How to Choose the Right Paralegal Studies Program Near Gilbert Arizona
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Gilbert AZ and begin your journey that will result in a gratifying profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's important that you find the best school so that you will get the extensive training that you need to succeed. As you most likely know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more educational options are becoming available, both on campus and online. But with so many options to choose from, where does one begin? Some prospective students begin by searching for schools within driving distance of their Gilbert 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 consider. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the program should be considered also. Later in this article we will review a list of concerns that you must ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare each one prior to making your selection. But first, let's take a look at what a paralegal does and the academic options that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals basically both hold comparable job roles and responsibilities, only with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and belong to a separate job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Gilbert AZ lawyers with a diverse array of job duties, such as legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job functions are relevant to the type of practice where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm could help with the logistics of a trial or transporting files to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is typically billed hourly as are the attorney's. And the same as lawyers, they must carry out their duties with a high level of professionalism and follow a strict code of professional ethics. As noted, their duties can be diverse in support of the firms where they are employed, but some of their regular tasks can include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching relevant laws and cases
- Composing correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting attorneys prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal documents, files and other records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be involved and quite demanding. On the other hand, what they are not legally permitted 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 tasks more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers are able to manage a much larger number of cases or clients than they could on their own.
Paralegal Certificates and Degrees and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the academic requirements and opportunities will be the same. The fastest means to launch your career as a paralegal in Gilbert AZ is by obtaining a certificate, which can involve as little as 6 months to complete. Many entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more extensive education and may be obtained at numerous community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are an option also. When you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you might choose to proceed and get a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Arizona to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help improve your career 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 school (we will cover the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two crucial initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Schools
Paralegal and legal assistant online schools have become more available and may be a good option for students searching for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online programs can be particularly appealing to Gilbert AZ students who keep working while earning a degree. As an additional advantage, online schools can in some cases be less expensive than more traditional options. Even supplementary expenses for such items as study materials or commuting may be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will discuss in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the education you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the school and program you are considering are accredited by a respected agency, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less supervised and conventional setting, then earning your degree or certificate online might be the ideal choice for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Studies Programs
Since you now you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what academic options are offered, you can start the process of evaluating schools. But because there are numerous programs offered at community and junior colleges in the Gilbert AZ area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you must learn what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is especially true when you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. If you are like the majority of potential 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 significant aspects to think about as well, such as accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's go over several of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are researching so that you can properly vet each one and make your final decision.
Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you select should be accredited by a highly regarded organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it may also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online learning. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will get will be of the highest standard, but it will show future employers that you are a qualified professional also. Many Gilbert AZ law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited school. Finally, financial aid and student loans are typically obtainable only for accredited schools.
What's the School's Reputation? Research what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal programs you are looking at. This is of particular importance if you are new to the profession with no prior work history, since employers will need to make a decision based on the quality of your training exclusively. Checking that the school you select is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing 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 several Gilbert AZ law practices that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask what schools they recommend. Keep in mind that even though a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the Program Offer Internships? Internship programs provide students an opportunity to experience working in a law firm or other legal establishment while still in school. They can also offer an avenue for students to start establishing contacts within the Gilbert AZ legal community. Ask if the paralegal schools you are reviewing provide internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance offered? You will undoubtedly wish to hit the ground running after graduation, but getting that initial job in a new field can be challenging without help. Find out if the paralegal programs you are reviewing have job assistance 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 confirms that their students are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the School Located? Considering that laws vary from one state to another, it might be a good idea to select a legal assistant school domiciled in Arizona or the state where you plan to work after graduation. Also, it will be valuable to establish relationships in the neighboring legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is all the more reason to receive your education in the area where you desire 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 might need to first look at those colleges that are within the Gilbert AZ area.
How Much is the Total Expense? 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 expense for your training. Remember to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance might be obtainable to help reduce part of the cost, so don't forget to talk to the school's financial aid office to find out what is available in Gilbert AZ. Of course if you choose to attend an online school, some of these supplementary costs, for instance for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Fit your Schedule? Numerous legal students continue working while obtaining their training and need flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend weekend or evening classes near Gilbert AZ, make sure classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, confirm that the program you choose makes available that option. Finally, inquire what the process is for making-up missed classes because of sickness, work or family obligations.
Enroll in the Right Gilbert Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Choosing the right paralegal studies training school is a vital first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have covered in this article, you have the choice of attending classes on-campus or you can attend them online in the comfort and privacy of your Gilbert residence. Paralegal training programs are provided in various formats and lengths. Different types of private and public institutions make available paralegal education, including junior and community colleges, four year universities and colleges, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a pronounced influence on your opportunities for success in your new career. Since there is a broad range in the quality of programs, pick carefully. Give yourself the greatest possible opportunity to succeed in this fascinating profession. But regardless of how you decide to acquire your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will have the ability to examine each school and make your ultimate selection. And with the appropriate training you can accomplish your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Gilbert Arizona.