How to Select the Right Paralegal Studies Program Near Maricopa Arizona
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Maricopa AZ and start your journey that will lead to a rewarding career in legal services. However, it's essential that you locate the right school so that you will get the extensive training that you need to be successful. As you most likely understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of educational alternatives are becoming available, both at school and online. However with numerous options to choose from, where does one start? Some potential students begin by trying to find schools within commuting distance of their Maricopa residences. Of those alternatives, they search for the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are important considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only qualifiers you need to consider. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the program ought to be considered too. Later in this article we will review a list of concerns that you ought to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare every one before making your choice. But first, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the instructional options that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants basically 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 are part of a separate job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Maricopa AZ attorneys with a diverse array of job functions, such as legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job duties are based upon the type of practice where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice could assist with trial logistics or transferring documents to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is typically billed hourly as are the attorney's. And just like attorneys, they must perform with a high level of professionalism and abide by a strict standard of professional ethics. As stated, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they are employed, but a few of their everyday activities can involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on related cases and laws
- Preparing correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping attorneys prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal files, documents and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be complicated and very demanding. On the other hand, what they are not legally allowed to do is offer legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not restricted to administrative or clerical tasks more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the main support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys are able to manage a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could on their own.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the academic requirements and job prospects will be the same. The quickest means to begin your career as a legal assistant in Maricopa AZ is by obtaining a certificate, which can involve as little as six months to accomplish. Many entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which offer a more comprehensive education and can be obtained at many community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are available also. When you have acquired either a degree or a certificate, you may want to continue and receive a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Arizona to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help improve your employment opportunities, but help establish you as a professional as well. A few of the highly respected 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 school (we will discuss the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two crucial first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Programs
Online legal assistant or paralegal schools have become more prevalent and may be a good option for students searching for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be particularly attractive to Maricopa AZ students who continue to work while obtaining a degree. As an added advantage, online programs can often be less expensive than on campus options. Even secondary expenses for such items as study materials or commuting may be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will address in more detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the education you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the school and program you are thinking about are accredited by a highly regarded organization, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less supervised and conventional setting, then earning your degree or certificate online might be the right option for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Schools
Once you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what educational choices are offered, you can start the process of evaluating schools. But because there are numerous programs available at junior and community colleges in the Maricopa AZ area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you must learn what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is particularly true when you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like most prospective students, you will begin by searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other crucial issues to consider also, including the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's go over a few of the questions you should be asking the schools you are investigating so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your ultimate selection.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you select should be accredited by a recognized accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it may also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets online or distance training. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will receive will be of the highest standard, but it will establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. A number of Maricopa AZ law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited program. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are often available only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Investigate what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant programs you are contemplating. This is of specific importance if you are entering the profession with no previous experience, since employers will need to make a decision based on the caliber of your education exclusively. Checking that the program you choose is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating reports, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also call a few Maricopa AZ law offices that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask which schools they suggest. Keep in mind that even though a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the Program Provide Internships? Internship programs provide students an opportunity to experience working in a law office or other legal operation while remaining in school. They can also offer a pathway for students to begin developing contacts within the Maricopa AZ legal field. Ask if the paralegal schools you are evaluating offer internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance offered? You will probably want to hit the ground running after graduating, but getting that first job in a new field can be challenging without help. Find out if the paralegal schools you are considering have job placement 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 corroborates that their students are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the School Located? Because laws vary from state to state, it might be beneficial to choose a legal assistant school located in Arizona or the state where you plan to work after graduation. Also, it will be important to develop relationships in the local legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is all the more reason to receive your education in the community where you wish to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most charge an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may need to first look at those colleges that are within the Maricopa AZ region.
What is the Total Cost? Paralegal schools can differ in cost based on the credential received and the amount of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expense for your education. Don't forget to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance may be available to help reduce part of the cost, so be sure to check with the school's financial aid office to find out what is offered in Maricopa AZ. Needless to say that if you decide to attend an online program, some of these additional expenses, such as for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? Many paralegal students keep working while receiving their training and require flexibility to schedule classes. If you can solely attend weekend or evening classes near Maricopa AZ, verify classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, confirm that the school you enroll in makes available that option. Last, ask what the procedure is for making-up missed classes because of sickness, work or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Best Maricopa Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Selecting the best paralegal training school is an important first step toward your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have addressed in this article, you have the option of attending classes at school or you can attend them online in the comfort and privacy of your Maricopa home. Paralegal academic programs are made available in various lengths and formats. Different kinds of public and private institutions provide paralegal training, including community colleges, four-year universities and colleges, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a profound influence on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Since there is a broad range in the quality of schools, pick carefully. Afford yourself the best possible opportunity to be successful in this exciting profession. But no matter how you choose to receive your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have provided you will have the ability to review each school and make your final decision. And with the appropriate training you can achieve your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Maricopa Arizona.