How to Enroll in the Right Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program Near Maricopa Arizona
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Maricopa AZ and begin your journey that will lead to a rewarding profession in legal services. However, it's crucial that you locate the ideal school so that you will get the extensive training that you need to achieve success. As you probably know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of academic options are being offered, both on campus and online. However with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Some prospective students start by trying to find schools within traveling distance of their Maricopa homes. Of those options, they search for the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are necessary considerations when choosing a college, they are not the only qualifiers you need to take into consideration. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the program should be taken into account too. Later in this post we will cover a list of questions that you ought to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare each one prior to making your decision. But before we do, let's take a look at exactly 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 basically both fill the same job positions and responsibilities, only with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and are part of a different job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Maricopa AZ lawyers with a wide range of job functions, including maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job duties are based upon the type of practice where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm might help with trial logistics or delivering files to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is normally billed by the hour as are the lawyer's. And just like attorneys, 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 are employed, but some of their day-to-day tasks might involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching applicable laws and cases
- Preparing correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting attorneys prepare 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 complex 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 restricted to administrative or clerical functions more suited 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 handle a much larger number of clients or cases than they could alone.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the educational prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The fastest way to start your career as a paralegal in Maricopa AZ is by obtaining a certificate, which may require just 6 months to accomplish. A large number of entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which provide a more comprehensive education and may be acquired at many community colleges in 2 years. For an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are available also. After you have earned either a certificate or degree, you might want to continue and receive a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Arizona to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help maximize your job opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. Some 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 obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 essential initial steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Classes
Paralegal and legal assistant online programs have become more available and may be an excellent alternative for students looking for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online programs can be particularly appealing to Maricopa AZ students who keep working while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an additional advantage, online classes can in some cases be less expensive than more traditional options. Even supplementary expenses for such things as commuting or study materials may be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will cover in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the education you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the school and program you are considering are accredited by a highly regarded agency, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less structured and formal setting, then obtaining your certificate or degree online could be the ideal option for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Schools
Since you now you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what training choices 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 Maricopa AZ area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you must learn what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is especially true when you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. If you are like many prospective students, you will begin by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other crucial factors 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 need to be asking the programs you are researching so that you can effectively vet each one and make your ultimate choice.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you pick should be accredited by a highly regarded accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it might also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets online or distance education. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will receive will be of the highest standard, but it will show future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Numerous Maricopa AZ law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited program. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are typically available only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the School? Research what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal schools you are looking at. This is of specific importance if you are new to the profession with no previous work history, since employers will need to rely on the quality of your training exclusively. Checking that the school you pick is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating reports, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact a few Maricopa AZ law practices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask which schools they recommend. Keep in mind that even if a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the Program Provide Internships? Internship programs offer students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal operation while attending school. They can also present an avenue for students to begin establishing contacts within the Maricopa AZ legal field. Find out if the paralegal programs you are reviewing provide internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help available? You will most likely wish to secure employment quickly after graduating, but getting that initial job in a new field can be challenging without support. Ask if the paralegal programs you are reviewing have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have substantial networks and great relationships with Arizona legal services employers. It also substantiates that their graduates are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the Campus Located? Considering that laws vary from state to state, it may be advantageous to enroll in a paralegal school located in Arizona or the state where you plan to work after graduation. In addition, it will be important to cultivate relationships in the local legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is all the more reason to receive your education in the area where you wish to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many require a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may wish to first investigate those schools that are within the Maricopa AZ area.
How Much is the Total Cost? Paralegal programs can vary in cost based on the credential received and the length of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only cost for your training. Don't forget to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid may be accessible to help minimize some of the expense, so don't forget to consult with the school's financial aid department to see what is offered in Maricopa AZ. Of course if you decide to attend an online school, a portion these additional expenses, for instance for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? Numerous paralegal students continue working while receiving their training and require flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend night or weekend classes near Maricopa AZ, verify classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make sure that the school you choose provides that option. Last, inquire what the protocol is for making-up missed classes as a result of work, illness or family obligations.
Enroll in the Right Maricopa Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Selecting the ideal paralegal certificate program is a crucial first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have covered in this article, you have the choice of attending classes on campus or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Maricopa residence. Paralegal academic programs are made available in many lengths and formats. Various kinds of public and private institutions provide paralegal training, including junior and community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a profound impact on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Considering that there is a wide range in the quality of programs, choose carefully. Afford yourself the greatest possible opportunity to be successful in this exciting profession. But regardless of how you elect to obtain your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have presented you will be able to evaluate each program and make your final decision. And with the right education you can accomplish your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Maricopa Arizona.