How to Enroll in the Best Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program Near Fountain Hills Arizona
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Fountain Hills AZ and start your journey that will result in a gratifying career in legal services. Nevertheless, it's crucial that you locate the ideal school so that you will receive the extensive training that you need to achieve success. As you probably understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more educational options are being offered, both at school and online. However with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one start? Many potential students start by trying to find schools within driving distance of their Fountain Hills residences. Of those choices, they look for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are prime considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only qualifiers you should take into consideration. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the school must be taken into consideration also. Later in this article we will review a list of questions that you need to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare each one prior to making your choice. 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.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants basically both hold the same job roles and functions, just with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and are part of a different job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Fountain Hills AZ lawyers with a wide range of job functions, such as maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job functions are based upon the type of legal firm where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm could assist with trial logistics or delivering files to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is typically billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And just like attorneys, they must carry out their duties with a high level of professionalism and follow a strict code of professional ethics. As noted, their responsibilities can be varied in support of the practices where they are employed, but a few of their day-to-day tasks may involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching relevant laws and cases
- Composing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping lawyers get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal files, documents and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be complex and rather demanding. On the other hand, what they are not legally authorized to do is offer legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not restricted to administrative or clerical duties more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the right hand support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys are able to handle a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could on their own.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we previously covered, 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 begin your career as a legal assistant in Fountain Hills AZ is by obtaining a certificate, which can take just 6 months to accomplish. Most entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which provide a more expansive education and can be earned at numerous community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are available also. When you have earned either a degree or a certificate, you might want to continue and receive a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Arizona to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help boost your career opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. Some of the highly respected 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 address 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.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Classes
Paralegal and legal assistant online programs have become more popular and can be a good option for students looking for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be particularly attractive to Fountain Hills AZ students who continue to work while earning a certificate or degree. As an added benefit, online classes can often be less costly than more traditional options. Even secondary expenditures for such items as commuting or study materials can be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will address in more detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the education you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the school and program you are looking into are accredited by a highly regarded organization, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to attend classes in a less supervised and conventional environment, then earning your certificate or degree online might be the ideal option for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Since you now you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what academic options are available, you can begin the undertaking of assessing schools. But since there are numerous programs offered at community and junior colleges in the Fountain Hills AZ area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you must find out what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is particularly true when you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. If you are like many prospective students, you will start by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other important issues to research also, such as accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at some of the questions you should be asking the schools you are considering so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your final selection.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you choose need to be accredited by a respected organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it might also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets online or distance learning. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will obtain will be of the highest quality, but it will show future employers that you are a qualified professional also. Numerous Fountain Hills AZ law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited school. Also, financial assistance and student loans are often accessible only for accredited schools.
What's the Program's Reputation? Find out what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal programs you are looking at. This is of particular importance if you are new to the field with no prior work history, since employers will need to make a decision based on the quality of your education exclusively. Checking that the school you select is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating services, 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 Fountain Hills AZ law practices 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 excellent reputation.
Does the Program Offer Internships? Internship programs offer students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal establishment while still in school. They can also offer a means for students to start developing contacts within the Fountain Hills 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 Assistance offered? You will undoubtedly want to secure employment quickly after graduating, but finding that initial job in a new profession can be challenging without support. Find out if the paralegal schools you are considering have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good sign that the schools have large networks and good relationships with Arizona legal services employers. It also substantiates that their graduates are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the School Located? Because laws differ from state to state, it may be beneficial to enroll in a paralegal school domiciled in Arizona or the state where you plan to practice after graduation. In addition, it will be necessary to develop 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 choose to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many charge an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may want to first look at those colleges that are within the Fountain Hills AZ region.
How Much is the Total Cost? Paralegal schools can vary in price based on the credential earned and the amount of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only cost for your education. Remember to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid might be available to help reduce some of the cost, so make sure to contact the school's financial aid office to find out what is available in Fountain Hills AZ. Of course if you choose to attend an online school, some of these supplementary costs, such as for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Fit your Schedule? Many paralegal students keep working while getting their training and need flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend weekend or evening classes near Fountain Hills AZ, make certain classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, confirm that the program you choose provides that option. Finally, inquire what the protocol is for making up classes missed because of work, illness or family emergencies.
Choose the Right Fountain Hills Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Choosing the right legal assistant degree school is a crucial first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have addressed in this article, you have the option of attending classes at school or you can attend them online in the comfort and privacy of your Fountain Hills home. Paralegal training programs are made available in various lengths and formats. Several kinds of public and private institutions provide paralegal training, including community colleges, four year universities and colleges, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a profound influence on your prospects for success in your new profession. Since there is a broad range in the quality of programs, choose wisely. Afford yourself the best possible opportunity to succeed in this fascinating profession. But regardless of how you choose to acquire your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have presented you will be able to review each school and make your final decision. And with the right training you can realize your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Fountain Hills Arizona.