Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants essentially both hold comparable job roles and functions, only with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and are part of a separate job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals help Arizona lawyers with a wide variety of job duties, including legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job functions are based upon the type of legal firm where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice may help with the logistics of a trial or transferring documents to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is usually 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 adhere to a strict code of professional ethics. As mentioned, their responsibilities can be varied in support of the practices where they are employed, but some of their daily tasks may include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on related laws and cases
- Composing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting attorneys get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be complicated and rather challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally allowed to do is provide legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not limited to administrative or clerical tasks more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys are able to manage a much larger number of cases or clients than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the academic requirements and job prospects will be the same. The fastest way to begin your career as a legal assistant in Arizona is by obtaining a certificate, which can require as little as 6 months to accomplish. A large number of entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which provide a more extensive education and can be obtained at many community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are available as well. Once you have acquired either a degree or a certificate, you might want to proceed and obtain a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Arizona to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help maximize your career opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. Some of the highly regarded certifying agencies 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 school (we will discuss the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two crucial first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Courses
Legal assistant and paralegal online programs have become more popular and may be an excellent option for students searching for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be especially attractive to Arizona students who continue to work while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an additional benefit, online classes can often be less expensive than more traditional options. Even secondary expenditures for such things as study materials or commuting can be minimized 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 receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the school and program you are considering are accredited by a highly regarded organization, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less supervised and conventional environment, then earning your certificate or degree online may be the ideal option for you.