How to Select the Best Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program Near Florence Arizona
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Florence AZ and begin your journey that will lead to a fulfilling profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's important that you find the ideal school so that you will receive the extensive training that you require to achieve success. As you most likely understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of educational choices are becoming available, both on campus and online. However with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one start? Some potential students begin by searching for schools within commuting range of their Florence residences. Of those choices, they look for the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are important considerations when picking a school, they are not the only qualifiers you should take into consideration. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the program should be taken into account also. Later on in this article we will review a list of questions that you must ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare each one prior to making your selection. But before we do, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the educational choices that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals for the most part both fill comparable job roles and functions, only with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and belong to a different job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals help Florence AZ lawyers with a wide variety of job functions, including maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job duties are based upon the type of practice where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm may assist with trial logistics or transferring documents to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is typically billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And just like attorneys, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and comply with a strict standard of professional ethics. As mentioned, their duties can be varied in support of the firms where they work, but some of their regular tasks may involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on pertinent laws and cases
- Drafting correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping lawyers get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be complicated and quite challenging. However, what they are not legally allowed to do is offer legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not limited to clerical or administrative functions more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys are able to take on a much larger number of clients or cases than they could on their own.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the academic prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The fastest way to begin your career as a paralegal in Florence AZ is by earning a certificate, which can involve just 6 months to accomplish. Most entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which offer a more comprehensive education and can be acquired at many community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are available also. When you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you might choose to proceed and receive a certification. Although 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 program (we will discuss the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two essential initial steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Certificates and Degrees
Legal assistant and paralegal online schools have become more prevalent and can be a good option for individuals looking for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online schools can be particularly appealing to Florence AZ students who continue to work while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an added benefit, online schools can often be less costly than on campus options. Even ancillary expenditures for such items as study materials or commuting may be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will discuss in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the training you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the program and school you are looking into are accredited by a highly regarded agency, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less structured and formal setting, then obtaining your degree or certificate online might be the right option for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Programs
Now that you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what training options are available, you can begin the process of evaluating schools. But since there are so many programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Florence AZ area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you must learn what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is particularly true if you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like most prospective students, you will start by searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other critical factors to think about also, such as 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 researching so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your ultimate selection.
Is the Paralegal School and Program Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you choose need to be accredited by a recognized organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it can also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance learning. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will obtain will be of the highest standard, but it will demonstrate to potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. A number of Florence AZ law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited school. Also, financial assistance and student loans are often available only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Learn what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant schools you are considering. This is of specific importance if you are new to the profession with no previous work history, since employers will need to rely on the quality of your education exclusively. Checking that the program you select is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating reports, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact several Florence AZ law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask what schools they recommend. Keep in mind that even if a school is not among the most highly ranked, 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 firm or other legal operation while still in school. They can also offer an avenue for students to begin developing 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 are most interested in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help available? You will most likely want to secure employment quickly after graduating, but finding that first job in a new profession can be challenging without assistance. Ask if the paralegal schools you are assessing have job placement programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good sign that the schools have sizable networks and good relationships with Arizona legal services employers. It also corroborates that their graduates are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the School's Location? Because laws vary from one state to another, it might be a good idea to enroll in a paralegal school domiciled in Arizona or the state where you plan to work after graduation. Also, it will be necessary to create relationships in the neighboring legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is all the more reason to receive your education in the community where you want to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many require a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may wish to first look at those colleges that are within the Florence AZ area.
How Much is the Complete Cost? Paralegal programs can differ in price depending on the credential received and the length of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your training. Remember to add 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 talk to the school's financial aid department to see what is available in Florence AZ. Naturally if you opt to attend an online school, some of these additional expenses, such as for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? Numerous legal students continue working while receiving their training and require flexibility in class scheduling. If you can solely attend night or weekend classes near Florence AZ, make certain classes are available 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. Finally, find out what the procedure is for making up classes missed because of work, illness or family obligations.
Choose the Best Florence Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Selecting the best paralegal studies certificate school is an essential first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have covered in this article, you have the option of attending classes on campus or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Florence residence. Paralegal training programs are provided in various lengths and formats. Various types of private and public institutions provide paralegal training, including junior and community colleges, four-year universities and colleges, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a pronounced influence on your prospects for success in your new career. Since there is a wide range in the quality of schools, pick wisely. Afford yourself the greatest possible opportunity to succeed in this rewarding profession. But regardless of how you decide to acquire your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will be able to review each program and make your final decision. And with the appropriate training you can realize your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Florence Arizona.