How to Pick the Right Paralegal School Near Litchfield Park Arizona
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Litchfield Park AZ and start your journey that will lead to a rewarding profession in legal services. However, it's important that you find the right school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you require to be successful. As you probably know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more educational choices are becoming available, both at school and online. But with so many options to choose from, where does one begin? Many prospective students begin by searching for schools within driving range of their Litchfield Park homes. Of those choices, they try to find the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are prime considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only factors you ought to take into consideration. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the school should be taken into account too. Later in this post we will review a list of questions that you need to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare each one before making your decision. But first, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the academic options that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals basically both hold comparable job roles and responsibilities, only with different titles. However, 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 assist Litchfield Park AZ attorneys with a diverse array of job functions, such as legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job functions are relevant to the type of legal firm where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice may help with trial logistics or transporting documents to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is usually billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And the same as lawyers, they must carry out their duties with a high level of professionalism and comply with a strict standard of professional ethics. As noted, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they are employed, but a few of their day-to-day activities can include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on applicable laws and cases
- Composing correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping attorneys get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal documents, files and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be involved and rather challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally authorized to do is give legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not limited to clerical or administrative functions more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the right hand support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys have the ability to take on a much larger number of cases or clients than they could alone.
Paralegal Certificates and Degrees 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 educational prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The quickest way to start your career as a paralegal in Litchfield Park AZ is by obtaining a certificate, which can require as little as 6 months to complete. 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 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are offered also. Once you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you might choose to continue and earn a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Arizona to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help increase your career opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. Some of the highly respected certifying agencies 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 discuss the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two important initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Programs
Legal assistant and paralegal online schools have become more available and may be an excellent alternative for those searching for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be especially appealing to Litchfield Park AZ students who keep working while earning a degree. As an additional advantage, online schools can sometimes be less costly than on campus options. Even ancillary expenses for such items as study materials or commuting can be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all online programs are accredited, which we will discuss in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the training you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the school and program you are reviewing are accredited by a reputable agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less structured and formal environment, then obtaining your degree or certificate online might be the ideal choice for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Now that you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what training options are offered, you can begin the process of evaluating schools. But since there are so many programs accessible at community and junior colleges in the Litchfield Park AZ area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you need to know what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is especially true if you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like many prospective students, you will start by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other critical factors to research also, for instance the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's go over a few 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 decision.
Is the Paralegal Training Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you choose need to be accredited by a respected organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it might also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online education. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will get will be of the highest quality, but it will establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. A number of Litchfield Park AZ law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited program. Also, financial assistance and student loans are usually obtainable only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the School? Find out what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal schools you are looking at. This is of particular importance if you are new to the field with no previous experience, since employers will have to make a decision based on the caliber of your education exclusively. Checking that the program you select is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating reports, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact a few Litchfield Park AZ law firms that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask what schools they suggest. Bear in mind that even when a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the Program Sponsor Internships? Internship programs give students an opportunity to experience working in a law office or other legal establishment while remaining in school. They can also provide an avenue for students to begin creating contacts within the Litchfield Park AZ legal community. Find out if the paralegal programs you are assessing provide internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance provided? You will probably want to hit the ground running after graduating, but getting that initial job in a new field can be difficult without support. Find out if the paralegal schools you are assessing have job placement programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid 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 graduates are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the School's Location? Because laws differ from state to state, it might be beneficial to choose a paralegal school domiciled in Arizona or the state where you wish to practice after graduating. In addition, it will be important to establish relationships in the area legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is even more justification to obtain your education in the area where you wish to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most require an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may want to initially consider those schools that are within the Litchfield Park AZ region.
What is the Entire Expense? Paralegal programs can differ in price based on the credential earned and the length of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only expense for your education. Don't forget to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial assistance might be obtainable to help reduce some of the expense, so make sure to consult with the school's financial aid department to see what is offered in Litchfield Park AZ. Needless to say that if you opt to attend an online program, a portion these additional costs, such as for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? Numerous legal students keep working while getting their training and require flexibility in class scheduling. If you can just attend weekend or evening classes near Litchfield Park AZ, verify classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make sure that the program you choose provides that option. Finally, inquire what the procedure is for making-up missed classes as a result of sickness, work or family obligations.
Enroll in the Right Litchfield Park Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Choosing the best paralegal studies training school is a crucial first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have discussed in this post, you have the option of attending classes on campus or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Litchfield Park residence. Paralegal education programs are provided in many lengths and formats. Various types of private and public institutions offer paralegal training, including junior and community colleges, four year colleges and universities, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a profound impact on your opportunities for success in your new career. Since there is a wide range in the quality of programs, pick carefully. Give yourself the best possible chance to succeed in this rewarding profession. But no matter how you choose to receive your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to examine each program and make your final selection. And with the ideal education you can achieve your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Litchfield Park Arizona.