How to Choose the Best Paralegal 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 rewarding career in legal services. Nevertheless, it's essential that you locate the right school so that you will get the comprehensive 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 a growing number of educational choices are becoming available, both on campus and online. However with numerous options to choose from, where does one start? Some prospective students begin by searching for schools within traveling distance 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 picking a school, they are not the only qualifiers you ought to take into consideration. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the program ought to be taken into consideration also. Later in this post we will review a list of concerns that you need to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare each one before making your choice. But first, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic choices that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants essentially both hold the same job positions and functions, just with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and are part of a separate job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Gilbert AZ attorneys with a wide variety of job functions, including legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job functions are based upon the type of practice where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice may help with the logistics of a trial or transporting files to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is typically billed by the hour as are the lawyer's. And just like attorneys, they must carry out their duties with a high degree of professionalism and adhere to a strict standard of professional ethics. As noted, their responsibilities can be varied in support of the firms where they work, but some of their routine activities might include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching pertinent cases and laws
- Composing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping attorneys get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal files, documents and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be complicated and quite challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally permitted to do is provide legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not restricted to administrative or clerical functions more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the main support systems for lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys are able to manage a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could on their own.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are actually 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 means to begin your career as a paralegal in Gilbert AZ is by earning a certificate, which may require as little as 6 months to complete. A large number of entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which offer a more comprehensive education and may be obtained at numerous community colleges in two years. For an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are offered as well. Once you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you may want to continue and earn a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Arizona to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help maximize your career opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. A few of the highly respected certifying organizations 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 benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 important first steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Certificates and Degrees
Online paralegal or legal assistant schools have become more common and can be an excellent alternative for students looking for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be especially appealing to Gilbert AZ students who keep working while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an additional benefit, online classes can often be less expensive than more traditional options. Even secondary expenses for such items as study materials or commuting can be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all online programs are accredited, which we will address in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the education you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the school and program you are thinking about are accredited by a reputable organization, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less supervised and formal setting, then obtaining your degree or certificate online might be the right choice for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Degree or Certificate Programs
Once you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what training options are offered, you can begin the undertaking of evaluating schools. But because there are numerous programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Gilbert 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 especially true when you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like many prospective students, you will begin by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other crucial factors to research as well, such as the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's go over some of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are considering so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your final choice.
Is the Paralegal Training Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you select need to be accredited by a highly regarded organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it might also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online training. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will get will be of the highest standard, but it will show potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Many Gilbert AZ law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited school. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are often obtainable only for accredited schools.
What's the School's Reputation? Investigate what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant programs you are considering. This is of particular importance if you are new to the profession with no prior experience, since employers will need to make a decision based on the caliber of your education exclusively. Confirming that the school you pick is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating services, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call a few Gilbert AZ law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask what schools they suggest. Bear in mind that even though a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the Program Sponsor Internships? Internship programs provide students an opportunity to experience working in a law practice or other legal establishment while still in school. They can also present a pathway for students to start creating contacts within the Gilbert AZ legal field. Find out if the paralegal programs you are assessing provide internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help available? You will undoubtedly want to secure employment quickly after graduating, but finding that first job in a new profession can be challenging without help. Ask if the paralegal programs you are interviewing have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good indication that the schools have sizable networks and great relationships with Arizona legal services employers. It also corroborates that their students are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the Campus Located? Considering that laws vary from one state to another, it might be advantageous to choose a legal assistant school located in Arizona or the state where you want to practice after graduating. In addition, it will be valuable to establish relationships in the local legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is even more justification to receive your education in the area where you desire to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many require a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might want to initially investigate those colleges that are within the Gilbert AZ area.
How Much is the Complete Expense? Paralegal schools can differ in price depending on the credential received and the length of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only cost for your training. Remember to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance may be accessible to help minimize some of the expense, so don't forget to consult with the school's financial aid department to find out what is offered in Gilbert AZ. Naturally if you choose to attend an online program, some of these added costs, for instance for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? Many paralegal students keep working while obtaining their training and must have flexibility to schedule classes. If you can just attend night or weekend classes near Gilbert AZ, make certain classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make sure that the school you enroll in makes available that option. Finally, inquire what the procedure is for making-up classes missed due to sickness, work or family obligations.
Enroll in the Best Gilbert Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Selecting the ideal legal assistant training 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 at school or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Gilbert residence. Paralegal training programs are provided in numerous lengths and formats. Different types of private and public institutions provide paralegal training, including junior and community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a profound influence on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Considering that there is a wide range in the quality of programs, pick carefully. Afford yourself the greatest possible opportunity to succeed in this fascinating profession. But regardless of how you elect to obtain your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have presented you will have the ability to review each program and make your final selection. And with the right education you can achieve your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Gilbert Arizona.