How to Select the Right Paralegal Studies Certificate or Degree Program Near Marana Arizona
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Marana AZ and start your journey that will lead to a rewarding career in legal services. Nevertheless, it's important that you find the ideal school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you need to succeed. As you most likely understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more academic options are becoming available, both on campus and online. But with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one start? Some prospective students begin by searching for schools within traveling range of their Marana homes. Of those options, they try to find the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are very important considerations when selecting a college, they are not the only factors you should take into consideration. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the school need to be considered too. Later in this article we will cover a list of concerns that you need to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare each one before making your selection. But before we do, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the educational options that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants for the most part both hold the same job positions and functions, only 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 Marana AZ lawyers with a wide range of job functions, including legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job duties are based upon the type of legal firm where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm might help with trial logistics or transferring documents to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is usually billed hourly as are the attorney's. And just like lawyers, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and adhere to a strict code of professional ethics. As stated, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they are employed, but some of their routine tasks might include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on pertinent laws and cases
- Composing correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping attorneys prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be complicated and quite demanding. On the other hand, what they are not legally permitted to do is offer legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not confined to administrative or clerical tasks more applicable 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, lawyers are able to handle a much larger number of cases or clients than they could on their own.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are actually 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 Marana AZ is by obtaining a certificate, which can require as little as six months to accomplish. Most entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which provide a more expansive education and can be earned at many community colleges in two years. For an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are available as well. Once you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you might want to continue and earn a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Arizona to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help boost your career opportunities, but help substantiate 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 address the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 essential first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Training
Online legal assistant or paralegal schools have become more common and can be a good option for those looking for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online schools can be particularly attractive to Marana AZ students who continue to work while earning a degree. As an additional benefit, online programs can sometimes be less expensive than on campus options. Even ancillary expenditures for such things as commuting or study materials can be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all online programs are accredited, which we will discuss in more detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the education you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the program and school you are reviewing are accredited by a reputable organization, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less structured and formal environment, then earning your degree or certificate online might be the ideal option for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Certificate or Degree Programs
Once you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what training choices are available, you can begin the process of evaluating schools. But since there are numerous programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Marana AZ area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you must know what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is especially true when you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like many prospective students, you will start by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other critical aspects to consider also, for instance the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's take a look at a few of the questions you should be asking the schools you are investigating so that you can effectively vet each one and make your final selection.
Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you select should be accredited by a reputable organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it might also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online learning. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will obtain will be of the highest quality, but it will establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Numerous Marana AZ law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited school. Also, financial assistance and student loans are often obtainable 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 looking at. This is of specific importance if you are entering the profession 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 pick is accredited is a good first step. Checking 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 some Marana AZ law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask what schools they suggest. Remember that even though a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an excellent reputation.
Does the School Sponsor Internships? Internship programs provide students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal operation while still in school. They can also present a pathway for students to begin creating contacts within the Marana AZ legal field. Ask if the paralegal schools you are reviewing offer internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will undoubtedly wish to hit the ground running after graduation, but finding that first job in a new field can be difficult without assistance. Find out if the paralegal schools you are reviewing have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have large networks and great relationships with Arizona legal services employers. It also corroborates that their graduates are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the School's Location? Since laws vary from state to state, it may be a good idea to enroll in a paralegal school domiciled in Arizona or the state where you wish to work after graduation. Also, it will be valuable to cultivate relationships in the neighboring legal community, possibly through 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, many charge an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might wish to initially investigate those schools that are within the Marana AZ region.
What is the Total Expense? Paralegal programs can vary in cost based on the credential obtained and the amount of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expense for your education. Remember to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid may be available to help minimize some of the expense, so make sure to talk to the school's financial aid office to find out what is offered in Marana AZ. Naturally if you decide to attend an online program, a portion these added expenses, such as for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? Many legal students keep working while receiving their training and require flexibility to schedule classes. If you can just attend night or weekend classes near Marana AZ, make sure classes are offered 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, ask what the process is for making up classes missed because of work, illness or family obligations.
Choose the Best Marana Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Choosing the best paralegal studies degree school is a vital first step toward your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have discussed in this article, you have the choice of attending classes on-campus or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Marana residence. Paralegal training programs are made available in various lengths and formats. Various types of private and public institutions offer paralegal education, including community colleges, four-year universities and colleges, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a profound influence on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Since there is a wide range in the quality of schools, choose carefully. Give yourself the greatest possible opportunity to be successful in this rewarding profession. But irrespective of how you elect to receive your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will be able to evaluate each program and make your final selection. And with the ideal training you can accomplish your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Marana Arizona.