How to Find the Best Paralegal School Near Maricopa Arizona
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Maricopa AZ and start your journey that will result in a rewarding profession in legal services. However, it's important that you find the right school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you require to succeed. As you most likely understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of educational alternatives are becoming available, both at school and online. But with so many options to choose from, where does one start? Some prospective students start by trying to find schools within traveling distance of their Maricopa residences. Of those choices, they search for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are prime considerations when choosing a school, they are not the only factors you ought to take into consideration. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the program should be considered as well. Later in this post we will review a list of concerns that you should ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare every one before making your selection. But first, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the educational options that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals for the most part both fill comparable job roles 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 classification. Both legal assistants and paralegals help Maricopa AZ attorneys with a wide range of job functions, such as legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job functions are relevant to the type of legal firm where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm may help with trial logistics or transferring files to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is typically billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And the same as attorneys, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and follow a strict standard of professional ethics. As stated, their responsibilities can be diverse in support of the firms where they are employed, but a few of their everyday activities can include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on applicable laws and cases
- Drafting correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting lawyers prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be complex and rather 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 they are not limited to administrative or clerical tasks more apropos 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 ground work and preparation, lawyers have the ability to take on a much larger number of cases or clients than they could on their own.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the educational prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The fastest way to start your career as a legal assistant in Maricopa AZ is by earning a certificate, which may involve as little as six months to accomplish. Many entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more comprehensive education and may be earned at many community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are available as well. Once you have acquired either a degree or a certificate, you may choose to proceed and obtain a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Arizona to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help maximize your career opportunities, but help substantiate 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 certificate or degree from an accredited school (we will discuss the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 important initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Certificates and Degrees
Paralegal and legal assistant online schools have become more common and can be an excellent alternative for individuals looking for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online programs can be particularly attractive to Maricopa AZ students who continue to work while earning a certificate or degree. As an additional advantage, online classes can often be less expensive than more traditional options. Even secondary expenses for such things as commuting or study materials can be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will discuss in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the training you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the school and program you are thinking about are accredited by a reputable organization, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less structured and formal setting, then earning your degree or certificate online might be the ideal choice for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Studies Programs
Since you now you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what training options are available, you can begin the undertaking of assessing schools. But since there are so many programs available at junior and community colleges in the Maricopa AZ area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you need to learn what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is particularly true when you add 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 commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other critical issues to think about as well, including the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's take a look at several of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are investigating so that you can properly vet each one and make your ultimate choice.
Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you pick should be accredited by a recognized organization 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 focuses on online or distance training. Accreditation will not only help guarantee 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. Many Maricopa AZ law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited program. Also, financial assistance and student loans are typically accessible only for accredited programs.
What's the School's Reputation? Research what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant programs you are considering. This is of particular importance if you are new to the profession with no previous work history, since employers will need to make a decision based on the caliber of your training exclusively. Checking that the school you select is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating reports, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call several Maricopa AZ law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask what schools they suggest. Keep in mind that even if a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an excellent reputation.
Does the Program Sponsor Internships? Internship programs offer students a chance to experience working in a law firm or other legal establishment while remaining in school. They can also present a pathway for students to begin establishing contacts within the Maricopa AZ legal community. Find out if the paralegal programs you are assessing offer internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help available? You will most likely wish to hit the ground running after graduation, but getting that initial job in a new field can be challenging without support. Find out if the paralegal programs you are assessing have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good indication that the schools have sizable networks and great relationships with Arizona legal services employers. It also substantiates that their graduates are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the School Located? Considering that laws differ from state to state, it may be advantageous to choose a paralegal school located in Arizona or the state where you want to work after graduating. Also, it will be valuable to establish relationships in the neighboring legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is all the more reason to receive your education in the area where you choose to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many charge a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may wish to first look at those schools that are within the Maricopa AZ region.
What is the Complete Cost? Paralegal programs can vary in price based on the credential obtained and the length of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your training. Don't forget to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial assistance might be available to help offset part of the cost, so make sure to talk to the school's financial aid department to see what is offered in Maricopa AZ. Of course if you choose to attend an online program, a portion these additional costs, for instance for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? Many paralegal students keep working while getting their training and require flexibility in class scheduling. If you can solely attend night or weekend classes near Maricopa AZ, verify classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, confirm that the program you select provides that option. Last, find out what the protocol is for making-up classes missed because of sickness, work or family obligations.
Choose the Best Maricopa Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Selecting the best paralegal training program is an important first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have addressed 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 Maricopa home. Paralegal training programs are provided in many lengths and formats. Different 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 selection of a paralegal program will have a profound impact on your prospects for success in your new career. Considering that there is a broad range in the quality of schools, pick wisely. Afford yourself the best possible chance to succeed in this fascinating profession. But no matter how you choose to obtain your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to review each school and make your ultimate selection. And with the right education you can accomplish your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Maricopa Arizona.