How to Pick a Paralegal Degree Program near Central Arizona
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Central AZ and begin your journey that will lead to a fulfilling career in legal services. However, it’s essential that you find the best school so that you will receive the extensive training that you need to succeed. As you most likely understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more academic options are being offered, both on campus and online. However with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one start? A number of prospective students start by trying to find schools within driving range of their Central homes. Of those alternatives, they look for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are necessary considerations when choosing a college, they are not the only factors you need to consider. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the school ought to be taken into account also. Later in this post we will cover a list of questions that you should ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare every one prior to making your decision. But first, let’s have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic options that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants basically both fill the same job positions and functions, only with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and belong to a separate job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Central AZ attorneys with a wide range of job functions, such as maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job duties are relevant to the type of legal firm where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice might help with trial logistics or delivering documents to court. In private firms, a paralegal’s work is typically billed hourly as are the attorney’s. And the same as lawyers, they must perform with a high level of professionalism and comply with a strict code of professional ethics. As mentioned, their responsibilities can be diverse in support of the firms where they are employed, but a few of their day-to-day activities may involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching pertinent laws and cases
- Drafting correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting lawyers prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal documents, files and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be complicated and very demanding. On the other hand, what they are not legally allowed to do is give legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not limited to administrative or clerical tasks more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the main support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys have the ability to handle a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could alone.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The fastest means to launch your career as a paralegal in Central AZ is by obtaining a certificate, which can take as little as 6 months to complete. Most entry level positions do call for an Associate’s Degree, which offer a more comprehensive education and can be acquired at numerous community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor’s Degrees are offered also. After you have acquired either a certificate or degree, you may want to continue and obtain a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Arizona to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help boost your job opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. Some of the highly respected certifying organizations 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 program (we will address the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two essential initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
What to Ask Paralegal Degree Programs
Since you now you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what training choices are available, you can begin the process of assessing schools. But because there are so many programs available at community and junior colleges in the Central AZ area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you need to find out what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is especially true when you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like most prospective students, you will start by searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other important aspects to think about as well, such as 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 effectively vet each one and make your final choice.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you pick need to be accredited by a recognized organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it may also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets distance or online learning. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will get will be of the highest quality, but it will demonstrate to future employers that you are a qualified professional also. Many Central AZ law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited program. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are often accessible only for accredited programs.
What’s the School’s Reputation? Research what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal programs you are looking at. This is of specific importance if you are entering the field with no prior experience, since employers will have to make a decision based on the caliber of your education exclusively. Checking that the school you select is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating reports, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call some Central AZ law practices that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask which schools they suggest. Bear 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 School Provide Internships? Internship programs offer students an opportunity to experience working in a law practice or other legal establishment while still in school. They can also present a means for students to start establishing contacts within the Central AZ legal community. Find out if the paralegal schools you are reviewing provide internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will probably wish to hit the ground running after graduating, but getting that initial job in a new profession can be difficult 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 sizable networks and good relationships with Arizona legal services employers. It also substantiates that their graduates are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the School’s Location? Since laws vary from one state to another, it might be beneficial to select a paralegal school domiciled in Arizona or the state where you want to work after graduating. In addition, it will be important to build relationships in the neighboring legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is even more reason to acquire your education in the community where you desire to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many charge an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may wish to first consider those schools that are within the Central AZ area.
What is the Entire Expense? Paralegal schools can differ in cost depending on the credential earned and the length of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expense for your education. Don’t forget to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance might be accessible to help reduce part of the expense, so make sure to contact the school’s financial aid office to find out what is available in Central AZ. Needless to say that if you opt to attend an online program, a portion these additional expenses, such as for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Accommodate your Schedule? Numerous legal students continue working while receiving their training and need flexibility to schedule classes. If you can just attend weekend or evening classes near Central AZ, make sure classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, confirm that the school you select provides that option. Last, inquire what the procedure is for making up classes missed as a result of work, illness or family emergencies.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Programs
Online legal assistant or paralegal schools have become more common and can be an excellent option for students searching for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be especially appealing to those who continue to work while earning a certificate or degree. As an added benefit, online classes can often be less expensive than on campus options. Even ancillary expenses for such things as study materials or commuting can be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will discuss in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the education 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 reputable agency, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less supervised and formal environment, then earning your certificate or degree online may be the ideal option for you.
Will You Attend Paralegal School near Central AZ?
If you live near Central AZ or perhaps you are considering attending classes in that area, following is some interesting and useful information regarding the location of your new school campus.
Central is at 32°52′13″N 109°47′35″W / 32.87028°N 109.79306°W / 32.87028; -109.79306, at an elevation of approximately 2900 feet above sea level. From this location just south of the Gila River within the Upper Gila Valley, Mount Graham of the Pinaleño (Pinaleno Mountains) range dominates the southern skyline.
Central was first homesteaded by the Cluff family in 1880. The Cluffs extended the Central Canal to their lands on the eastern side of Central. Later settlers extended the canal west and north. In 1883 construction began on a one-room white rock building to be used as a church meeting house and school house. By 1884 twenty families, including Cluff, Norton, Shurtz, Bigler, and Webster households resided in Central. In 1978 the streets were named after these early Mormon pioneers. In December 1883 the Central Ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints was organized and Joseph Cluff was ordained the first bishop. A new red brick church was built in 1885. It was the first regular meeting house built in this part of Arizona and was also the first home of the LDS Academy from December 1890 to May 1891. A plaque east of Hwy 70 on Central Road commemorates the original home of the St. Joseph Stake Academy that later moved to Thatcher and became Eastern Arizona College.
In 1894, LDS Church historian Andrew Jensen reported on the Central Ward: "Thirty-five families or 178 souls, constitute the Mormon population, and there are only two other families in the district. Central excels in point of large orchards, extensive alfalfa fields and good grain. The meeting house is the only public building in the settlement, in which there is also a small store and a post office. There are a number of fine and comfortable private residences, built mostly of brick and adobe."
Select the Right Legal Assistant College near Central AZ
Enrolling in the right paralegal educational program is an essential first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have covered in this post, you have the option of attending classes on-campus or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Central home. Paralegal education programs are offered in numerous formats and lengths. Different kinds of private and public institutions offer paralegal training, including community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a profound influence on your prospects for success in your new profession. Given that there is a broad range in the quality of programs, pick wisely. Afford yourself the greatest possible chance to be successful in this fascinating profession. But no matter how you choose to obtain your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will be able to review each program and make your final decision. And with the ideal education you can accomplish your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Central AZ.
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