
Now that you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what training choices are available, you can start the process of evaluating schools. But since there are numerous programs accessible at junior and community colleges in the Cottonwood AZ area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you must know what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is especially true if you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like most potential students, you will begin by searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other significant issues to research also, for instance accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's go over a few of the questions you should be asking the schools you are considering so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your ultimate choice.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you choose need to be accredited by a recognized organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it may also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets online or distance education. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will obtain will be of the highest standard, but it will show future employers that you are a qualified professional also. A number of Cottonwood AZ law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited program. Finally, financial aid and student loans are typically available only for accredited schools.
What's the School's Reputation? Investigate what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant schools you are contemplating. This is of special importance if you are new to the field with no previous experience, since employers will have to make a decision based on the caliber of your education exclusively. Verifying that the school you pick is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating services, such as those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also call a few Cottonwood AZ law practices that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask which schools they recommend. Remember that even if a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an excellent reputation.
Does the School Sponsor Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law firm or other legal enterprise while attending school. They can also provide an avenue for students to begin creating contacts within the Cottonwood AZ legal community. Find out if the paralegal programs you are evaluating offer internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will most likely wish to secure employment quickly after graduating, but finding that initial job in a new profession can be difficult without help. Find out if the paralegal programs you are considering have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good sign that the schools have sizable networks and great relationships with Arizona legal services employers. It also confirms that their students are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the Campus Located? Because laws differ from state to state, it may be a good idea 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 create relationships in the neighboring legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is even more reason to acquire your education in the area where you wish to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most require an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may want to first look at those colleges that are within the Cottonwood AZ area.
How Much is the Complete Expense? Paralegal programs can vary in price based on the credential obtained and the length of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only expense for your education. Don't forget to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid might be obtainable to help offset part of the expense, so be sure to talk to the school's financial aid office to find out what is available in Cottonwood AZ. Of course if you opt to attend an online school, some of these supplementary expenses, such as for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Fit your Schedule? Many legal students continue working while getting their training and must have flexibility in class scheduling. If you can only 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 school you choose makes available that option. Finally, find out what the process is for making-up classes missed due to sickness, work or family obligations.
Enroll in the Right Cottonwood Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Enrolling in the right paralegal certificate school is a crucial first step toward 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 privacy and comfort of your Cottonwood residence. Paralegal training programs are offered in various lengths and formats. Different types of public and private institutions make available paralegal training, including community and junior colleges, four year universities and colleges, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a pronounced impact on your prospects for success in your new profession. Given that there is a wide range in the quality of programs, choose carefully. Give yourself the best possible chance to succeed in this rewarding profession. But irrespective of how you elect to obtain your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have provided you will have the ability to evaluate each school and make your final selection. And with the right training you can achieve your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Cottonwood Arizona.