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How to Pick the Right Paralegal Studies Degree Program Near Florence Arizona

Florence Arizona woman paralegal speaking with client on cellphoneCongratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Florence AZ and start your journey that will result in a rewarding profession in legal services. However, it's important that you locate the best school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you need to succeed. As you probably know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more academic choices are being offered, both at school and online. But with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? A number of potential students start by looking for schools within traveling range of their Florence residences. Of those options, they try to find the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are important considerations when selecting a college, they are not the only qualifiers you ought to consider. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the school must be taken into account too. Later in this post we will cover a list of concerns that you should ask potential paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare each one before making your choice. But before we do, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the academic choices that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.

Legal Assistants and Paralegals

Florence Arizona legal books

Legal assistants and paralegals for the most part both fill the same job positions and functions, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and belong to a different job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals help Florence AZ attorneys with a wide variety of job duties, such as maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job duties are based upon the type of legal firm where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm might assist with trial logistics or transporting files to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is normally billed hourly as are the attorney's. And the same as lawyers, they must carry out their duties with a high degree of professionalism and abide by a strict code 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 tasks may involve:

  • Investigating and fact checking cases
  • Researching applicable cases and laws
  • Preparing correspondence and legal documents
  • Filing legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
  • Assisting attorneys get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
  • Organizing and managing legal files, documents and other records

With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be complex and very demanding. However, what they are not legally allowed to do is provide legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not restricted to administrative or clerical tasks more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the main support systems for lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys have the ability to take on a much larger number of cases or clients than they could otherwise.

Paralegal Certificates and Degrees and Certification

Florence Arizona male legal assistant speaking on phone taking notes

As we discussed earlier, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational requirements and opportunities will be the same. The fastest means to start your career as a legal assistant in Florence AZ is by earning a certificate, which can involve just six months to accomplish. Most entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more expansive education and may be acquired at many community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are an option as well. After you have earned either a degree or a certificate, you might want to proceed and obtain a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Arizona to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help increase 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 certificate or degree from an accredited program (we will address the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two essential initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.

Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Programs

Florence Arizona woman student attending online paralegal coursesOnline paralegal or legal assistant programs have become more popular and can be a good alternative for those looking for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online programs can be particularly appealing to Florence AZ students who continue to work while earning a certificate or degree. As an additional benefit, online schools can in some cases be less expensive than on campus options. Even ancillary expenditures for such items as commuting or study materials can be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will cover in greater 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 school and program you are reviewing are accredited by a respected agency, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less supervised and formal setting, then obtaining your degree or certificate online could be the right option for you.

What to Ask Paralegal Colleges

Since you now you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what academic options are available, you can start the undertaking of evaluating schools. But considering that there are numerous programs available at community and junior colleges in the Florence AZ area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you must learn what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is especially true when you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like most potential students, you will start by searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other crucial factors to consider as well, for instance accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at a few of the questions you should be asking the programs you are investigating so that you can effectively vet each one and make your ultimate decision.

Is the Paralegal Training Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you choose should be accredited by a respected accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it might also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets 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 demonstrate to potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. A number of Florence AZ law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited program. Also, financial aid and student loans are typically accessible only for accredited programs.

What's the Program's Reputation? Learn what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal schools you are contemplating. This is of special importance if you are entering the field with no previous work history, since employers will need to make a decision based on the caliber of your training exclusively. Checking that the school you choose is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating services, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call a few Florence AZ law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask what schools they suggest. Keep in mind that even when a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an outstanding reputation.

Does the School Sponsor Internships? Internship programs give students an opportunity to experience working in a law office or other legal operation while attending school. They can also provide an avenue for students to start creating contacts within the Florence AZ legal field. Ask if the paralegal programs you are considering offer internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering after graduation.

Is Job Placement Help provided? You will undoubtedly want to hit the ground running after graduation, but finding that initial job in a new profession can be difficult without help. Find out if the paralegal schools you are reviewing have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good sign that the schools have large networks and great relationships with Arizona legal services employers. It also confirms that their graduates are highly regarded and sought after.

Where is the Campus Located? Considering that laws vary from state to state, it might be beneficial to enroll in a legal assistant school domiciled in Arizona or the state where you want to work after graduating. In addition, it will be necessary to cultivate relationships in the local legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is all the more justification to receive your education in the area where you want to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most charge a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may need to initially look at those schools that are within the Florence AZ region.

How Much is the Entire Cost? Paralegal programs can vary in price depending on the credential obtained and the amount of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only cost for your education. Don't forget to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial assistance might be available to help reduce part of the expense, so don't forget to talk to the school's financial aid office to find out what is available in Florence AZ. Of course if you decide to attend an online school, some of these supplementary expenses, for instance for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.

Do the Classes Match your Schedule? Many paralegal students continue working while getting their training and need flexibility to schedule classes. If you can just attend weekend or evening classes near Florence 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 select offers that option. Last, find out what the procedure is for making-up missed classes due to work, illness or family obligations.

Find Out More About Florence Online Paralegal Classes

Choose the Best Florence Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program

Choosing the right paralegal studies certificate program is a crucial first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have discussed in this post, you have the option of attending classes at school or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Florence home. Paralegal academic programs are made available in many lengths and formats. Different types of private and public institutions make available paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four year universities and colleges, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a pronounced impact on your prospects for success in your new career. Considering that there is a wide range in the quality of programs, pick carefully. Give yourself the best possible opportunity to be successful in this fascinating profession. But regardless of how you elect to obtain your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have presented you will have the ability to review each program and make your ultimate selection. And with the appropriate education you can realize your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Florence Arizona.


 

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