How to Enroll in the Best Paralegal School Near El Mirage Arizona
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near El Mirage AZ and start your journey that will lead to a satisfying career in legal services. Nevertheless, it's essential that you find the ideal school so that you will get the extensive training that you require to be successful. As you most likely know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more educational alternatives are being offered, both at school and online. But with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one start? A number of potential students start by looking for schools within driving distance of their El Mirage homes. Of those choices, they look for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are important considerations when choosing a school, they are not the only qualifiers you should consider. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the program must be taken into account too. Later in this post we will review a list of questions that you should ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare every one prior to making your decision. But first, let's take a look at what a paralegal does and the educational options that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants basically both hold the same job positions and responsibilities, only with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and belong to a separate job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist El Mirage AZ attorneys with a diverse array of job duties, such as maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job functions are relevant to the type of practice where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice could assist with trial logistics or delivering files to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is typically billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And the same as lawyers, they must perform with a high level of professionalism and adhere to a strict code of professional ethics. As mentioned, their duties can be varied in support of the firms where they are employed, but some of their daily activities may involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on relevant laws and cases
- Drafting correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping lawyers get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be complex and very demanding. However, what they are not legally permitted to do is provide legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not limited to administrative or clerical tasks more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the right hand support systems for attorneys. And since they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers are able to handle a much larger number of clients or cases than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Certificates and Degrees and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are basically 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 quickest means to start your career as a legal assistant in El Mirage AZ is by obtaining a certificate, which can involve just six months to accomplish. Most entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more extensive education and can be acquired at numerous community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are available also. When you have earned either a degree or a certificate, you might choose to proceed and get a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Arizona to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help increase your employment opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. Some of the highly respected 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 certificate or degree from an accredited school (we will address 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 Paralegal and Legal Assistant Certificates and Degrees
Online paralegal or legal assistant programs have become more popular and can be an excellent alternative for those looking for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online programs can be particularly attractive to El Mirage AZ students who continue to work while obtaining a degree. As an added benefit, online schools can sometimes be less costly than on campus options. Even secondary expenses for such things as study materials or commuting may be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all online programs are accredited, which we will address in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the education you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the school and program you are reviewing are accredited by a respected agency, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less structured and formal setting, then obtaining your certificate or degree online might be the ideal option for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Degree or Certificate Programs
Since you now you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what training choices are available, you can begin the process of assessing schools. But because there are numerous programs accessible at junior and community colleges in the El Mirage AZ area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you must learn what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is particularly true when you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like many potential students, you will start by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other critical aspects to think about as well, including accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at several of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are investigating so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your ultimate selection.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you pick need to be accredited by a highly regarded organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it can also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance learning. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will obtain will be of the highest standard, but it will establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. Many El Mirage AZ law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited school. Also, financial assistance and student loans are typically offered only for accredited programs.
What's the School's Reputation? Learn what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant programs you are contemplating. This is of special importance if you are entering the field with no prior work history, since employers will need to make a decision based on the quality of your education exclusively. Confirming that the program you select is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating reports, 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 El Mirage AZ law firms that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask which schools they suggest. Bear in mind that even though a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an excellent reputation.
Does the Program Provide Internships? Internship programs offer students a chance to experience working in a law practice or other legal establishment while remaining in school. They can also offer an avenue for students to start developing contacts within the El Mirage AZ legal field. Find out if the paralegal schools you are reviewing provide internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance provided? You will probably wish to secure employment quickly after graduating, but getting that initial job in a new field can be challenging without help. Ask if the paralegal programs you are considering have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good indication that the schools have large networks and great relationships with Arizona legal services employers. It also confirms that their graduates are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the School's Location? Since laws vary from state to state, it might be beneficial to enroll in a legal assistant school domiciled in Arizona or the state where you want to work after graduating. In addition, it will be valuable to create relationships in the local legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is even more justification to obtain your education in the community where you want to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most charge an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may wish to first consider those colleges that are within the El Mirage AZ region.
What is the Total Expense? Paralegal schools can differ in cost based on the credential received and the length of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only expense 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 expense, so don't forget to contact the school's financial aid department to find out what is offered in El Mirage AZ. Naturally if you choose to attend an online school, a portion these additional costs, for instance for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Accommodate your Schedule? Many legal students continue working while getting their training and must have 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, confirm that the program you select provides that option. Finally, inquire what the protocol is for making-up missed classes because of work, illness or family obligations.
Enroll in the Right El Mirage Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Selecting the ideal legal assistant degree program is a crucial 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 at school or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your El Mirage home. Paralegal academic programs are provided in many lengths and formats. Several kinds 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 school will have a profound impact on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Given that there is a wide range in the quality of schools, pick wisely. Give yourself the best possible chance to be successful in this fascinating profession. But irrespective of how you elect to obtain your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will be able to review each program and make your ultimate selection. And with the right education you can accomplish your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in El Mirage Arizona.