How to Choose the Best Paralegal Studies Training Program Near Cottonwood Arizona
Congratulations 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. Nevertheless, it's important that you find the right school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you need to achieve success. As you probably know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more educational options are becoming available, both on campus and online. But with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Some potential students begin by looking for schools within driving distance of their Cottonwood homes. Of those options, they try to find the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are important considerations when picking a school, they are not the only factors you need to consider. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the school must be taken into account as well. Later on in this article 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 before we do, let's take 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
Legal assistants and paralegals basically both hold comparable job roles 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 classification. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Cottonwood AZ attorneys with a wide variety of job duties, such as maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific 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 may assist with trial logistics or delivering files to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is typically billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And just like lawyers, they must perform with a high level of professionalism and follow a strict code 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 routine tasks may include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on applicable laws and cases
- Composing correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting lawyers prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be complicated and very demanding. However, what they are not legally authorized to do is provide legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not confined to administrative or clerical duties more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers are able to manage a much larger number of cases or clients than they could on their own.
Paralegal Training 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 educational prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The fastest way to launch your career as a paralegal in Cottonwood AZ is by earning a certificate, which can involve as little as 6 months to accomplish. Most entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which provide a more extensive education and may be earned at numerous 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 obtained either a certificate or degree, you might want to continue and get a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Arizona to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help increase your career opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. A few 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 degree or certificate from an accredited program (we will discuss the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 essential initial steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Certificates and Degrees
Online legal assistant or paralegal programs have become more prevalent and may be an excellent option for those 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 degree. As an additional benefit, online programs can often be less costly than on campus options. Even supplementary expenditures for such items as study materials or commuting can be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will address in more detail later. But at a minimum 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 reviewing 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 setting, then earning your degree or certificate online might be the right option for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Studies Programs
Once you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what academic options are offered, you can start the process of evaluating schools. But considering that there are so many programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Cottonwood AZ area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you need to find out what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is particularly true when you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like the majority of potential students, you will begin by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other significant factors to think about as well, including accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's go over several of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are researching 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 pick need to be accredited by a reputable organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it can also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online 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. Many Cottonwood AZ law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited school. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are typically available only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Investigate what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant schools you are looking at. This is of specific importance if you are new to the profession with no previous experience, since employers will need to rely on the quality of your education exclusively. Verifying that the program 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 confirm school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call some Cottonwood AZ law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask what schools they recommend. Keep in mind that even though a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the School Sponsor Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law firm or other legal establishment while still in school. They can also provide a means for students to start developing contacts within the Cottonwood AZ legal field. Find out if the paralegal programs you are reviewing provide internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help provided? You will undoubtedly want to hit the ground running after graduation, but getting that initial job in a new profession can be difficult without help. Find out if the paralegal programs you are interviewing have job placement programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good indication that the schools have substantial networks and good relationships with Arizona legal services employers. It also corroborates that their students are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the Campus Located? Considering that laws differ among states, it may be a good idea to select a paralegal school located in Arizona or the state where you plan to practice after graduation. In addition, it will be necessary to establish relationships in the neighboring legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is all the more reason to acquire your education in the community where you want to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many charge a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might need to first investigate those schools that are within the Cottonwood AZ region.
How Much is the Total Expense? Paralegal schools can vary in price based on the credential obtained and the amount of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only cost for your training. Remember to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial assistance might be obtainable to help reduce part of the expense, so make sure to consult with the school's financial aid department to see what is offered in Cottonwood AZ. Naturally if you decide to attend an online school, some of these supplementary expenses, for instance for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Fit your Schedule? Many paralegal students keep working while receiving their training and need flexibility to schedule classes. If you can just attend weekend or evening classes near Cottonwood AZ, make sure classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, confirm that the school you choose provides that option. Finally, ask what the protocol is for making-up missed classes because of sickness, work or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Best Cottonwood Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Choosing the ideal legal assistant degree program is an important first step toward your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have addressed in this article, you have the choice of attending classes at school or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Cottonwood residence. Paralegal academic programs are provided in various formats and lengths. Several types of public and private institutions offer paralegal training, including junior and community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a pronounced influence on your prospects for success in your new profession. Given that there is a broad range in the quality of programs, pick wisely. Give yourself the greatest possible chance to be successful in this exciting profession. But no matter how you elect to receive your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will have the ability to assess each school and make your ultimate decision. And with the right education you can accomplish your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Cottonwood Arizona.