How to Select the Right Legal Assistant Program near Maricopa Arizona
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Maricopa AZ and begin your journey that will result in a rewarding profession in legal services. However, it’s important that you find the ideal school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you need to succeed. As you probably understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more educational choices are being offered, both on campus and online. However with numerous options to choose from, where does one start? A number of potential students begin by searching for schools within commuting range of their Maricopa homes. Of those options, they try to find the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are important considerations when picking a school, they are not the only factors you must consider. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the program need to be considered too. Later in this post we will cover a list of questions that you should ask potential paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare every one before making your choice. But before we do, let’s have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the instructional choices that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals basically both hold comparable job roles and functions, only with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and belong to a separate job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Maricopa AZ lawyers with a wide variety of job functions, including 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 are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice might assist with trial logistics or delivering files to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is usually billed by the hour as are the attorney’s. And the same as attorneys, they must conduct themselves with a high degree of professionalism and abide by a strict standard of professional ethics. As mentioned, their responsibilities can be varied in support of the firms where they are employed, but some of their day-to-day activities can include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on pertinent laws and cases
- Drafting correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting attorneys get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal documents, files and other records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be complicated and rather challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally allowed to do is provide legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not restricted to clerical or administrative functions more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the right hand support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers are able to take on a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could on their own.
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. As a result, for either position the educational requirements and opportunities will be the same. The fastest means to start your career as a legal assistant in Maricopa AZ is by obtaining a certificate, which may take just 6 months to accomplish. A large number of entry level positions do require an Associate’s Degree, which furnish a more extensive education and may be earned at many community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor’s Degrees are an option as well. When you have earned either a certificate or degree, you might want to proceed and earn a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Arizona to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help boost your employment 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 certificate or degree from an accredited program (we will address the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 essential first steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Things to Ask Paralegal Degree Programs
Now that you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what academic options are available, you can start the process of assessing schools. But since there are so many programs accessible at junior and community colleges in the Maricopa AZ area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you need to learn 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 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 previously covered, there are other crucial aspects to consider as well, such as the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let’s go over some of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are considering so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your final selection.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you enroll in should be accredited by a reputable accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it may also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets online or distance education. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will get will be of the highest standard, but it will demonstrate to potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Many Maricopa AZ law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited school. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are usually available only for accredited programs.
What’s the Reputation of the School? Learn what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant schools you are considering. 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 caliber of your training exclusively. Checking that the program you select is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating reports, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact some Maricopa AZ law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask what schools they recommend. Bear in mind that even though a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs provide students an opportunity to experience working in a law practice or other legal operation while still in school. They can also provide an avenue for students to start creating contacts within the Maricopa AZ legal field. Ask if the paralegal schools you are assessing offer internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help provided? You will undoubtedly wish to secure employment quickly after graduating, but finding that first job in a new profession can be challenging without support. Find out if the paralegal programs you are interviewing have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good indication that the schools have large networks and good relationships with Arizona legal services employers. It also substantiates that their graduates are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the School Located? Since laws differ from one state to another, it may be advantageous to enroll in a legal assistant school domiciled in Arizona or the state where you want to practice after graduating. In addition, it will be valuable to cultivate relationships in the neighboring legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is all the more reason to acquire your education in the area where you choose to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most charge a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may want to initially investigate those schools that are within the Maricopa AZ area.
What is the Entire Cost? Paralegal programs can differ in cost depending on the credential earned and the amount of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expense for your education. Remember to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial assistance may be accessible to help reduce some of the expense, so be sure to consult with the school’s financial aid office to find out what is offered in Maricopa AZ. Of course if you choose to attend an online school, some of these additional costs, such as for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Fit your Schedule? Many paralegal students continue working while obtaining their training and need flexibility to schedule classes. If you can just attend weekend or evening classes near Maricopa AZ, verify classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make sure that the school you select provides that option. Finally, ask what the procedure is for making-up classes missed due to work, illness or family emergencies.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Classes
Paralegal and legal assistant online schools have become more prevalent and can be an excellent alternative for individuals looking for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be particularly appealing to individuals who continue to work while earning a certificate or degree. As an added advantage, online classes can in some cases be less costly than on campus options. Even supplementary expenses for such things as commuting or study materials may be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will cover in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the training you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the program and school you are looking into are accredited by a respected organization, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to attend classes in a less supervised and conventional environment, then earning your degree or certificate online could be the right choice for you.
Attending a Paralegal School near Maricopa AZ?
If you live near Maricopa Arizona or perhaps 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 50,024 residents as of 2018, 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.
How Long to Become a Paralegal Maricopa AZ
Enrolling in the best paralegal studies degree program is an important first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. You originally came to this website because you had an interest in getting more information about How Long to Become a Paralegal. But as we have addressed in this article, you have the choice of attending classes on campus or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Maricopa home. Paralegal academic programs are made available in various formats and lengths. Different kinds of public and private institutions make available paralegal education, including junior and community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a pronounced influence on your prospects for success in your new career. Given that there is a broad range in the quality of programs, pick carefully. Give yourself the greatest possible opportunity to be successful in this rewarding profession. But irrespective of how you choose to receive your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have presented you will have the ability to examine each school and make your final decision. And with the appropriate training you can accomplish your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Maricopa AZ.
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