How to Choose the Best Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program Near Flagstaff Arizona
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Flagstaff AZ and start your journey that will lead to a satisfying profession in legal services. However, it's crucial that you find the ideal school so that you will get the extensive training that you require to be successful. As you most likely understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of educational alternatives are being offered, both at school and online. However with numerous options to choose from, where does one begin? Many potential students start by trying to find schools within driving distance of their Flagstaff homes. Of those choices, they try to find the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are important considerations when picking a college, they are not the only qualifiers you ought to consider. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the program must be considered also. Later on in this article we will cover a list of concerns that you ought to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare each one before making your decision. But before we do, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic choices that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals essentially both hold comparable job positions and functions, only with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and belong to a separate job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Flagstaff AZ lawyers with a wide range of job functions, including legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job duties are based upon the type of practice where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice may help with trial logistics or transporting documents to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is normally billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And the same as attorneys, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and comply with a strict standard of professional ethics. As stated, their responsibilities can be varied in support of the practices where they work, but some of their daily activities can include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on related cases and laws
- Composing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting attorneys get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal documents, files and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be involved and very demanding. However, what they are not legally permitted to do is offer legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not restricted to clerical or administrative functions more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers have the ability to handle a much larger number of clients or cases than they could on their own.
Paralegal Certificates and Degrees and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The quickest means to begin your career as a paralegal in Flagstaff AZ is by obtaining a certificate, which can involve as little as six months to accomplish. Many entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which offer a more expansive education and can be obtained at many community colleges in two years. For an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are available also. After you have earned either a degree or a certificate, you might want to proceed and get a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Arizona to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help maximize your employment opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. A few 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 school (we will discuss the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two important first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Classes
Paralegal and legal assistant online programs have become more popular and may be a good alternative for individuals looking for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be particularly attractive to Flagstaff AZ students who continue to work while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an additional advantage, online programs can in some cases be less expensive than on campus options. Even supplementary expenses for such things as study materials or commuting may be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will address in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the education you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the program and school you are reviewing are accredited by a highly regarded organization, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less supervised and conventional setting, then obtaining your degree or certificate online may be the ideal choice for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Degree or Certificate Programs
Once you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what academic choices are offered, you can begin the undertaking of evaluating schools. But because there are numerous programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Flagstaff AZ area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you need to learn what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is especially true if you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like most potential students, you will begin by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other crucial issues 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 properly vet each one and make your ultimate selection.
Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you select need to be accredited by a highly regarded organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it might also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets online or distance education. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will get will be of the highest quality, but it will establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Many Flagstaff AZ law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited school. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are often available only for accredited programs.
What's the School's Reputation? Research what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant schools you are looking at. This is of specific importance if you are entering the profession with no prior work history, since employers will have to rely on the caliber of your training exclusively. Verifying that the program you pick is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating services, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact several Flagstaff AZ law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask what schools they recommend. Bear in mind that even if a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the Program Offer Internships? Internship programs provide students an opportunity to experience working in a law practice or other legal enterprise while still in school. They can also present a means for students to begin developing contacts within the Flagstaff AZ legal field. Find out if the paralegal programs you are considering provide internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance provided? You will probably want to hit the ground running after graduation, but getting that initial job in a new profession can be difficult without help. Ask if the paralegal schools you are considering have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have sizable networks and great relationships with Arizona legal services employers. It also confirms that their students are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the Campus Located? Because 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 work after graduation. In addition, it will be valuable to develop relationships in the local legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is all the more justification to acquire your education in the area where you desire to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many charge a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might want to initially consider those schools that are within the Flagstaff AZ region.
How Much is the Total Cost? Paralegal programs can differ in price based on the credential obtained and the amount of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your training. Remember to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid may be obtainable to help reduce some of the expense, so don't forget to talk to the school's financial aid department to see what is offered in Flagstaff AZ. Of course if you decide to attend an online school, some of these added expenses, such as for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? Many legal students keep working while receiving their training and need flexibility to schedule classes. If you can solely attend weekend or evening classes near Flagstaff AZ, verify classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make certain that the school you enroll in offers that option. Last, ask what the procedure is for making-up missed classes due to sickness, work or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Best Flagstaff Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Selecting the right paralegal degree program is a crucial first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have discussed in this post, you have the option of attending classes on-campus or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Flagstaff home. Paralegal education programs are provided in numerous formats and lengths. Various kinds of public and private institutions make available paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four year universities and colleges, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a profound impact on your opportunities for success in your new career. Considering that there is a broad range in the quality of schools, choose wisely. Afford yourself the best possible chance to succeed in this fascinating profession. But irrespective of how you decide to receive your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have presented you will have the ability to evaluate each program and make your ultimate selection. And with the appropriate education you can achieve your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Flagstaff Arizona.