How to Enroll in the Right Paralegal Studies School Near Gilbert Arizona
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Gilbert AZ and begin your journey that will result in a fulfilling profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's crucial that you find the best school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you need to succeed. As you most likely understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of academic choices are becoming available, both at school and online. But with numerous options to choose from, where does one start? A number of prospective students start by searching for schools within commuting range of their Gilbert homes. Of those choices, they look for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are important considerations when selecting a college, they are not the only qualifiers you ought to consider. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the school need to be taken into account too. Later on in this post we will review a list of questions that you should ask potential paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare each one before making your selection. But first, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the instructional 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 positions and functions, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and belong to a separate job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Gilbert AZ attorneys with a wide variety of job duties, such as legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job duties are relevant to the type of practice where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice may assist with the logistics of a trial or transporting documents to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is usually billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And the same as lawyers, they must conduct themselves with a high degree of professionalism and adhere to a strict code of professional ethics. As mentioned, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they work, but a few of their regular activities can involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on pertinent laws and cases
- Drafting correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping attorneys get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal documents, files and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be involved and quite challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally allowed to do is give legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not confined to clerical or administrative functions more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the main support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers have the ability to manage a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could on their own.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the academic prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The quickest means to start your career as a legal assistant in Gilbert AZ is by obtaining a certificate, which may involve as little as 6 months to accomplish. Many entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more expansive education and can be earned at many community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are an option also. When you have acquired either a degree or a certificate, you may want to proceed and obtain a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Arizona to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help boost your employment opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. A few of the highly regarded certifying organizations 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 advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two important initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Certificates and Degrees
Online paralegal or legal assistant programs have become more prevalent and may be a good option for students searching for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be particularly appealing to Gilbert AZ students who continue to work while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an additional advantage, online classes can in some cases be less costly than more traditional options. Even secondary expenditures for such things as study materials or commuting may be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will cover in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the training 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 reputable agency, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less structured and formal setting, then obtaining your certificate or degree online might be the ideal choice for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Certificate or Degree Programs
Now that you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what training options are offered, you can start the process of assessing schools. But because there are so many programs available at junior and community colleges in the Gilbert AZ area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you must find out 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 many potential students, you will begin by searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other important factors to research as well, for instance accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at several of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are considering so that you can properly vet each one and make your ultimate decision.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you select should be accredited by a recognized 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 focuses on online or distance education. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will receive will be of the highest quality, but it will show future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. A number of Gilbert AZ law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited school. Also, financial assistance and student loans are usually obtainable only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Research what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal programs you are considering. This is of special importance if you are entering the profession with no prior work history, since employers will need to rely on the caliber of your education exclusively. Confirming that the school you pick is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating reports, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact several Gilbert AZ law practices that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask what schools they suggest. Remember that even when a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an excellent reputation.
Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs offer students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal enterprise while remaining in school. They can also provide a pathway for students to start creating contacts within the Gilbert AZ legal field. Ask if the paralegal schools you are considering provide internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance offered? You will most likely want to hit the ground running after graduation, but getting that initial job in a new field can be challenging without support. Ask if the paralegal programs you are assessing have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have substantial networks and great relationships with Arizona legal services employers. It also corroborates that their students are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the Campus Located? Since laws vary among states, it may be beneficial to select a paralegal school domiciled in Arizona or the state where you wish to practice after graduating. Also, it will be necessary 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 community where you desire to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many require an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may wish to initially consider those schools that are within the Gilbert AZ region.
How Much is the Complete Expense? Paralegal programs can vary in cost depending on the credential received and the length of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only expense for your training. Remember to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid might be obtainable to help minimize part of the expense, so make sure to check with the school's financial aid office to find out what is available in Gilbert AZ. Of course if you decide to attend an online school, a portion these supplementary expenses, for instance for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Accommodate your Schedule? Many paralegal students continue working while receiving their training and must have flexibility in class scheduling. If you can just 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, make certain that the program you select offers that option. Finally, ask what the process is for making-up classes missed because of sickness, work or family obligations.
Choose the Right Gilbert Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Enrolling in the right paralegal degree school is an essential first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have discussed in this post, you have the choice of attending classes at school or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Gilbert home. Paralegal academic programs are made available in many lengths and formats. Various types of private and public institutions provide paralegal training, including community and junior colleges, four year colleges and universities, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a profound influence on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Given that there is a broad range in the quality of programs, choose wisely. Afford yourself the greatest possible opportunity to succeed in this rewarding profession. But regardless of how you elect to acquire your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to assess each school and make your final selection. And with the right training you can realize your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Gilbert Arizona.