How to Enroll in the Right Paralegal Certificate Program Near Flagstaff Arizona
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Flagstaff AZ and begin your journey that will lead to a fulfilling profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's crucial that you locate the ideal school so that you will get the extensive training that you require to succeed. As you most likely know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more academic choices are becoming available, both on campus and online. But with numerous options to choose from, where does one start? Many potential students begin by searching for schools within commuting distance of their Flagstaff homes. Of those choices, they search for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are very important considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only factors you ought to take into consideration. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the program should be taken into account also. Later in this article we will review a list of concerns that you should ask potential paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare each one before making your decision. But before we do, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the educational choices that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals for the most part both fill the same job roles 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 different job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Flagstaff AZ attorneys with a diverse array of job duties, such as maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job duties are based upon the type of practice where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm may assist with trial logistics or transporting files to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is typically billed hourly as are the attorney's. And the same as attorneys, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and adhere to a strict code of professional ethics. As noted, their responsibilities can be diverse in support of the practices where they work, but some of their routine tasks may involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on applicable laws and cases
- Preparing correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting attorneys prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be complex and very challenging. However, what they are not legally allowed to do is provide legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not restricted to clerical or administrative functions more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the main support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers have the ability to take on a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could on their own.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the academic requirements and opportunities will be the same. The fastest way to start your career as a legal assistant in Flagstaff AZ is by obtaining a certificate, which can require as little as six months to complete. Most entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which offer a more extensive education and may be obtained at numerous community colleges in two years. For an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are an option as well. When you have earned 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 work as a paralegal, certification may not only help increase your employment opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. Some of the highly regarded certifying agencies 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 cover the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 essential first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Certificates and Degrees
Paralegal and legal assistant online schools have become more common and may be an excellent alternative for students looking 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 schools can in some cases be less costly than more traditional options. Even supplementary expenditures for such items as study materials or commuting may be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all online schools are accredited, which we will address in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the training 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 agency, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to attend classes in a less structured and formal setting, then obtaining your certificate or degree online could be the ideal choice for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Certificate or Degree Programs
Now that you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what educational choices are offered, you can start the undertaking of evaluating schools. But since there are so many programs accessible at junior and community colleges in the Flagstaff AZ area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you need to find out what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is especially true when you add all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like most prospective students, you will begin by searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other critical aspects to consider also, for instance accreditation and the reputation 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 ultimate choice.
Is the Paralegal School and Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you enroll in need to be accredited by a highly regarded organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it may also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on 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 as well. Many Flagstaff AZ law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited program. Also, financial assistance and student loans are usually accessible only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Investigate what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant schools you are looking at. This is of particular importance if you are entering the field with no prior experience, since employers will have to make a decision based on the caliber of your education exclusively. Verifying that the program you pick is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating reports, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact a few Flagstaff AZ law practices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask what schools they suggest. Remember that even though 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 offer students a chance to experience working in a law firm or other legal operation while remaining 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 evaluating provide internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help provided? You will probably wish to hit the ground running after graduating, but finding that first job in a new field can be challenging without support. Ask if the paralegal programs you are considering have job assistance programs and what their success 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 substantiates that their students are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the Campus Located? Since laws vary among states, it might be beneficial to select a legal assistant school domiciled in Arizona or the state where you plan to work after graduation. In addition, it will be necessary to create relationships in the neighboring legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is even more justification to receive 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 consider those colleges that are within the Flagstaff AZ area.
How Much is the Total Expense? Paralegal programs can differ in cost depending on the credential earned and the length of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expense for your training. Remember to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance may be obtainable to help offset part of the expense, so don't forget to contact the school's financial aid office to see what is available in Flagstaff AZ. Needless to say that if you opt to attend an online program, a portion these additional costs, 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 just 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 select provides that option. Last, inquire what the procedure is for making up classes missed as a result of sickness, work or family emergencies.
Choose the Best Flagstaff Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Selecting the right legal assistant certificate school is a crucial first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have discussed in this article, you have the choice of attending classes at school or you can attend them online in the comfort and privacy of your Flagstaff home. Paralegal education programs are made available in numerous formats and lengths. Various kinds of private and public institutions make available paralegal training, including community and junior colleges, four year colleges and universities, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a pronounced influence on your opportunities for success in your new career. Considering that there is a broad range in the quality of schools, pick carefully. Afford yourself the best possible chance to succeed in this exciting profession. But regardless of how you choose to receive your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will be able to examine each school and make your ultimate decision. And with the ideal training you can realize your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Flagstaff Arizona.