How to Choose a Paralegal Certificate Program near Cottonwood Arizona
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Cottonwood AZ and start your journey that will lead to a gratifying career in legal services. However, it’s important that you find the ideal school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you require to succeed. As you probably understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more academic choices are being offered, both on campus and online. However with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one start? Some prospective students start by trying to find schools within traveling range of their Cottonwood homes. Of those alternatives, they try to find the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are necessary considerations when choosing a school, they are not the only factors you need to consider. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the program must be taken into consideration also. Later on in this post we will cover a list of questions that you need to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare each one prior to making your selection. 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
Legal assistants and paralegals essentially both fill the same job roles and functions, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and belong to a different job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals help Cottonwood AZ attorneys with a wide range of job functions, such as maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job duties are relevant to the type of legal firm where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm could assist with the logistics of a trial or delivering files to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is typically billed hourly as are the attorney’s. And the same as lawyers, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and abide by a strict standard of professional ethics. As mentioned, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they are employed, but some of their routine tasks may include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on pertinent laws and cases
- Composing correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal papers 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 responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be complex and quite challenging. However, what they are not legally allowed to do is give legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not restricted to clerical or administrative duties more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the main support systems for lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers are able to handle a much larger number of cases or clients than they could alone.
Paralegal Education 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 prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The quickest way to begin your career as a legal assistant in Cottonwood AZ is by earning a certificate, which can involve as little as six months to accomplish. Most entry level positions do require an Associate’s Degree, which offer a more extensive education and may be earned at many community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor’s Degrees are an option as well. Once you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you might choose to proceed and get a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Arizona to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help improve your career opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. Some 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 program (we will address the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two important initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Points to Ask Paralegal Schools
Now that you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what educational choices are available, you can start the undertaking of assessing schools. But because there are numerous programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Cottonwood AZ area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you must know what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is particularly true if you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like many potential students, you will start 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 take a look at several of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are considering so that you can properly vet each one and make your ultimate choice.
Is the Paralegal Training Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you choose need to be accredited by a reputable organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it can also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance learning. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will get will be of the highest quality, but it will show potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Many Cottonwood AZ law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited school. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are usually obtainable only for accredited programs.
What’s the Reputation of the Program? Find out what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant programs you are looking at. This is of specific importance if you are new to the profession with no previous work history, since employers will need to rely on the caliber of your education exclusively. Checking that the school you choose is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating reports, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also call several Cottonwood AZ law offices that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask what schools they recommend. Bear in mind that even when a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs offer students an opportunity to experience working in a law practice or other legal establishment while attending school. They can also present an avenue for students to start creating contacts within the Cottonwood AZ legal field. Find out if the paralegal schools you are assessing provide internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will undoubtedly want to secure employment quickly after graduation, but finding that initial job in a new field can be difficult without assistance. Ask 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 substantial networks and great relationships with Arizona legal services employers. It also corroborates that their graduates are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the School Located? Considering that laws differ from state to state, it might be a good idea to select a paralegal school domiciled in Arizona or the state where you wish to practice after graduation. Also, it will be important to create relationships in the area legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is all the more reason to acquire your education in the area where you want to practice. 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 might want to first consider those colleges that are within the Cottonwood AZ region.
How Much is the Complete Expense? Paralegal programs can differ in price depending on the credential received and the length of training provided. However, 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 as well. Financial assistance may be accessible to help minimize part of the expense, so don’t forget to check with the school’s financial aid department to see what is offered in Cottonwood AZ. Naturally if you decide to attend an online school, a portion these supplementary expenses, for instance for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Fit your Schedule? Numerous paralegal students continue working while obtaining their training and must have flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend night or weekend classes near Cottonwood AZ, verify classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make certain that the program you select offers that option. Last, find out what the procedure is for making-up classes missed due to sickness, work or family obligations.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Training
Paralegal and legal assistant online programs have become more available and may be a good option for those searching for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be particularly appealing to students who keep working while earning a certificate or degree. As an additional benefit, online programs can sometimes be less costly than on campus options. Even ancillary expenses for such things as commuting or study materials may be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all online schools are accredited, which we will discuss in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the training you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the program and school you are looking into are accredited by a reputable agency, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less structured and conventional environment, then earning your degree or certificate online may be the right choice for you.
Will You Attend Paralegal School near Cottonwood AZ?
If you live near Cottonwood 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.
Cottonwood has a semi-arid steppe climate. In January the normal high temperature is 55 °F (13 °C) with a low of 26 °F (−3 °C). In July the normal high temperature is 97 °F (36 °C) with a low of 68 °F (20 °C). Annual precipitation is around 13 inches (33 cm).
As of the census of 2000, there were 9,179 people, 3,983 households and 2,369 families residing in the city. The population density was 860.3 people per square mile (332.1/km²). There were 4,427 housing units at an average density of 414.9 per square mile (160.2/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 85.24% White, 0.49% Black or African American, 1.57% Native American, 0.41% Asian, 0.03% Pacific Islander, 9.66% from other races, and 2.59% from two or more races. 20.53% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.
There were 3,983 households out of which 25.3% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 44.5% were Married Couples living together, 10.8% had a female as Head of Household with no Husband present, and 40.5% were non-families. 34.4% of all households were made up of individuals and 19.1% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.27 and the average family size was 2.90.
Select the Best Legal Assistant Program near Cottonwood AZ
Choosing the right paralegal degree program is a crucial first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have discussed in this post, you have the option of attending classes on-campus or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Cottonwood residence. Paralegal education programs are provided in numerous formats and lengths. Different types of private and public institutions provide paralegal training, including junior and community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal school 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, pick carefully. Afford yourself the best possible opportunity to be successful in this exciting profession. But no matter how you elect to receive your training 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 final decision. And with the right training you can accomplish your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Cottonwood AZ.
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