How to Enroll in the Right Paralegal Studies Certificate or Degree Program 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 gratifying profession in legal services. However, it's important that you locate the ideal school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you require to achieve success. As you most likely understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more academic alternatives are becoming available, both at school and online. But with numerous options to choose from, where does one start? A number of potential students start by trying to find schools within driving range of their Litchfield Park residences. Of those options, they search for the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are very important considerations when picking a college, they are not the only qualifiers you need to consider. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the school should be taken into consideration as well. Later on in this post we will review a list of questions that you need to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare each one prior to making your choice. But first, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the academic options that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals for the most part both fill the same job positions 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 help Litchfield Park AZ attorneys with a diverse array of job functions, including legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job functions are based upon the type of practice where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice could help with the logistics of a trial or transferring documents to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is typically billed by the hour as are the lawyer'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 duties can be varied in support of the firms where they work, but some of their day-to-day activities might involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on pertinent cases and laws
- Drafting correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping attorneys prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be involved and rather demanding. However, what they are not legally permitted to do is give legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not confined to administrative or clerical functions more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the main support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers have the ability to manage a much larger number of cases or clients than they could alone.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the academic requirements and opportunities will be the same. The quickest means to start your career as a legal assistant in Litchfield Park AZ is by earning a certificate, which can involve just six months to accomplish. Most entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more comprehensive education and can be earned at many community colleges in two years. For an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are an option as well. When you have earned either a degree or a certificate, you may choose to continue and get a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Arizona to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help increase your employment opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. A few 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 certificate or degree from an accredited program (we will cover the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two essential first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Courses
Paralegal and legal assistant online schools have become more available and may be an excellent option for individuals searching for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be especially appealing to Litchfield Park AZ students who keep working while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an additional advantage, online programs can often be less expensive than more traditional options. Even secondary expenditures for such things as commuting or study materials may be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all online programs are accredited, which we will discuss in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the education you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the program and school you are considering are accredited by a reputable agency, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less supervised and conventional environment, then earning your degree or certificate online might be the right option for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Certificate or Degree Programs
Once you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what academic options are available, you can begin the undertaking of evaluating schools. But considering that there are so many programs available at community and junior colleges in the Litchfield Park AZ area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you need to learn what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is especially true when you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like many potential students, you will start by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other crucial issues to research also, for instance accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at several of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are considering so that you can properly vet each one and make your final decision.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you choose should be accredited by a respected accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it may also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets distance or online training. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will get will be of the highest standard, but it will demonstrate to potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. A number of Litchfield Park AZ law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited school. Finally, financial aid and student loans are often accessible only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Learn what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant schools you are considering. This is of specific importance if you are new to the profession with no previous experience, since employers will have to rely on the quality of your training 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 verify school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact a few Litchfield Park AZ law practices that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask what schools they suggest. Remember that even when a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the School Provide Internships? Internship programs offer students an opportunity to experience working in a law practice or other legal operation while attending school. They can also present an avenue for students to start developing contacts within the Litchfield Park AZ legal field. Ask if the paralegal programs you are considering offer internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance provided? You will probably wish to hit the ground running after graduating, but finding that initial job in a new field can be difficult without support. Ask if the paralegal schools you are reviewing have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have substantial networks and good relationships with Arizona legal services employers. It also confirms that their graduates are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the School Located? Considering that laws differ from one state to another, it may be advantageous to enroll in 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 local legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is even more justification to receive your education in the community where you desire to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many charge a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might need to first look at those colleges that are within the Litchfield Park AZ region.
How Much is the Total Cost? Paralegal programs can differ in cost depending on the credential obtained and the amount of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your education. Remember to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid might be obtainable to help reduce some of the expense, so don't forget to consult with the school's financial aid department to see what is offered in Litchfield Park AZ. Of course if you decide to attend an online school, a portion these additional expenses, for instance for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Fit your Schedule? Many legal students keep working while getting their training and need flexibility in class scheduling. If you can solely attend night or weekend classes near Litchfield Park AZ, make certain classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make sure that the school you select offers that option. Last, inquire what the process is for making up classes missed due to sickness, work or family obligations.
Enroll in the Right Litchfield Park Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Enrolling in the right legal assistant degree school is an essential first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have covered in this post, you have the choice of attending classes on campus or you can attend them online in the comfort and privacy of your Litchfield Park home. Paralegal academic programs are made available in many lengths and formats. Various types of public and private institutions provide paralegal education, including community colleges, four-year universities and colleges, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your choice 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 schools, pick wisely. Afford yourself the best possible chance to succeed in this rewarding profession. But no matter how you decide to obtain your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have presented you will be able to evaluate each school and make your final selection. And with the right training you can achieve your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Litchfield Park Arizona.