How to Select a Paralegal Degree Program near Maricopa Arizona
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Maricopa AZ and start your journey that will lead to a satisfying profession in legal services. However, it’s essential that you find the ideal school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you need to be successful. As you probably know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more educational options are becoming available, both at school and online. But with numerous options to choose from, where does one start? A number of potential students start by searching for schools within commuting distance of their Maricopa residences. Of those alternatives, they try to find the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are very important considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only qualifiers you ought to consider. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the program ought to be considered as well. Later on in this article we will review a list of questions that you need to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare every one before making your selection. But first, let’s have a look at what a paralegal does and the educational alternatives that are available 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, only with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and are part of a different job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Maricopa AZ attorneys with a wide range of job duties, including maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job duties are based upon the type of legal firm where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice may help with trial logistics or transferring documents to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is typically billed hourly as are the attorney’s. And just like attorneys, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and abide by a strict code of professional ethics. As mentioned, their responsibilities can be varied in support of the practices where they work, but some of their everyday tasks can include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching related cases and laws
- Preparing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting attorneys get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be involved and very demanding. 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 confined to clerical or administrative duties more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the main support systems for attorneys. And since they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers have the ability to handle a much larger number of cases or clients than they could alone.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the academic requirements and opportunities will be the same. The quickest way to begin your career as a legal assistant in Maricopa AZ is by earning a certificate, which can take as little as six months to complete. Many entry level positions do require an Associate’s Degree, which provide a more extensive education and can be obtained at numerous community colleges in 2 years. For an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor’s Degrees are an option also. Once you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you might want 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 boost your job opportunities, but help substantiate 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 degree or certificate from an accredited school (we will address the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 crucial first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Programs
Once you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what educational options are offered, you can start the process of assessing schools. But since there are numerous programs accessible at junior and community colleges in the Maricopa AZ area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you must find out what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is especially true if you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like most potential students, you will begin by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other important aspects to think about as well, including accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let’s take a look at some of the questions you should be asking the schools you are investigating so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your final selection.
Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you enroll in should be accredited by a reputable 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 focuses on distance or online training. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will receive will be of the highest quality, but it will demonstrate to future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Numerous Maricopa AZ law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited school. Finally, financial aid and student loans are usually offered only for accredited schools.
What’s the Program’s Reputation? Find out what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal schools you are looking at. This is of particular importance if you are new to the field with no previous experience, since employers will need to make a decision based on the caliber of your training exclusively. Checking that the program you pick is accredited is a good first step. Checking 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 contact some Maricopa AZ law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask which schools they suggest. Keep in mind that even when a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the School Provide Internships? Internship programs offer students an opportunity to experience working in a law practice or other legal establishment while attending school. They can also provide an avenue for students to start establishing contacts within the Maricopa AZ legal community. Ask if the paralegal schools you are considering offer internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help offered? You will undoubtedly want to secure employment quickly after graduating, but finding that first job in a new field can be challenging without assistance. Find out if the paralegal schools you are considering have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have substantial networks and great relationships with Arizona legal services employers. It also substantiates that their students are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the Campus Located? Since laws differ from state to state, it might be advantageous to enroll in a paralegal school domiciled in Arizona or the state where you want to practice after graduation. Also, it will be necessary to develop relationships in the local legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is even more reason to obtain your education in the community where you choose to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many require an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may need to initially investigate those schools that are within the Maricopa AZ area.
How Much is the Complete Expense? Paralegal programs can differ in cost depending on the credential obtained and the amount of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your training. Don’t forget to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial assistance might be accessible to help reduce some of the expense, so make sure to talk to the school’s financial aid office to find out what is offered in Maricopa AZ. Naturally if you decide to attend an online program, a portion these supplementary costs, such as for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? Numerous legal students keep working while receiving their training and need flexibility to schedule classes. If you can solely attend weekend or evening classes near Maricopa AZ, verify classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make sure that the school you select offers that option. Last, inquire what the procedure is for making-up classes missed as a result of work, illness or family obligations.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Schools
Online paralegal or legal assistant programs have become more available and may be a good option for individuals looking for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be particularly appealing to individuals who continue to work while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an added benefit, online programs can sometimes be less costly than more traditional options. Even supplementary expenditures for such items as study materials or commuting can be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all online programs are accredited, which we will address in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the education you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the program and school you are thinking about 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 setting, then obtaining your certificate or degree online could be the right choice for you.
Will You Attend Paralegal School near Maricopa AZ?
If you live near Maricopa 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.
Maricopa is a city in the Gila River Valley in Arizona. With an estimated 50,174 residents as of 2018[update], Maricopa is the second most populous incorporated city in Pinal County and eighteenth most populous in Arizona. Maricopa forms part of the Phoenix metropolitan area.
Maricopa has had three locations over the years: Maricopa Wells, Maricopaville and Maricopa Junction; the latter gradually became known as Maricopa. It started as an oasis around a series of watering holes eight miles north of present-day Maricopa, and about a mile west of Pima Butte. European-American traders and travelers called it Maricopa Wells. Several of Arizona’s rivers, the Gila, Santa Cruz, Vekol and Santa Rosa provided this oasis in the desert with an ample supply of water during this period of time.
During the late 1800s, Maricopa Wells was one of the most important relay stations along the San Antonio-San Diego Mail Line and the later more famous Butterfield Overland Mail Route. Although little remains of this once bustling community, it played an important part in the progress and development of the Southwest. It was one of the best-known spots in Arizona during this period of time because it had a reliable source of water, and offered an abundant supply of food. The peaceful Pima and Maricopa farmers who lived and farmed nearby sold supplies to travelers and migrants.
Find the Ideal Legal Assistant College near Maricopa AZ
Selecting the right paralegal training program is a vital first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have addressed in this post, you have the choice of attending classes on campus or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Maricopa residence. Paralegal academic programs are provided in various lengths and formats. Several types of public and private institutions provide paralegal training, including community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a pronounced impact on your prospects for success in your new career. Considering that there is a broad range in the quality of programs, choose carefully. Afford yourself the best possible chance to be successful in this fascinating profession. But irrespective of how you decide to acquire your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have presented you will be able to examine each program and make your ultimate decision. And with the appropriate education you can achieve your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Maricopa AZ.
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