How to Pick the Right Paralegal Program Near Goodyear Arizona
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Goodyear AZ and begin your journey that will lead to a satisfying career in legal services. However, it's crucial that you find the ideal school so that you will receive the extensive 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 more and more educational options are being offered, both at school and online. However with so many options to choose from, where does one start? Some potential students begin by looking for schools within driving range of their Goodyear residences. Of those choices, they try to find the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are necessary considerations when picking a school, they are not the only qualifiers you should take into consideration. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the program need to be taken into account as well. Later on in this article we will cover a list of concerns that you must ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare each one prior to making your choice. But before we do, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the academic alternatives that are available 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 responsibilities, only with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and belong to a different job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Goodyear AZ lawyers with a wide variety of job duties, including legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job functions are based upon the type of practice where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm might assist with the logistics of a trial or transporting documents to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is normally billed hourly as are the attorney's. And the same as lawyers, they must conduct themselves with a high degree of professionalism and abide by a strict code of professional ethics. As mentioned, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they are employed, but some of their everyday activities can involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on relevant laws and cases
- Preparing correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting attorneys get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal documents, files and other records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be complex and very challenging. However, what they are not legally allowed to do is give legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not limited to administrative or clerical tasks more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the main support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers have the ability to handle a much larger number of clients or cases than they could alone.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are basically 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 fastest means to launch your career as a paralegal in Goodyear AZ is by earning a certificate, which can require just 6 months to accomplish. Most entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which offer a more comprehensive education and may be acquired at numerous community colleges in two years. For an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are available as well. After you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you may choose to proceed and get a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Arizona to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help increase your job opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. A few of the highly regarded 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 certificate or degree from an accredited program (we will cover the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 crucial initial steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Training
Online legal assistant or paralegal programs have become more prevalent and can be a good alternative for those searching for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be especially appealing to Goodyear AZ students who keep working while earning a degree. As an added benefit, online classes can in some cases be less expensive than more traditional options. Even secondary expenditures for such items as study materials or commuting may be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all online schools are accredited, which we will address in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the education you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the program and school you are looking into are accredited by a respected agency, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less structured and formal setting, then obtaining your certificate or degree online could be the right choice for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Since you now you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what training choices are available, you can start the process of assessing schools. But since there are numerous programs accessible at junior and community colleges in the Goodyear AZ area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you need to know what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is particularly true when you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. 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 covered, there are other crucial factors to think about as well, including the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's take a look at some of the questions you should be asking the programs you are investigating so that you can effectively vet each one and make your final choice.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you choose should be accredited by a recognized organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it can also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets online or distance training. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will get will be of the highest standard, but it will show potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. Numerous Goodyear AZ law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited school. Finally, financial aid and student loans are typically accessible only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the School? Investigate what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal schools you are contemplating. This is of specific importance if you are entering the profession with no prior experience, since employers will need to make a decision based on the quality of your education exclusively. Checking that the school you select is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating reports, such as those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also call some Goodyear AZ law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask which schools they recommend. Bear in mind that even when a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the Program Sponsor Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal enterprise while remaining in school. They can also offer a pathway for students to begin developing contacts within the Goodyear AZ legal field. Ask if the paralegal programs you are evaluating provide internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help provided? You will undoubtedly wish to hit the ground running after graduation, but finding that initial job in a new field can be challenging without assistance. Ask if the paralegal programs you are interviewing have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good sign that the schools have large networks and great relationships with Arizona legal services employers. It also corroborates that their graduates are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the School Located? Considering that laws differ among states, it may be advantageous to enroll in a paralegal school located in Arizona or the state where you plan to work after graduation. Also, it will be important to create relationships in the area legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is even more justification to obtain your education in the area where you desire to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many charge a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might want to initially investigate those colleges that are within the Goodyear AZ region.
What is the Total Expense? Paralegal programs can differ in price depending on the credential obtained and the length of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expense for your education. Remember to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid might be obtainable to help offset some of the expense, so make sure to contact the school's financial aid office to see what is offered in Goodyear AZ. Needless to say that if you opt to attend an online program, some of these additional costs, such as for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Match your Schedule? A number of paralegal students continue working while obtaining their training and need flexibility to schedule classes. If you can just attend night or weekend classes near Goodyear AZ, make sure classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make sure that the school you select makes available that option. Finally, find out what the process is for making up missed classes because of sickness, work or family obligations.
Choose the Best Goodyear Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Enrolling in the best paralegal studies degree program is a crucial first step toward your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have addressed in this post, you have the choice of attending classes at school or you can attend them online in the comfort and privacy of your Goodyear home. Paralegal training programs are provided in many formats and lengths. Several types of public and private institutions offer paralegal training, including community colleges, four year colleges and universities, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a pronounced impact on your prospects for success in your new career. Considering that there is a broad range in the quality of programs, pick carefully. Afford yourself the best possible opportunity to succeed in this rewarding profession. But regardless of how you decide to acquire your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will be able to assess each school and make your ultimate selection. And with the appropriate education you can achieve your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Goodyear Arizona.