How to Choose the Right Paralegal Degree Program Near Glendale Arizona
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Glendale AZ and start your journey that will result in a gratifying career in legal services. However, it's important that you locate the ideal school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you need to succeed. As you most likely know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more academic options are being offered, both on campus and online. However with so many options to choose from, where does one begin? A number of potential students begin by searching for schools within traveling range of their Glendale homes. Of those alternatives, they search for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are prime considerations when choosing a college, they are not the only qualifiers you should take into consideration. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the program ought to be considered also. Later on in this post we will cover a list of concerns that you ought to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare every one before making your decision. But before we do, let's have a look at 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 basically both fill comparable job roles and functions, only with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and are part of a different job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Glendale AZ attorneys with a diverse array of job functions, such as legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job duties are based upon the type of practice where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm might help with the logistics of a trial or delivering files to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is typically billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And the same as lawyers, they must carry out their duties with a high degree of professionalism and follow a strict standard of professional ethics. As mentioned, their responsibilities can be diverse in support of the firms where they work, but a few of their day-to-day activities might include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching relevant laws and cases
- Composing correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting lawyers 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 job of a paralegal can be complex and rather challenging. However, what they are not legally allowed to do is provide legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not restricted to clerical or administrative functions more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the main support systems for lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers have the ability to manage a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the educational prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The fastest means to begin your career as a paralegal in Glendale AZ is by obtaining a certificate, which may require just 6 months to accomplish. Many entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which provide a more expansive education and can be acquired at numerous community colleges in two years. For an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are an option as well. After you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you might want to proceed and receive a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Arizona to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help maximize your employment opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. 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 program (we will address the benefits 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.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Schools
Legal assistant and paralegal online schools have become more available and may be a good option for individuals searching for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be especially attractive to Glendale AZ students who continue to work while earning a certificate or degree. As an added benefit, online classes can often be less expensive than on campus options. Even secondary expenditures for such items as study materials or commuting may be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all online programs are accredited, which we will discuss in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the training you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the school and program you are reviewing are accredited by a respected agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less supervised and formal setting, then obtaining your degree or certificate online might be the right option for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Programs
Now that you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what educational choices are offered, you can begin the process of evaluating schools. But considering that there are numerous programs offered at community and junior colleges in the Glendale AZ area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you must learn what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is especially true if you add 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 driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other important aspects to consider as well, including the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's take a look at a few of the questions you should be asking the schools you are considering so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your final choice.
Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you choose need to be accredited by a recognized accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it might also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online education. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will obtain will be of the highest standard, but it will establish with future employers that you are a qualified professional also. Many Glendale AZ law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited school. Finally, financial aid and student loans are typically offered only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Learn what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant programs you are contemplating. This is of specific importance if you are new to the profession with no prior experience, since employers will need to rely on the caliber of your training exclusively. Verifying that the school you pick is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating services, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also call several Glendale AZ law practices that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask what schools they recommend. Keep in mind that even when a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the Program Provide Internships? Internship programs offer students an opportunity to experience working in a law firm or other legal operation while still in school. They can also provide a pathway for students to begin establishing contacts within the Glendale AZ legal community. Find out if the paralegal schools you are assessing provide internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help offered? You will most likely want to hit the ground running after graduating, but finding that first job in a new profession 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 sign that the schools have substantial networks and good relationships with Arizona legal services employers. It also confirms that their students are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the Campus Located? Because laws vary among states, it may be advantageous to enroll in a legal assistant school located in Arizona or the state where you plan to work after graduating. Also, it will be necessary to cultivate relationships in the local legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is even more reason to obtain your education in the area where you want to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many require an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may want to initially consider those colleges that are within the Glendale AZ area.
What is the Entire Cost? Paralegal programs can vary in cost based on the credential earned and the length of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only expense for your training. Don't forget to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid might be accessible to help minimize some of the cost, so don't forget to contact the school's financial aid office to find out what is offered in Glendale AZ. Naturally if you opt to attend an online program, some of these additional expenses, for instance for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Match your Schedule? A number of paralegal students keep working while obtaining their training and require flexibility in class scheduling. If you can solely attend weekend or evening classes near Glendale AZ, make sure classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, confirm that the program you choose offers that option. Finally, inquire what the process is for making up classes missed because of work, illness or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Right Glendale Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Enrolling in the right paralegal studies certificate program is an important first step toward your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have addressed in this article, you have the choice of attending classes at school or you can attend them online in the comfort and privacy of your Glendale residence. Paralegal training programs are made available in numerous lengths and formats. Various kinds of public and private institutions provide paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four-year universities and colleges, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a profound influence on your opportunities for success in your new career. Since there is a broad range in the quality of programs, pick wisely. Give yourself the best possible opportunity to be successful in this rewarding profession. But irrespective of how you elect to obtain your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have provided you will have the ability to assess each program and make your final selection. And with the right training you can realize your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Glendale Arizona.