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How to Find the Best Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program Near Mesa Arizona

Mesa Arizona female paralegal consulting with client on phoneCongratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Mesa AZ and start your journey that will lead to a rewarding profession in legal services. However, it's crucial that you locate the best school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you require to achieve success. 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 options are being offered, both at school and online. But with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one start? Many prospective students begin by trying to find schools within driving distance of their Mesa homes. Of those options, they look for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are very important considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only factors you ought to consider. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the school ought to be considered as well. Later in this post we will review a list of questions that you must ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare every one before making your decision. But first, let's take 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

Mesa Arizona law books

Legal assistants and paralegals for the most part both fill the same job positions and responsibilities, only with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and are part of a separate job classification. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Mesa AZ lawyers with a diverse array of job duties, such as maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job duties are relevant to the type of legal firm where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice could help with trial logistics or transporting files to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is normally billed by the hour as are the lawyer's. And the same as lawyers, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and abide by a strict code of professional ethics. As stated, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they work, but some of their daily tasks may involve:

  • Researching and fact checking cases
  • Conducting research on applicable laws and cases
  • Composing correspondence and legal documents
  • Submitting legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
  • Assisting attorneys prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
  • Organizing and managing legal documents, files and other records

With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be complicated and quite challenging. However, what they are not legally authorized to do is provide legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not confined to clerical or administrative 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, lawyers have the ability to handle a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could alone.

Paralegal Education and Certification

Mesa Arizona male paralegal on phone taking notes

As we discussed earlier, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the educational requirements and opportunities will be the same. The fastest means to launch your career as a legal assistant in Mesa AZ is by obtaining a certificate, which may require just 6 months to complete. Many entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which offer a more comprehensive education and may be earned at many community colleges in 2 years. For an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are an option also. After you have earned either a degree or a certificate, you might want to proceed and obtain a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Arizona to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help maximize your job opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. A few of the highly respected 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 school (we will cover the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 essential initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.

Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Training

Mesa Arizona female student enrolled in online paralegal coursesOnline paralegal or legal assistant programs have become more popular and can be an excellent alternative for students looking for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be particularly appealing to Mesa AZ students who continue to work while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an additional advantage, online classes can sometimes be less expensive than more traditional options. Even secondary expenditures for such items as study materials or commuting can be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will discuss in more detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the training you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the program and school you are thinking about are accredited by a highly regarded organization, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to attend classes in a less structured and conventional setting, then obtaining your certificate or degree online may be the right choice for you.

Things to Ask Paralegal Programs

Now that you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what training options are offered, you can begin the undertaking of evaluating schools. But considering that there are so many programs available at community and junior colleges in the Mesa AZ area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you must learn what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is especially true if you add all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. If you are like most prospective students, you will start by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other important factors to consider also, for instance accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at some of the questions you should be asking the programs you are researching so that you can effectively vet each one and make your ultimate selection.

Is the Paralegal School and Program Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you enroll in should be accredited by a respected 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 focuses on online or distance training. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will obtain will be of the highest quality, but it will show potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. A number of Mesa AZ law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited program. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are often available only for accredited schools.

What's the School's Reputation? Investigate what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal programs you are contemplating. This is of particular importance if you are new to the field with no prior work history, since employers will need to make a decision based on the caliber of your education exclusively. Confirming that the program you select is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating reports, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call a few Mesa AZ law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask what 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 outstanding reputation.

Does the School Provide Internships? Internship programs give students an opportunity to experience working in a law office or other legal operation while attending school. They can also offer a pathway for students to start establishing contacts within the Mesa AZ legal community. Find out if the paralegal programs you are considering offer internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering after graduation.

Is Job Placement Help offered? You will undoubtedly wish to secure employment quickly after graduating, but getting that initial job in a new field can be challenging without help. Find out if the paralegal programs you are interviewing have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have large networks and good relationships with Arizona legal services employers. It also confirms that their students are highly regarded and in demand.

Where is the Campus Located? Considering that laws differ among states, it may be advantageous to choose a legal assistant school located in Arizona or the state where you plan to work after graduating. In addition, it will be necessary to develop relationships in the area legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is all the more justification to obtain your education in the area where you want to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many require a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might want to first look at those colleges that are within the Mesa AZ region.

How Much is the Total Cost? Paralegal programs can vary in cost based on the credential obtained and the length of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only cost for your training. Remember to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid might be obtainable to help offset part of the cost, so don't forget to contact the school's financial aid department to find out what is offered in Mesa AZ. Of course if you decide to attend an online program, some of these additional expenses, such as for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.

Do the Classes Fit your Schedule? Many paralegal students keep working while getting their training and need flexibility in class scheduling. If you can just attend night or weekend classes near Mesa AZ, make sure classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make sure that the program you choose makes available that option. Last, find out what the protocol is for making up classes missed because of sickness, work or family obligations.

Learn More About Mesa Online Paralegal Certificate Programs

Enroll in the Best Mesa Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program

Enrolling in the ideal paralegal studies certificate program is an essential first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have covered in this post, you have the choice of attending classes on campus or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Mesa home. Paralegal academic programs are provided in many lengths and formats. Various kinds of public and private institutions offer paralegal education, including community colleges, four year colleges and universities, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a profound impact on your opportunities for success in your new career. Considering that there is a wide range in the quality of schools, pick carefully. Afford yourself the best possible chance to succeed in this rewarding profession. But regardless of how you choose to receive your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to review each program and make your ultimate decision. And with the appropriate training you can accomplish your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Mesa Arizona.


 

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