How to Choose the Right Paralegal Studies Program Near Flagstaff Arizona
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Flagstaff AZ and begin your journey that will result in a rewarding career in legal services. Nevertheless, it's crucial that you find the right 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 more and more educational options are becoming available, both at school and online. However with numerous options to choose from, where does one begin? A number of prospective students begin by looking for schools within commuting distance of their Flagstaff residences. Of those options, they search for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are very important considerations when picking a college, they are not the only qualifiers you must consider. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the school ought to be considered too. Later on in this post we will review a list of questions that you must ask potential paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare each one before making your selection. But first, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the educational alternatives that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals essentially both hold the same job positions 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 category. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Flagstaff AZ attorneys with a wide variety of job duties, including legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular 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 could help with trial logistics or transporting files to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is normally billed hourly as are the attorney's. And just like attorneys, they must carry out their duties with a high level of professionalism and comply with a strict code of professional ethics. As noted, their duties can be varied in support of the firms where they work, but some of their daily tasks may include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on pertinent laws and cases
- Composing correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting attorneys get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be complicated and very demanding. On the other hand, what they are not legally permitted to do is provide legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not restricted to administrative or clerical duties more suited 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, attorneys are able to take on a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The fastest means to launch your career as a paralegal in Flagstaff AZ is by earning a certificate, which can involve just 6 months to complete. A large number of entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which offer a more expansive education and may be acquired at numerous community colleges in 2 years. For an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are an option also. When you have acquired either a certificate or degree, you might want to continue and earn a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Arizona to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help increase your career opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. Some of the highly regarded 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 degree or certificate from an accredited program (we will discuss the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining 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
Legal assistant and paralegal online programs have become more popular and can be a good option for those looking for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online schools can be particularly attractive to Flagstaff AZ students who continue to work while earning a certificate or degree. As an additional advantage, online programs can sometimes be less costly than on campus options. Even secondary expenditures for such items as study materials or commuting may be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all online schools are accredited, which we will discuss in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the education you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the program and school you are looking into are accredited by a reputable agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less supervised and conventional setting, then earning your degree or certificate online could be the right option for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Certificate or Degree Programs
Since you now you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what academic choices are offered, you can start the process of assessing schools. But because there are so many programs accessible at junior and community colleges in the Flagstaff AZ area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you must find out what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is especially true if you add 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 covered, there are other significant aspects to research also, including the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's take a look at some of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are considering so that you can effectively vet each one and make your final selection.
Is the Paralegal School and Program Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you pick should be accredited by a recognized accrediting agency 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 training. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will obtain will be of the highest quality, but it will show potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Numerous 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 often available only for accredited programs.
What's the Program's Reputation? Research what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal schools you are contemplating. This is of specific importance if you are new to the field with no prior work history, since employers will have to make a decision based on the quality of your training exclusively. Verifying that the program you select is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating reports, such as those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call some Flagstaff AZ law practices that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask which schools they suggest. Remember that even though a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an excellent reputation.
Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs offer students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal enterprise while remaining in school. They can also offer a pathway for students to start establishing contacts within the Flagstaff AZ legal community. Ask if the paralegal schools you are evaluating offer internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance provided? You will undoubtedly want to hit the ground running after graduating, but getting that first job in a new profession can be challenging without help. Ask if the paralegal schools you are interviewing 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 confirms that their graduates are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the Campus Located? Since laws differ from one state to another, it may be advantageous to select a paralegal school domiciled in Arizona or the state where you want to practice after graduating. Also, it will be necessary to develop relationships in the local legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is all the 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 require an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may wish to first consider those colleges that are within the Flagstaff AZ area.
How Much is the Complete Cost? Paralegal schools can differ in cost based on the credential received and the length of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expense for your training. Remember to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid may be accessible to help minimize some of the expense, so don't forget to consult with the school's financial aid department to see what is offered in Flagstaff AZ. Needless to say that if you decide to attend an online program, some of these added costs, for instance for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Accommodate your Schedule? Numerous paralegal students keep working while getting their training and need flexibility to schedule classes. If you can solely attend night or weekend classes near Flagstaff AZ, make certain classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make certain that the school you choose offers that option. Last, find out what the process is for making up missed classes due to work, illness or family obligations.
Enroll in the Right Flagstaff Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Choosing the ideal legal assistant training program is an essential first step toward your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have addressed in this article, you have the choice of attending classes on campus or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Flagstaff residence. Paralegal training programs are offered in various formats and lengths. Several types of private and public institutions make available paralegal training, including community colleges, four-year universities and colleges, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a pronounced influence on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Since there is a wide range in the quality of schools, pick wisely. Afford yourself the greatest possible chance to be successful in this fascinating profession. But no matter how you choose to obtain your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have presented you will have the ability to review each school and make your ultimate decision. And with the ideal education you can realize your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Flagstaff Arizona.