How to Select the Right Paralegal Degree Program Near Litchfield Park Arizona
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Litchfield Park AZ and begin your journey that will lead to a fulfilling profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's crucial that you locate the best school so that you will receive the extensive training that you require to achieve success. As you probably understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of academic choices are being offered, both at school and online. However with so many options to choose from, where does one start? Some potential students start by searching for schools within driving distance of their Litchfield Park homes. Of those options, they look for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are important considerations when choosing a college, they are not the only qualifiers you must take into consideration. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the school need to be taken into consideration as well. Later in this article we will review a list of questions that you must ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare each one before making your decision. But before we do, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the educational choices that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals essentially both hold the same job positions and responsibilities, just 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 Litchfield Park AZ attorneys with a wide range of job duties, such as maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job duties are relevant to the type of legal firm where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice might help with trial logistics or delivering files to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is usually billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And just like lawyers, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and comply with a strict code of professional ethics. As mentioned, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they work, but a few of their daily activities can involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on related cases and laws
- Composing correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- 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 responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be involved and quite challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally allowed to do is provide legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not confined to administrative or clerical duties more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the main support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys have the ability to manage a much larger number of clients or cases than they could alone.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The quickest means to begin your career as a legal assistant in Litchfield Park AZ is by obtaining a certificate, which can take just six months to complete. Most entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which provide a more comprehensive education and may be obtained at many community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are available also. When you have acquired either a certificate or degree, you may choose to proceed and obtain a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Arizona to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help maximize your career opportunities, but help establish you as a professional as well. A few of the highly respected 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 degree or certificate from an accredited school (we will discuss the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 crucial initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Certificates and Degrees
Paralegal and legal assistant online schools have become more popular and may be an excellent alternative for individuals looking for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be especially appealing to Litchfield Park AZ students who continue to work while earning a degree. As an additional benefit, online classes can in some cases be less costly than on campus options. Even supplementary expenditures for such things as study materials or commuting may be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all online schools are accredited, which we will discuss in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the education you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the program and school you are thinking about are accredited by a highly regarded agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less supervised and formal environment, then earning your degree or certificate online may be the right choice for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Since you now you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what educational options are available, you can start the undertaking of assessing schools. But since there are numerous programs offered at community and junior colleges in the Litchfield Park AZ area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you need to know what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is especially true if you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like the majority of prospective students, you will begin by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other significant aspects to consider as well, such as 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 considering so that you can properly vet each one and make your final choice.
Is the Paralegal School and Program 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 can also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online learning. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will receive will be of the highest standard, but it will show potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. A number of Litchfield Park AZ law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited program. Finally, financial aid and student loans are usually accessible only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the School? Learn what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal programs you are considering. This is of special importance if you are new to the field with no prior work history, since employers will have to rely on the caliber of your education exclusively. Confirming that the program you choose is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating services, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call several Litchfield Park AZ law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask what schools they recommend. Remember that even if a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the Program Provide Internships? Internship programs provide students an opportunity to experience working in a law firm or other legal establishment while remaining in school. They can also offer a pathway for students to begin creating contacts within the Litchfield Park AZ legal field. Ask if the paralegal programs you are assessing provide internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance provided? You will probably want to hit the ground running after graduation, but getting that initial job in a new profession can be challenging without assistance. Ask if the paralegal schools you are considering have job placement programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have substantial networks and great relationships with Arizona legal services employers. It also substantiates that their graduates are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the School's Location? Considering that laws differ among states, it might be beneficial to select a legal assistant school located in Arizona or the state where you want to work after graduation. Also, it will be necessary to create relationships in the local legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is all the more justification to obtain your education in the area where you desire to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most charge an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might need to first look at those schools that are within the Litchfield Park AZ area.
How Much is the Complete Cost? Paralegal schools can vary in price depending on the credential earned and the amount of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only cost for your education. Remember to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid might be available to help reduce part of the expense, so be sure to consult with the school's financial aid office to find out what is available in Litchfield Park AZ. Needless to say that if you opt to attend an online program, some of these added expenses, such as for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Accommodate your Schedule? A number of paralegal students continue working while obtaining their training and need flexibility to schedule classes. If you can solely attend night or weekend classes near Litchfield Park 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, find out what the process is for making-up missed classes due to work, illness or family obligations.
Enroll in the Right Litchfield Park Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Choosing the right legal assistant training program is a crucial first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have covered in this article, you have the option of attending classes on-campus or you can attend them online in the comfort and privacy of your Litchfield Park home. Paralegal education programs are provided in many lengths and formats. Various kinds of public and private institutions make available paralegal training, including community and junior colleges, four year colleges and universities, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a pronounced impact on your opportunities for success in your new career. Given that there is a wide range in the quality of programs, choose carefully. Give yourself the greatest possible opportunity to be successful in this exciting profession. But irrespective of how you decide to obtain your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have provided you will have the ability to examine each school and make your final decision. And with the ideal training you can realize your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Litchfield Park Arizona.