How to Pick a Paralegal Certificate Program near Flagstaff Arizona
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Flagstaff AZ and begin your journey that will result in a rewarding profession in legal services. However, it’s crucial that you locate the right school so that you will get the extensive training that you need to achieve success. As you probably understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of educational options are becoming available, both at school and online. But with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Many potential students start by looking for schools within commuting range of their Flagstaff residences. Of those options, they look for the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are prime considerations when choosing a school, they are not the only factors you need to take into consideration. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the program ought to be taken into account too. Later in this article we will cover a list of questions that you must ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare every one prior to making your decision. But first, let’s have a look at what a paralegal does and the educational options that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants for the most part both fill the same job positions and responsibilities, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and belong to a different job classification. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Flagstaff AZ lawyers with a diverse array of job duties, such as maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job duties are based upon the type of legal firm where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm could help with trial logistics or transporting documents to court. In private firms, a paralegal’s work is usually billed by the hour as are the lawyer’s. And just like lawyers, they must conduct themselves with a high degree of professionalism and adhere to a strict code of professional ethics. As stated, their duties can be varied in support of the practices where they are employed, but some of their everyday activities might include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on pertinent laws and cases
- Preparing correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting attorneys prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal files, documents and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be involved and very challenging. However, what they are not legally authorized to do is offer legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not restricted to clerical or administrative tasks more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the main support systems for lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers are able to manage a much larger number of cases or clients than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the educational prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The quickest way to launch your career as a legal assistant in Flagstaff AZ is by earning a certificate, which may involve as little as 6 months to complete. Many entry level positions do require an Associate’s Degree, which offer a more expansive education and can be earned at numerous community colleges in 2 years. For an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor’s Degrees are an option also. Once you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you might choose to proceed and get a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Arizona to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help improve your job opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. A few 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 discuss the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two important first steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Points to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Now that you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what academic options are available, you can begin the undertaking of evaluating schools. But because there are so many programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Flagstaff AZ area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you must learn what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is especially true if you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. If you are like many potential students, you will start by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other important factors to consider as well, for instance the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let’s take a look at some of the questions you should be asking the programs you are considering so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your ultimate decision.
Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you select need to be accredited by a reputable accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it can also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online education. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will obtain will be of the highest standard, but it will establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. Many Flagstaff AZ law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited school. Also, financial assistance and student loans are often obtainable only for accredited programs.
What’s the School’s Reputation? Investigate what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant programs you are considering. This is of particular importance if you are entering the field 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 services, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact some Flagstaff AZ law practices that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask which schools they recommend. Keep 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 Sponsor Internships? Internship programs offer students a chance to experience working in a law firm or other legal enterprise while remaining in school. They can also offer an avenue for students to begin establishing contacts within the Flagstaff AZ legal community. Ask if the paralegal schools you are evaluating offer internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help provided? You will probably want to secure employment quickly after graduating, but finding that first job in a new profession can be challenging without assistance. Ask if the paralegal schools you are assessing have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good sign that the schools have large networks and great relationships with Arizona legal services employers. It also substantiates that their students are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the School’s Location? Since laws differ from state to state, it might be a good idea to enroll in a paralegal school located in Arizona or the state where you plan to practice after graduating. In addition, it will be necessary to build relationships in the local legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is even more justification to acquire your education in the area where you wish to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many charge an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might want to first investigate those schools that are within the Flagstaff AZ area.
How Much is the Complete Expense? Paralegal schools can differ in cost based on the credential obtained and the length of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expense for your training. Don’t forget to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid might be accessible to help offset part of the cost, so make sure to consult with the school’s financial aid office to see what is offered in Flagstaff AZ. Naturally if you opt to attend an online program, some of these supplementary expenses, such as for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? Many legal students keep working while obtaining their training and need flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend night or weekend classes near Flagstaff AZ, make sure classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, confirm that the program you choose offers that option. Finally, ask what the procedure is for making-up missed classes as a result of work, illness or family obligations.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Degrees
Online paralegal or legal assistant schools have become more popular and may be an excellent alternative for those searching for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online schools can be particularly attractive to individuals who keep working while earning a certificate or degree. As an additional advantage, online classes can sometimes be less costly than more traditional options. Even supplementary 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 address in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the training you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the school and program you are considering are accredited by a reputable agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less supervised and conventional environment, then obtaining your certificate or degree online might be the ideal choice for you.
Will You Attend Paralegal School near Flagstaff AZ?
If you live near Flagstaff 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.
Flagstaff is a city in and the county seat of Coconino County in northern Arizona, in the southwestern United States. In 2015, the city's estimated population was 70,320. Flagstaff's combined metropolitan area has an estimated population of 139,097. The city is named after a ponderosa pine flagpole made by a scouting party from Boston (known as the "Second Boston Party") to celebrate the United States Centennial on July 4, 1876.
Flagstaff lies near the southwestern edge of the Colorado Plateau, along the western side of the largest contiguous ponderosa pine forest in the continental United States. Flagstaff is next to Mount Elden, just south of the San Francisco Peaks, the highest mountain range in the state of Arizona. Humphreys Peak, the highest point in Arizona at 12,633 feet (3,851 m), is about 10 miles (16 km) north of Flagstaff in Kachina Peaks Wilderness.
Flagstaff's early economy was based on the lumber, railroad, and ranching industries. Today, the city remains an important distribution hub for companies such as Nestlé Purina PetCare, and is home to Lowell Observatory, The U.S. Naval Observatory, the United States Geological Survey Flagstaff Station, and Northern Arizona University. Flagstaff has a strong tourism sector, due to its proximity to Grand Canyon National Park, Oak Creek Canyon, the Arizona Snowbowl, Meteor Crater, and historic Route 66. The city is also a center for medical device manufacturing, since Flagstaff is home to W. L. Gore and Associates.
Enroll in the Best Paralegal School near Flagstaff AZ
Choosing the best paralegal degree program is an important first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have discussed in this post, you have the choice of attending classes on campus or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Flagstaff home. Paralegal training programs are provided in numerous formats and lengths. Various kinds of private and public institutions make available paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four-year colleges and universities, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a profound impact on your opportunities for success in your new career. Since there is a wide range in the quality of programs, pick carefully. Give yourself the greatest possible chance to succeed 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 furnished you will be able to examine each school and make your final selection. And with the right training you can accomplish your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Flagstaff AZ.
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