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How to Choose the Right Paralegal School Near Flagstaff Arizona

Flagstaff Arizona female paralegal speaking with client on cellphoneCongratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Flagstaff AZ and begin your journey that will result in a satisfying profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's important that you locate the right school so that you will receive the extensive training that you require to succeed. As you probably understand, the legal field is among 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 options to choose from, where does one start? Many potential students begin by looking for schools within driving range of their Flagstaff homes. Of those options, they try to find the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are necessary considerations when picking a college, they are not the only factors you ought to take into consideration. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the program need to be taken into account too. Later on in this post we will cover a list of concerns that you should ask potential paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare every one before making your decision. But first, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the educational options that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.

Paralegals and Legal Assistants

Flagstaff Arizona legal library

Legal assistants and paralegals essentially both hold comparable job roles and responsibilities, only with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and are part of a different job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Flagstaff AZ lawyers with a wide variety of job functions, including legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job duties are relevant to the type of practice where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice may assist with the logistics of a trial or transporting 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 level of professionalism and follow a strict standard of professional ethics. As stated, their duties can be diverse in support of the practices where they are employed, but some of their daily tasks may involve:

  • Investigating and fact checking cases
  • Researching applicable cases and laws
  • Preparing correspondence and legal documents
  • Submitting legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
  • Helping attorneys prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
  • Organizing and preserving legal documents, files and other records

With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be complicated and very demanding. However, what they are not legally permitted to do is give legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not limited to administrative or clerical functions more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals 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 volume of cases or clients than they could otherwise.

Paralegal Programs and Certification

Flagstaff Arizona male paralegal on phone taking notes

As we previously covered, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the academic requirements and job prospects will be the same. The quickest means to begin your career as a legal assistant in Flagstaff AZ is by earning a certificate, which can involve as little as 6 months to complete. A large number of entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which offer a more extensive education and can be obtained at numerous community colleges in 2 years. For an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are available as well. Once you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you may want to continue and get a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Arizona to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help improve your employment opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. A few 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 certificate or degree from an accredited program (we will cover the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two important initial steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.

Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Certificates and Degrees

Flagstaff Arizona female student enrolled in online paralegal trainingOnline legal assistant or paralegal programs have become more prevalent and can be an excellent alternative for those searching for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online programs can be especially attractive to Flagstaff AZ students who continue to work while obtaining a degree. As an additional advantage, online classes can in some cases be less costly than on campus options. Even ancillary expenses for such things as commuting or study materials can be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all online schools are accredited, which we will cover in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the education you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the program and school you are reviewing are accredited by a respected organization, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to attend classes in a less structured and formal environment, then earning your degree or certificate online could be the ideal choice for you.

Points to Ask Paralegal Schools

Now that you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what training choices are available, you can begin the undertaking of assessing schools. But since there are numerous programs available at community and junior colleges in the Flagstaff 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 add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like many prospective students, you will start by searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other important aspects to consider also, including the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's go over some of the questions you should be asking the schools you are investigating so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your ultimate selection.

Is the Paralegal School and Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you select should be accredited by a respected accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it may also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online training. 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 as well. A number of Flagstaff AZ law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited program. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are typically offered only for accredited programs.

What's the School's Reputation? Investigate what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal schools you are considering. This is of particular importance if you are entering the profession with no previous work history, since employers will have to rely on the quality of your education exclusively. Confirming that the school you pick is accredited is an excellent 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 some Flagstaff AZ law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask what schools they recommend. Remember that even if a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an exceptional reputation.

Does the Program Offer Internships? Internship programs offer students an opportunity to experience working in a law firm or other legal enterprise while still in school. They can also present an avenue for students to begin establishing contacts within the Flagstaff AZ legal community. Ask if the paralegal schools you are evaluating offer internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing after graduation.

Is Job Placement Help offered? You will most likely want to secure employment quickly after graduation, but finding that initial job in a new field can be difficult without assistance. Ask if the paralegal programs you are assessing have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good indication that the schools have sizable networks and great relationships with Arizona legal services employers. It also confirms that their graduates are highly regarded and sought after.

Where is the School Located? Since laws vary from one state to another, it might be beneficial to choose a paralegal school domiciled in Arizona or the state where you wish to practice after graduating. Also, it will be necessary to establish relationships in the local legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is even more reason to obtain your education in the community where you choose to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most charge an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might need to initially investigate those schools that are within the Flagstaff AZ region.

How Much is the Complete Expense? Paralegal schools can differ in cost based on the credential obtained and the amount of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your education. Remember to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid might be available to help minimize part of the cost, so be sure to talk to the school's financial aid office to find out what is available in Flagstaff AZ. Naturally if you decide to attend an online school, a portion these supplementary expenses, for instance for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.

Do the Class Times Fit your Schedule? A number of legal students keep working while receiving their training and require flexibility in class scheduling. If you can solely attend night or weekend classes near Flagstaff AZ, make certain classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make certain that the school you enroll in makes available that option. Finally, inquire what the procedure is for making up missed classes due to work, illness or family emergencies.

Find Out More About Flagstaff Paralegal Certificate Programs

Enroll in the Best Flagstaff Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program

Selecting the ideal legal assistant training program is a vital first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have discussed in this article, you have the choice of attending classes on campus or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Flagstaff home. Paralegal education programs are made available in various formats and lengths. Various types of private and public institutions offer paralegal training, including community colleges, four-year universities and colleges, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a pronounced impact on your prospects for success in your new career. Considering that there is a broad range in the quality of schools, choose carefully. Afford yourself the greatest possible opportunity to succeed in this exciting profession. But irrespective of how you choose to receive your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have provided you will have the ability to examine each school and make your ultimate decision. And with the appropriate training you can realize your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Flagstaff Arizona.


 

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