How to Enroll in the Best Paralegal Studies Certificate Program Near Flagstaff Arizona
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Flagstaff AZ and begin your journey that will lead to a fulfilling profession in legal services. However, it's essential that you find the ideal school so that you will receive the extensive training that you need to achieve success. As you probably know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of educational options are becoming available, both at school and online. However with so many options to choose from, where does one begin? Some prospective students begin by looking for schools within traveling range of their Flagstaff homes. Of those alternatives, they try to find the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are necessary considerations when choosing a school, they are not the only factors you must consider. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the school ought to be considered also. Later on in this article we will review a list of concerns that you must ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare every one prior to making your selection. But first, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the educational alternatives that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals essentially both fill the same job positions and responsibilities, only 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 category. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Flagstaff AZ lawyers with a diverse array 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 help with trial logistics or delivering documents to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is typically billed hourly as are the attorney's. And the same as attorneys, they must perform with a high level of professionalism and comply with a strict standard of professional ethics. As stated, their duties can be varied in support of the practices where they work, but some of their day-to-day activities may include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching related laws and cases
- Composing correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting attorneys get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be involved and very 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 they are not confined to clerical or administrative tasks more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers are able to manage a much larger number of clients or cases than they could on their own.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are actually 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 require as little as 6 months to complete. Many entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more expansive education and can be earned at numerous community colleges in two years. For an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are an option as well. After you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you might want to proceed and receive a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Arizona to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help boost your employment opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. Some 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 advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 essential 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 legal assistant or paralegal programs have become more common and may be an excellent alternative for students looking for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be especially attractive to Flagstaff AZ students who keep working while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an additional advantage, online classes can in some cases be less costly than on campus options. Even supplementary expenses for such items as commuting or study materials can be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all online schools are accredited, which we will cover in more detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the education you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the program and school you are considering are accredited by a highly regarded agency, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less supervised and formal setting, then earning your certificate or degree online might be the ideal option for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Studies Programs
Since you now you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what educational options are offered, you can begin the process of assessing schools. But considering that there are so many programs accessible at community and junior colleges in the Flagstaff AZ area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you must know what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is especially true when you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like many potential students, you will start by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other crucial factors to research as well, such as accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at several of the questions you should be asking the programs you are investigating so that you can properly vet each one and make your final decision.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you pick need to be accredited by a respected organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it might also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online education. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will get will be of the highest standard, but it will establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. Many Flagstaff AZ law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited school. Finally, financial aid and student loans are usually accessible only for accredited schools.
What's the Program's Reputation? Learn what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal programs you are considering. This is of specific importance if you are entering the field with no previous work history, since employers will have to rely on the caliber of your training exclusively. Verifying that the program you choose is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating reports, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact a few Flagstaff AZ law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask what schools they suggest. Bear in mind that even when a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the Program Provide Internships? Internship programs offer students an opportunity to experience working in a law office or other legal operation while remaining in school. They can also present an avenue for students to start developing contacts within the Flagstaff AZ legal community. Ask if the paralegal schools you are considering provide internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help offered? You will most likely want to hit the ground running after graduation, but finding that first job in a new field can be difficult without help. Find out if the paralegal schools you are assessing 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 graduates are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the School Located? Considering that laws vary among states, it may be advantageous to enroll in a legal assistant school located in Arizona or the state where you wish to work after graduation. Also, it will be necessary to build relationships in the local legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is all the more reason to obtain your education in the area where you choose to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many require an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may wish to initially consider those schools that are within the Flagstaff AZ area.
What is the Complete Expense? Paralegal schools can vary in price based 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 add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid might be available to help reduce part of the expense, so make sure to check with the school's financial aid department to find out what is available in Flagstaff AZ. Needless to say that if you decide to attend an online program, a portion these added expenses, such as for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Accommodate your Schedule? Numerous paralegal students continue working while receiving their training and require flexibility to schedule classes. If you can just attend night or weekend classes near Flagstaff AZ, make sure classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make sure that the program you enroll in offers that option. Last, ask what the procedure is for making up classes missed due to work, illness or family obligations.
Choose the Right Flagstaff Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Enrolling in the ideal paralegal studies degree school is an essential first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have addressed in this post, you have the choice of attending classes at school or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Flagstaff residence. Paralegal academic programs are offered in various formats and lengths. Different types of private and public institutions offer paralegal education, including community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a profound impact on your prospects for success in your new career. Since there is a broad range in the quality of programs, pick carefully. Give yourself the greatest possible chance to be successful in this fascinating profession. But no matter how you choose to receive your education 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 ultimate decision. And with the right education you can accomplish your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Flagstaff Arizona.