How to Select the Best Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program Near Gilbert Arizona
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Gilbert AZ and start your journey that will lead to a gratifying career in legal services. Nevertheless, it's crucial that you find the best school so that you will receive the extensive training that you require to be successful. As you probably know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more academic alternatives are being offered, both on campus and online. However with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one start? Some prospective students begin by trying to find schools within traveling distance of their Gilbert residences. Of those alternatives, they try to find the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are important considerations when choosing a school, they are not the only factors you need to take into consideration. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the school must be taken into consideration also. Later on in this post we will cover a list of questions that you must ask potential paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare each one prior to making your choice. But first, let's take a look at what a paralegal does and the instructional choices that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants basically both fill the same job roles and responsibilities, 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 Gilbert AZ attorneys with a wide variety of job functions, including legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job functions are relevant to the type of practice where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice could assist with trial logistics or delivering files to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is usually billed hourly as are the attorney's. And just like lawyers, they must perform with a high level of professionalism and abide by a strict code of professional ethics. As stated, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they work, but a few of their regular activities might include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on related cases and laws
- Composing correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping lawyers get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be involved and rather demanding. On the other hand, what they are not legally authorized to do is give legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not limited to clerical or administrative functions more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the right hand support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys have the ability to take on a much larger number of clients or cases than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Programs 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 requirements and opportunities will be the same. The fastest way to start your career as a paralegal in Gilbert AZ is by obtaining a certificate, which may require as little as six months to complete. A large number of entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which offer a more comprehensive education and can be obtained at many community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are available also. After you have acquired either a degree or a certificate, you might want to proceed and earn a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Arizona to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help boost your employment opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. A few 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 certificate or degree from an accredited school (we will cover the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 crucial initial steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Certificates and Degrees
Paralegal and legal assistant online programs have become more available and may be an excellent alternative for individuals searching for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online schools can be particularly appealing to Gilbert AZ students who continue to work while earning a degree. As an additional advantage, online classes can in some cases be less expensive than more traditional options. Even supplementary expenditures for such items as commuting or study materials may be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will cover in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the education you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the school and program you are looking into are accredited by a respected organization, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to attend classes in a less structured and conventional environment, then earning your degree or certificate online might be the right choice for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Once you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what academic options are available, you can start the process of evaluating schools. But because there are so many programs available at junior and community colleges in the Gilbert AZ area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you must find out what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is especially true when you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like many prospective students, you will start by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other significant aspects to consider also, including accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at several of the questions you should be asking the schools you are considering so that you can properly vet each one and make your ultimate selection.
Is the Paralegal School and Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you select should be accredited by a highly regarded organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it might also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online education. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will obtain will be of the highest quality, but it will demonstrate to future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. A number of Gilbert AZ law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited school. Finally, financial aid and student loans are usually obtainable only for accredited programs.
What's the School's Reputation? Find out what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant schools you are contemplating. This is of particular importance if you are new to the field with no previous experience, since employers will have to rely on the caliber of your training exclusively. Verifying that the program you choose is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating reports, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also call several Gilbert AZ law offices that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask which schools they suggest. Bear in mind that even when a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an excellent reputation.
Does the School Sponsor Internships? Internship programs give students an opportunity to experience working in a law practice or other legal enterprise while still in school. They can also offer a means for students to start developing contacts within the Gilbert AZ legal field. Find out if the paralegal schools you are reviewing offer internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance provided? You will undoubtedly want to hit the ground running after graduation, but finding that first job in a new field can be difficult without support. Ask if the paralegal programs you are considering have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good indication that the schools have large networks and great relationships with Arizona legal services employers. It also confirms that their graduates are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the School Located? Because laws vary from state to state, it may be a good idea to choose a paralegal school domiciled in Arizona or the state where you want to work after graduating. Also, it will be necessary to build relationships in the area legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is even more justification to obtain your education in the community where you choose to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most charge an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may wish to first consider those colleges that are within the Gilbert AZ region.
How Much is the Entire Expense? Paralegal programs can differ in cost depending on the credential obtained and the amount of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your education. Remember to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial assistance might be available to help offset some of the expense, so don't forget to consult with the school's financial aid department to see what is offered in Gilbert AZ. Of course if you decide to attend an online school, some of these supplementary costs, such as for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? Numerous paralegal students keep working while obtaining their training and require flexibility to schedule classes. If you can just attend night or weekend classes near Gilbert AZ, verify classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make certain that the program you choose provides that option. Last, inquire what the protocol is for making up classes missed as a result of sickness, work or family obligations.
Enroll in the Best Gilbert Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Choosing the right legal assistant certificate program is a crucial first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have covered in this post, you have the option of attending classes on campus or you can attend them online in the comfort and privacy of your Gilbert residence. Paralegal education programs are provided in numerous lengths and formats. Different types of public and private institutions provide paralegal education, including community colleges, four year colleges and universities, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a pronounced impact on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Since there is a wide range in the quality of schools, pick carefully. Afford yourself the greatest possible opportunity to be successful in this fascinating profession. But regardless of how you choose to acquire your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will have the ability to assess each program and make your final selection. And with the appropriate training you can realize your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Gilbert Arizona.