How to Pick the Best Paralegal Degree Program Near Fountain Hills Arizona
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Fountain Hills AZ and begin your journey that will lead to a gratifying profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's important that you find the right school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you need to achieve success. As you most likely understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more academic choices are becoming available, both at school and online. But with so many options to choose from, where does one start? Many prospective students start by trying to find schools within commuting distance of their Fountain Hills homes. Of those alternatives, they look for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are important considerations when choosing a college, they are not the only qualifiers you ought to take into consideration. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the school ought to be taken into consideration as well. Later in this article we will review a list of questions that you ought to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare each one prior to making your decision. But first, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the educational choices that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals for the most part both hold the same job roles and responsibilities, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and are part of a different job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Fountain Hills AZ lawyers with a wide variety 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 practice could assist with the logistics of a trial or transferring documents to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is usually billed by the hour as are the lawyer's. And just like attorneys, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and follow a strict standard of professional ethics. As stated, their duties can be varied in support of the practices where they are employed, but a few of their regular tasks may involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on applicable cases and laws
- Composing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping attorneys get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be complicated and very demanding. However, what they are not legally allowed to do is offer legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not limited to administrative or clerical functions more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the main support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers have the ability to handle a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are essentially 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 Fountain Hills AZ is by obtaining a certificate, which can require just 6 months to complete. A large number of entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which offer a more extensive education and can be acquired at many community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are an option as well. When you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you may choose to continue and receive a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Arizona to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help increase your career opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. A few of the highly respected 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 cover the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two important first steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Schools
Online paralegal or legal assistant schools have become more prevalent and may be a good alternative 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 degree. As an added benefit, online schools can sometimes be less costly than more traditional options. Even secondary expenditures for such things as study materials or commuting can be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all online schools are accredited, which we will cover in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the training you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the program and school you are looking into are accredited by a respected organization, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less supervised and formal setting, then earning your degree or certificate online may be the ideal option for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Certificate or Degree Programs
Now that you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what academic choices are available, you can begin the undertaking of assessing schools. But considering that there are so many programs accessible at community and junior colleges in the Fountain Hills AZ area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you need to know what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is particularly true if you add 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 driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other crucial factors to consider also, for instance accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's go over some of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are considering so that you can properly vet each one and make your final choice.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you choose should be accredited by a reputable accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it may also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets online or distance learning. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will receive will be of the highest quality, but it will show future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Many Fountain Hills AZ law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited school. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are often obtainable only for accredited programs.
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 specific importance if you are new to the field with no previous experience, since employers will have to make a decision based on the caliber of your training exclusively. Checking that the program you pick is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating services, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call a few Fountain Hills AZ law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask which schools they recommend. Bear in mind that even though a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the School Sponsor Internships? Internship programs give students an opportunity to experience working in a law practice or other legal enterprise while attending school. They can also offer a means for students to start developing contacts within the Fountain Hills AZ legal field. Ask if the paralegal schools you are reviewing offer internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help provided? You will most likely want to hit the ground running after graduating, but getting that initial job in a new field can be difficult without help. Find out if the paralegal schools you are reviewing have job placement programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have large networks and great relationships with Arizona legal services employers. It also substantiates that their graduates are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the Campus Located? Since laws vary among states, it may be advantageous to select a legal assistant school located in Arizona or the state where you plan to practice after graduating. In addition, it will be necessary to create relationships in the neighboring legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is even more justification to receive your education in the community where you want to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most require an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might wish to initially investigate those colleges that are within the Fountain Hills AZ region.
What is the Complete Cost? Paralegal schools can differ in price depending on the credential received 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 supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid might be accessible to help reduce some of the expense, so be sure to contact the school's financial aid department to find out what is offered in Fountain Hills AZ. Naturally if you choose to attend an online program, some of these added costs, such as for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? A number of legal students continue working while receiving 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 offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make certain that the program you enroll in offers that option. Last, ask what the process is for making-up missed classes as a result of work, illness or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Best Fountain Hills Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Enrolling in the ideal legal assistant certificate school is a crucial first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have discussed in this post, 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 offered in various formats and lengths. Various types of public and private institutions offer 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 influence on your prospects for success in your new career. Since there is a wide range in the quality of schools, choose carefully. Afford yourself the greatest possible chance to be successful in this rewarding profession. But regardless of how you choose to obtain your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will have the ability to review each school and make your ultimate decision. And with the appropriate education you can realize your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Fountain Hills Arizona.