How to Select the Best Paralegal Certificate Program Near El Mirage Arizona
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near El Mirage AZ and begin your journey that will lead to a gratifying career in legal services. Nevertheless, it's essential that you find the best school so that you will get the comprehensive 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 educational choices are being offered, both at school and online. However with so many options to choose from, where does one begin? Many potential students start by looking for schools within driving range of their El Mirage homes. Of those choices, they try to find the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are prime considerations when picking a college, they are not the only factors you need to take into consideration. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the school need to be considered too. Later in this article we will review a list of concerns that you should ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare every one prior to making your decision. But first, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the educational alternatives that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants basically both fill comparable job roles and responsibilities, just 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 legal assistants and paralegals help El Mirage AZ attorneys with a diverse array 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 legal firm where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice might assist with trial logistics or transferring files to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is typically billed hourly as are the attorney's. And just like lawyers, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and adhere to a strict standard of professional ethics. As mentioned, their responsibilities can be varied in support of the firms where they work, but a few of their day-to-day tasks can include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on related cases and laws
- Preparing correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping attorneys prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal documents, files and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the role 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 administrative or clerical duties more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the main support systems for lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers are able to handle a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could on their own.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the academic prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The fastest means to begin your career as a paralegal in El Mirage AZ is by obtaining a certificate, which may require as little as 6 months to accomplish. Many entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which offer a more extensive education and may be earned at many community colleges in 2 years. For an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are available as well. When you have acquired either a certificate or degree, you may want to continue and receive a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Arizona to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help maximize your employment opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. Some of the highly respected 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 school (we will cover the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 important first steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Training
Online paralegal or legal assistant schools have become more popular and can be a good option for individuals looking for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be especially appealing to El Mirage AZ students who keep working while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an added benefit, online programs can in some cases be less costly than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenditures for such things as commuting or study materials may be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all online schools are accredited, which we will discuss in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the education you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the school and program you are reviewing are accredited by a reputable agency, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less structured and formal setting, then earning your degree or certificate online may be the right choice for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Degree or Certificate Programs
Once you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what training options are available, you can start the undertaking of evaluating schools. But because there are so many programs available at community and junior colleges in the El Mirage AZ area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you must learn what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is especially true if you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. If you are like the majority of potential students, you will begin by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other critical factors to research as well, such as accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at some of the questions you should be asking the programs you are investigating so that you can properly vet each one and make your ultimate decision.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you select should be accredited by a recognized 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 education. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will get will be of the highest standard, but it will show future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Numerous El Mirage AZ law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited school. Also, financial aid and student loans are often obtainable only for accredited programs.
What's the School's Reputation? Learn what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal programs you are contemplating. This is of particular importance if you are entering the profession with no prior work history, since employers will need to rely on the quality of your education exclusively. Verifying that the school you pick is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating reports, such as those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact some El Mirage AZ law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask what schools they suggest. Remember that even if a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the School Sponsor Internships? Internship programs provide students a chance to experience working in a law practice or other legal operation while still in school. They can also offer a pathway for students to start establishing contacts within the El Mirage AZ legal community. Find out if the paralegal schools you are assessing provide internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will most likely want to secure employment quickly after graduating, but finding that initial job in a new field can be difficult without support. Ask if the paralegal programs you are considering have job placement programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have large networks and good relationships with Arizona legal services employers. It also confirms that their students are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the School's Location? Considering that laws vary from one state to another, it may be a good idea to enroll in a legal assistant school domiciled in Arizona or the state where you want to work after graduation. In addition, it will be valuable to develop relationships in the neighboring legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is even more justification to receive your education in the area where you want to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most charge a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might wish to initially investigate those colleges that are within the El Mirage AZ area.
What is the Total Expense? Paralegal programs can vary in price depending on the credential received and the length 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 might be obtainable to help minimize part of the cost, so make sure to contact the school's financial aid office to see what is offered in El Mirage AZ. Needless to say that if you decide to attend an online school, some of these additional costs, for instance for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? Numerous paralegal students continue working while getting their training and need flexibility to schedule classes. If you can just attend weekend or evening classes near El Mirage AZ, verify classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make sure that the program you select offers that option. Last, inquire what the procedure is for making up missed classes as a result of work, illness or family obligations.
Choose the Right El Mirage Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Choosing the best paralegal certificate program is an essential first step toward your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have covered in this post, you have the choice of attending classes on campus or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your El Mirage residence. Paralegal education programs are provided in numerous formats and lengths. Several kinds of private and public institutions make available paralegal education, including community colleges, four year colleges and universities, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a pronounced influence 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 greatest possible opportunity to be successful in this rewarding profession. But regardless of how you choose to obtain your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will be able to review each school and make your final selection. And with the appropriate education you can achieve your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in El Mirage Arizona.