How to Select the Best Paralegal Certificate Program Near Goodyear Arizona
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Goodyear AZ and start your journey that will result in a rewarding career in legal services. However, it's crucial that you locate the right school so that you will get the extensive training that you need to succeed. As you probably know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more academic choices are becoming available, both at school and online. But with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Some prospective students begin by trying to find schools within commuting range of their Goodyear residences. Of those alternatives, they look for the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are very important considerations when choosing a college, they are not the only qualifiers you must consider. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the program should be taken into account too. Later in this article we will review a list of questions that you must ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare each one before making your selection. But first, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the educational alternatives that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants essentially both hold 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 category. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Goodyear AZ attorneys with a diverse array of job duties, including legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job duties 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 documents to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is usually billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And just like attorneys, they must carry out their duties with a high degree of professionalism and comply with a strict standard of professional ethics. As stated, their duties can be diverse in support of the practices where they work, but some of their regular activities may involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching applicable laws and cases
- Drafting correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping attorneys prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be involved and very challenging. However, what they are not legally authorized to do is give legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not restricted to clerical or administrative tasks more apropos 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 have the ability to handle a much larger number of clients or cases than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the educational prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The quickest means to launch your career as a paralegal in Goodyear AZ is by earning a certificate, which may involve just 6 months to accomplish. Most entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more extensive education and may be acquired at many community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are offered as well. When you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you may choose to proceed and receive a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Arizona to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help boost your career opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. Some 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 address the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 important first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Schools
Legal assistant and paralegal online programs have become more popular and may be a good alternative for individuals looking for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be especially appealing to Goodyear AZ students who keep working while earning a degree. As an additional advantage, online programs can often be less costly than more traditional options. Even secondary expenditures for such items as commuting or study materials can be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all online programs are accredited, which we will cover in more detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the training you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the program and school you are considering are accredited by a reputable agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less structured and formal environment, then obtaining your degree or certificate online may be the right option for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Studies Programs
Since you now you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what academic options are offered, you can start the undertaking of assessing schools. But since there are so many programs accessible at community and junior colleges in the Goodyear AZ area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you must learn what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is particularly true if you add all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. 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 issues 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 should be asking the schools you are considering so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your final decision.
Is the Paralegal School and Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you choose need to be accredited by a respected accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it can also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets online or distance training. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will obtain will be of the highest quality, but it will establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. A number of Goodyear AZ law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited program. Finally, financial aid and student loans are often available only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Find out what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal schools you are looking at. This is of specific importance if you are new to the profession with no previous work history, since employers will need to rely on the quality of your education exclusively. Checking that the program you pick is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating reports, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact several Goodyear AZ law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask what schools they recommend. Keep in mind that even though a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the Program Sponsor Internships? Internship programs offer students a chance to experience working in a law practice or other legal enterprise while attending school. They can also provide a pathway for students to begin creating contacts within the Goodyear AZ legal community. Ask if the paralegal programs you are evaluating provide internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help available? 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. Find out if the paralegal programs you are considering have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have large networks and great relationships with Arizona legal services employers. It also corroborates that their students are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the School Located? Since laws vary from one state to another, it might be advantageous to enroll in a paralegal school domiciled in Arizona or the state where you want to work after graduating. Also, it will be important to cultivate relationships in the local legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is all the more justification to obtain your education in the community where you want 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 first consider those schools that are within the Goodyear AZ area.
What is the Total Cost? Paralegal schools can differ in price based on the credential earned and the length of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only cost for your training. Remember to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial assistance may be accessible to help offset some of the cost, so be sure to consult with the school's financial aid department to see what is offered in Goodyear AZ. Needless to say that if you choose to attend an online school, some of these added costs, for instance for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Fit your Schedule? Numerous legal students continue working while obtaining their training and must have flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend night or weekend classes near Goodyear AZ, make certain classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make sure that the program you choose offers that option. Last, inquire what the process is for making up missed classes as a result of sickness, work or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Right Goodyear Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Selecting the ideal paralegal studies degree program is a vital first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have covered in this article, you have the choice of attending classes on-campus or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Goodyear home. Paralegal education programs are made available in many lengths and formats. Several kinds of public and private institutions provide paralegal training, including community colleges, four-year universities and colleges, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a pronounced influence on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Given that there is a wide range in the quality of programs, pick wisely. Give yourself the best possible chance to be successful in this fascinating profession. But regardless of how you choose to acquire your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have presented you will be able to examine each school and make your ultimate selection. And with the ideal education you can accomplish your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Goodyear Arizona.