How to Find the Right Paralegal Studies School Near Mesa Arizona
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Mesa AZ and begin your journey that will result in a gratifying career in legal services. However, it's important that you locate the right school so that you will get the extensive training that you require to be successful. As you probably understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more academic options are becoming available, both on campus and online. However with numerous options to choose from, where does one begin? Some potential students start by searching for schools within driving range of their Mesa residences. Of those alternatives, they try to find the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are very important considerations when picking a school, they are not the only factors you ought to take into consideration. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the school must be taken into account also. Later on in this post we will review a list of concerns that you need to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare each one prior to making your choice. But first, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the educational alternatives that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals for the most part both hold the same job positions and functions, just with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and belong to a different job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Mesa AZ attorneys with a wide range of job functions, including legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job duties are relevant to the type of practice where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm might assist with trial logistics or transporting documents to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is normally billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And the same as lawyers, they must conduct themselves with a high degree of professionalism and comply with a strict code of professional ethics. As mentioned, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they work, but some of their routine activities can involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching pertinent laws and cases
- Composing correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting attorneys prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal documents, files and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be complex and rather challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally permitted to do is offer legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not limited to administrative or clerical functions more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the main support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers have the ability to handle a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could on their own.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the educational requirements and opportunities will be the same. The quickest way to launch your career as a paralegal in Mesa AZ is by obtaining a certificate, which may involve just six months to complete. A large number of entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which provide a more expansive education and may be obtained at numerous community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are offered as well. When you have acquired either a degree or a certificate, you might choose to continue and receive a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Arizona to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help increase your job opportunities, but help establish you as a professional as well. Some 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 degree or certificate from an accredited program (we will address the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 crucial initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Classes
Paralegal and legal assistant online schools have become more prevalent and can be a good alternative for those searching for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be especially attractive to Mesa AZ students who keep working while earning a certificate or degree. As an added benefit, online schools can sometimes be less expensive than on campus options. Even ancillary expenditures for such items as study materials or commuting can be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will discuss in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the training you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the school and program you are thinking about are accredited by a respected organization, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less supervised and conventional setting, then obtaining your degree or certificate online may be the right choice for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Degree or Certificate Programs
Now that you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what academic options are available, you can begin the undertaking of assessing schools. But considering that there are so many programs accessible at junior and community colleges in the Mesa AZ area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you must find out what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is especially true when you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. If you are like the majority of prospective students, you will begin by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other significant aspects to think about as well, including accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at a few of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are investigating so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your ultimate choice.
Is the Paralegal Training Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you select need to be accredited by a reputable organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it might also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets online or distance learning. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will receive will be of the highest quality, but it will demonstrate to future employers that you are a qualified professional also. A number of Mesa AZ law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited program. Also, financial aid and student loans are often accessible only for accredited schools.
What's the School's Reputation? Research what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal programs you are looking at. This is of particular importance if you are entering the field with no previous experience, since employers will have to make a decision based on the quality of your education exclusively. Verifying that the program you pick is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating services, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact several Mesa AZ law firms that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask what schools they suggest. Bear in mind that even though a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the Program Offer Internships? Internship programs give students an opportunity to experience working in a law practice or other legal establishment while still in school. They can also offer a pathway for students to start developing contacts within the Mesa AZ legal community. Find out if the paralegal schools you are reviewing offer internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance provided? You will probably want to secure employment quickly after graduation, but finding that initial job in a new profession can be challenging without support. Find out if the paralegal schools you are considering have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have large networks and great relationships with Arizona legal services employers. It also substantiates that their graduates are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the Campus Located? Since laws vary among states, it might be a good idea to select a legal assistant school located in Arizona or the state where you plan to work after graduating. Also, it will be necessary to build relationships in the local legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is even more justification to acquire your education in the community where you choose to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many charge an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might want to initially investigate those schools that are within the Mesa AZ area.
How Much is the Entire Cost? Paralegal programs can differ in price based on the credential obtained and the length of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only cost for your training. Remember to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid may be accessible to help reduce part of the expense, so make sure to check with the school's financial aid department to find out what is available in Mesa AZ. Naturally if you decide to attend an online program, a portion these supplementary costs, for instance for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Fit your Schedule? A number of paralegal students keep working while obtaining their training and need flexibility to schedule classes. If you can solely attend night or weekend classes near Mesa AZ, verify classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make certain that the school you choose offers that option. Last, ask what the procedure is for making up missed classes because of sickness, work or family emergencies.
Choose the Best Mesa Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Enrolling in the right legal assistant training school is a crucial first step toward your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have covered in this post, you have the option of attending classes on campus or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Mesa home. Paralegal academic programs are offered in various lengths and formats. Different types of public and private institutions offer paralegal training, including community and junior colleges, four year universities and colleges, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a profound impact on your opportunities for success in your new career. Given that there is a wide range in the quality of programs, choose carefully. Afford yourself the best possible chance to be successful in this exciting profession. But regardless of how you choose to obtain your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have presented you will have the ability to assess each program and make your ultimate selection. And with the ideal training you can accomplish your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Mesa Arizona.