How to Enroll in the Best Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program Near El Mirage Arizona
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near El Mirage AZ and begin your journey that will result in a gratifying career in legal services. Nevertheless, it's crucial that you locate the right school so that you will receive the comprehensive 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 educational choices are being offered, both on campus and online. However with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one start? Some 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 choosing a school, they are not the only qualifiers you must consider. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the school should be considered too. Later in this post we will cover a list of concerns that you must ask potential paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare every one before making your choice. But before we do, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the instructional alternatives that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals essentially both fill the same job positions and responsibilities, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and belong to a different job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants help El Mirage AZ attorneys with a diverse array of job duties, including 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 are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm could assist with trial logistics or transporting files to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is normally billed by the hour as are the lawyer's. And the same as lawyers, they must carry out their duties with a high degree of professionalism and abide by a strict code of professional ethics. As mentioned, their duties can be varied in support of the firms where they work, but a few of their day-to-day tasks might involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on relevant cases and laws
- Preparing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting attorneys get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be involved and rather challenging. However, what they are not legally permitted to do is give legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not restricted to clerical or administrative duties more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the main support systems for attorneys. And since they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys are able to take on a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could alone.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are actually 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 way to begin your career as a paralegal in El Mirage AZ is by obtaining a certificate, which can require just 6 months to complete. Many entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which provide a more extensive education and can be acquired at many community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are available as well. Once you have earned either a certificate or degree, you may want to continue and obtain a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Arizona to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help increase your career opportunities, but help establish you as a professional as well. A few 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 certificate or degree from an accredited school (we will cover the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 crucial initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Schools
Paralegal and legal assistant online schools have become more prevalent and may be a good option for individuals searching for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be particularly attractive to El Mirage AZ students who continue to work while earning a degree. As an additional benefit, online programs can sometimes be less costly than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenses for such things as commuting or study materials can be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all online schools are accredited, which we will discuss in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the education you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the program and school you are reviewing are accredited by a reputable agency, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less structured and formal setting, then earning your certificate or degree online could be the right choice for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Certificate or Degree Programs
Once you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what educational options are offered, you can begin the undertaking of assessing schools. But considering that there are so many programs available at junior and community colleges in the El Mirage AZ area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you must know what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is particularly true when you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like most prospective students, you will start by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other significant factors to research also, including accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's go over several of the questions you should be asking the schools you are investigating so that you can effectively vet each one and make your final decision.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you enroll in should 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 targets distance or online learning. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will get will be of the highest quality, but it will demonstrate to potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. Numerous El Mirage AZ law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited program. Also, financial aid and student loans are typically accessible only for accredited programs.
What's the Program's Reputation? Investigate what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant schools you are looking at. This is of specific importance if you are new to the field with no previous work history, since employers will need to make a decision based on the quality of your training exclusively. Checking that the school you pick is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating reports, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact some El Mirage AZ law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask which schools they suggest. Keep in mind that even if a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the Program Provide Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law firm or other legal establishment while remaining in school. They can also offer a means for students to begin developing contacts within the El Mirage AZ legal community. 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 most likely wish to secure employment quickly after graduating, but getting that first job in a new profession can be difficult without help. Find out if the paralegal programs you are considering have job placement programs and what their placement 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 substantiates that their students are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the Campus Located? Considering that laws differ from state to state, it may be beneficial to select a legal assistant school located in Arizona or the state where you plan to practice after graduating. Also, it will be valuable to build relationships in the area legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is all the more justification to obtain your education in the community where you want to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many charge a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may need to initially investigate those schools that are within the El Mirage AZ region.
How Much is the Total Cost? Paralegal schools can differ in cost depending on the credential received and the length of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expense for your education. Remember to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial assistance might be obtainable to help reduce some of the cost, so don't forget to talk to the school's financial aid department to see what is available in El Mirage AZ. Naturally if you decide to attend an online program, some of these supplementary costs, for instance for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? Many paralegal students continue working while obtaining their training and must have flexibility in class scheduling. If you can solely attend weekend or evening classes near El Mirage AZ, verify classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make sure that the program you choose offers that option. Finally, inquire what the process is for making-up missed classes due to sickness, work or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Best El Mirage Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Selecting the best paralegal degree school is an important first step toward your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have addressed in this post, you have the option of attending classes on campus or you can attend them online in the comfort and privacy of your El Mirage home. Paralegal training programs are made available in various lengths and formats. Different kinds of private and public institutions make available paralegal education, including junior and community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a profound influence on your opportunities for success in your new career. Considering that there is a wide range in the quality of programs, pick carefully. Afford yourself the best possible chance to be successful in this fascinating profession. But irrespective of how you choose to receive your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have presented you will have the ability to assess each school and make your final decision. And with the ideal education you can accomplish your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in El Mirage Arizona.