How to Pick the Best Paralegal Studies Certificate or Degree Program Near Florence Arizona
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Florence AZ and begin your journey that will lead to a fulfilling profession in legal services. However, it's essential that you locate the ideal school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you need to achieve success. As you most likely understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more educational options are becoming available, both on campus and online. But with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one start? Some potential students start by searching for schools within commuting range of their Florence homes. Of those alternatives, they try to find the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are prime considerations when picking a school, they are not the only factors you should consider. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the program ought to be considered also. Later on in this article we will cover a list of questions that you ought to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare every one prior to making your decision. But before we do, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic choices that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants for the most part both hold comparable job positions and responsibilities, only with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and belong to a separate job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Florence AZ lawyers with a wide variety of job functions, including maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job functions are based upon the type of practice where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice may assist with trial logistics or transporting files to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is usually billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And the same as lawyers, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and comply with a strict standard of professional ethics. As noted, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they work, but some of their daily activities can include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching pertinent cases and laws
- Composing correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting lawyers prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be complex and rather demanding. However, what they are not legally permitted to do is provide legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not limited to clerical or administrative tasks more applicable 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 preparation and ground work, lawyers are able to handle a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could alone.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the academic requirements and job prospects will be the same. The quickest means to launch your career as a paralegal in Florence AZ is by obtaining a certificate, which can take just six months to complete. A large number of entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more extensive education and can be acquired at many community colleges in two years. For an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are an option also. When you have acquired either a certificate or degree, you might want to proceed and earn a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Arizona to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help boost your career opportunities, but help establish you as a professional as well. 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 two crucial first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Programs
Legal assistant and paralegal online schools have become more popular and may be a good option for those looking for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be especially attractive to Florence AZ students who continue to work while earning a certificate or degree. As an additional advantage, online classes can often be less expensive than more traditional options. Even supplementary expenses for such things as study materials or commuting may be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all online programs are accredited, which we will cover in more detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the training you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the school and program you are reviewing are accredited by a respected organization, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less structured and formal setting, then obtaining your certificate or degree online might be the ideal option for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Schools
Since you now you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what academic options are available, you can begin the process of evaluating schools. But considering that there are numerous programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Florence AZ area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you must know what questions to ask so that you can 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 the majority of prospective students, you will begin by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other critical factors to consider also, including the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's take a look at several of the questions you should be asking the programs you are considering so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your ultimate decision.
Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you pick should be accredited by a reputable organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it might also obtain 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 show future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Numerous Florence AZ law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited program. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are typically obtainable only for accredited programs.
What's the School's Reputation? Research what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal programs you are considering. This is of specific importance if you are new to the profession with no prior work history, since employers will have to make a decision based on the quality of your training exclusively. Confirming that the school you choose is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating reports, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact some Florence AZ law firms that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask what schools they recommend. Bear in mind that even though a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the School Provide Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law practice or other legal enterprise while remaining in school. They can also offer a means for students to begin creating contacts within the Florence AZ legal field. Ask if the paralegal programs you are considering provide internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help offered? You will probably want to secure employment quickly after graduation, but getting that initial job in a new field can be challenging without assistance. Find out if the paralegal schools you are assessing have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have substantial networks and great relationships with Arizona legal services employers. It also corroborates that their students are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the School's Location? Since laws vary among states, it may 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 valuable to build relationships in the area legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is all the more reason to obtain your education in the area where you desire to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most charge a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may wish to initially look at those colleges that are within the Florence AZ area.
What is the Complete Cost? Paralegal schools can differ in cost depending on the credential earned and the length of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only expense for your training. Don't forget to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid might be available to help offset some of the cost, so make sure to contact the school's financial aid department to see what is offered in Florence AZ. Naturally if you opt to attend an online program, a portion these additional costs, such as for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? Many legal students continue working while receiving their training and must have flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend weekend or evening classes near Florence AZ, make certain classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make sure that the program you choose provides that option. Finally, inquire what the protocol is for making-up missed classes because of work, illness or family obligations.
Choose the Right Florence Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Choosing the ideal paralegal studies degree program is a crucial first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have addressed in this post, you have the option of attending classes on-campus or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Florence home. Paralegal training programs are made available in many lengths and formats. Various types of public and private institutions make available paralegal education, including community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a profound impact on your prospects for success in your new profession. Since there is a wide range in the quality of schools, pick wisely. Give yourself the best possible chance to be successful in this rewarding profession. But irrespective of how you elect to obtain your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have provided you will have the ability to review each school and make your ultimate selection. And with the right training you can realize your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Florence Arizona.