How to Select the Right Paralegal Studies School Near Maricopa Arizona
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Maricopa AZ and begin your journey that will result in a fulfilling profession in legal services. However, it's crucial that you find the right school so that you will receive the extensive training that you need to be successful. As you probably understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more educational choices are being offered, both at school and online. But with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one start? Many potential students begin by looking for schools within commuting range of their Maricopa residences. Of those choices, they search for the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are very important considerations when selecting a college, they are not the only qualifiers you need to consider. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the program ought to be taken into consideration as well. Later on in this post we will cover a list of concerns that you ought to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare each one before making your decision. But first, let's take a look at what a paralegal does and the academic options that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals essentially both hold comparable job positions 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 classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Maricopa AZ lawyers with a wide variety of job duties, such as legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job functions are relevant to the type of practice where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice may assist with trial logistics or transferring documents to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is usually billed hourly as are the attorney's. And just like attorneys, they must carry out their duties with a high level of professionalism and follow a strict standard of professional ethics. As mentioned, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they work, but some of their regular tasks can involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on relevant cases and laws
- Composing correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping attorneys prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be involved and very demanding. However, what they are not legally allowed to do is provide legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not limited to clerical or administrative duties more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the right hand support systems for attorneys. And since they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers have the ability to take on a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could otherwise.
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. In any case, for either position the academic requirements and job prospects will be the same. The quickest way to begin your career as a legal assistant in Maricopa AZ is by obtaining a certificate, which may involve as little as 6 months to complete. Many entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which provide a more comprehensive education and can be obtained at numerous community colleges in 2 years. For an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are an option also. After you have acquired either a degree or a certificate, you may choose to continue and get a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Arizona to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help maximize your employment opportunities, but help establish you as a professional as well. Some of the highly regarded 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 degree or certificate from an accredited program (we will cover the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two essential first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Classes
Legal assistant and paralegal online schools have become more common and may be a good option for students searching for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be particularly appealing to Maricopa AZ students who continue to work while earning a certificate or degree. As an added advantage, online classes can often be less expensive than on campus options. Even supplementary expenditures for such items as study materials or commuting can be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will discuss in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the education you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the program and school you are considering are accredited by a reputable organization, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less structured and conventional setting, then earning your certificate or degree online could be the ideal choice for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Once you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what training options are offered, you can begin the undertaking of evaluating schools. But since there are numerous programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Maricopa 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 include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like many prospective students, you will begin by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other important issues to research as well, such as accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's go over some of the questions you should be asking the schools you are researching so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your final choice.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you choose should be accredited by a highly regarded organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it may also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance education. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will obtain will be of the highest standard, but it will establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. Many Maricopa AZ law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited program. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are typically offered only for accredited schools.
What's the School's Reputation? Research what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant programs you are contemplating. This is of special importance if you are entering the field with no previous experience, since employers will have to rely on the caliber of your training exclusively. Verifying 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 quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact some Maricopa AZ law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask what schools they suggest. Remember that even when a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs provide students a chance to experience working in a law practice or other legal establishment while attending school. They can also provide an avenue for students to start creating contacts within the Maricopa AZ legal field. Ask if the paralegal schools you are reviewing provide internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help offered? You will most likely wish to secure employment quickly after graduating, but getting that first job in a new field can be challenging without support. Find out if the paralegal programs you are reviewing have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have sizable networks and great relationships with Arizona legal services employers. It also corroborates that their students are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the School's Location? Because laws vary among states, it might be a good idea to select a paralegal school located in Arizona or the state where you want to practice after graduating. In addition, it will be valuable to develop relationships in the neighboring legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is even more justification to obtain your education in the community where you want to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many require a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may wish to initially look at those colleges that are within the Maricopa AZ area.
What is the Total Expense? Paralegal schools can vary in cost depending on the credential earned and the amount of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only cost for your education. Remember to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid might be accessible to help minimize part of the cost, so be sure to check with the school's financial aid department to see what is available in Maricopa AZ. Needless to say that if you choose to attend an online program, some of these additional expenses, for instance for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Accommodate your Schedule? A number of legal students continue working while getting their training and need flexibility in class scheduling. If you can only attend weekend or evening classes near Maricopa AZ, make sure classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, confirm that the program you choose makes available that option. Last, ask what the protocol is for making-up missed classes as a result of work, illness or family obligations.
Choose the Best Maricopa Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Enrolling in the ideal paralegal studies training school is an essential first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have addressed in this post, you have the choice of attending classes at school or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Maricopa residence. Paralegal academic programs are offered in numerous formats and lengths. Different types of private and public institutions provide paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four year universities and colleges, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a pronounced influence on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Considering that there is a wide range in the quality of programs, pick wisely. Give yourself the greatest possible opportunity to be successful in this fascinating profession. But no matter how you decide to receive your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have presented you will have the ability to evaluate each program and make your ultimate decision. And with the ideal training you can accomplish your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Maricopa Arizona.