How to Pick the Right Paralegal Studies Program Near Rapid City South Dakota
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Rapid City SD and begin your journey that will result in a gratifying career in legal services. However, it's important that you find the best school so that you will get the extensive training that you need to be successful. As you most likely understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of academic choices are becoming available, both on campus and online. But with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Many potential students start by looking for schools within traveling distance of their Rapid City homes. Of those options, they search for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are important considerations when choosing a college, they are not the only qualifiers you need to consider. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the school must be considered as well. Later on in this post we will cover a list of concerns that you need to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare each one prior to making your choice. But before we do, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic alternatives that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals basically both hold comparable job positions and responsibilities, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and are part of a different job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Rapid City SD attorneys with a diverse array of job duties, including maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job functions are based upon the type of legal firm where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm might help with trial logistics or delivering documents to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is usually billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And just like lawyers, they must perform with a high level of professionalism and adhere to a strict code of professional ethics. As noted, their responsibilities can be varied in support of the firms where they work, but some of their day-to-day tasks may include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on relevant laws and cases
- Preparing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping lawyers prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal files, documents and other records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be complicated and very demanding. However, what they are not legally permitted to do is give legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not confined to administrative or clerical functions more applicable 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 preparation and ground work, lawyers are able to handle a much larger number of cases or clients than they could on their own.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are basically 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 way to start your career as a legal assistant in Rapid City SD is by obtaining a certificate, which may take as little as 6 months to accomplish. A large number of entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which offer a more comprehensive education and may be acquired at many community colleges in 2 years. For an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are offered also. When you have earned either a degree or a certificate, you might choose to proceed and get a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in South Dakota to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help maximize your employment opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. 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 discuss the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two crucial initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Training
Online paralegal or legal assistant programs have become more popular and can be a good option for individuals searching for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be especially appealing to Rapid City SD students who continue to work while earning a certificate or degree. As an added benefit, online classes can often be less costly than more traditional options. Even supplementary expenses for such items as study materials or commuting may be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all online schools are accredited, which we will discuss in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the education you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the school and program you are considering are accredited by a highly regarded organization, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less supervised and conventional environment, then obtaining your degree or certificate online could be the right choice for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Certificate or Degree Programs
Now that you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what training choices are offered, you can start the process of assessing schools. But because there are numerous programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Rapid City SD area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you must know what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is particularly true when you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like many 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 factors to research also, including the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's go over some of the questions you should be asking the schools 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 should be accredited by a highly regarded 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 focuses on online or distance education. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will obtain will be of the highest quality, but it will show potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. Many Rapid City SD law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited program. Finally, financial aid and student loans are often offered only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Investigate what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal programs you are considering. This is of specific importance if you are new to the profession with no previous experience, since employers will need to rely on the quality of your training exclusively. Checking that the program you pick is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating reports, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call some Rapid City SD law practices that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask which schools they recommend. Bear in mind that even though a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the Program Offer Internships? Internship programs offer students a chance to experience working in a law firm or other legal operation while still in school. They can also provide an avenue for students to begin establishing contacts within the Rapid City SD legal field. Find out if the paralegal schools you are reviewing offer internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help offered? You will most likely want to hit the ground running after graduation, but finding that initial job in a new profession can be challenging without support. Ask if the paralegal schools you are assessing have job placement programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have sizable networks and great relationships with South Dakota legal services employers. It also corroborates that their graduates are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the Campus Located? Since laws vary from state to state, it might be beneficial to choose a paralegal school located in South Dakota or the state where you wish to practice after graduation. In addition, it will be necessary to establish relationships in the neighboring legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is even more reason to acquire your education in the area where you wish to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most require an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might want to initially consider those schools that are within the Rapid City SD area.
What is the Entire Expense? Paralegal programs can differ in price based on the credential received and the amount of training furnished. However, 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 as well. Financial aid might be accessible to help reduce part of the expense, so be sure to talk to the school's financial aid department to find out what is available in Rapid City SD. Naturally if you choose to attend an online school, some of these supplementary costs, for instance for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? A number of legal students keep working while receiving their training and need flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend night or weekend classes near Rapid City SD, make certain classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, confirm that the school you select offers that option. Last, inquire what the process is for making-up missed classes because of sickness, work or family emergencies.
Choose the Right Rapid City Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Choosing the best legal assistant certificate school is an important first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have covered in this article, you have the choice of attending classes on campus or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Rapid City home. Paralegal education programs are made available in numerous lengths and formats. Various types of public and private institutions provide paralegal training, including community and junior colleges, four year colleges and universities, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a pronounced impact on your prospects for success in your new profession. Given that there is a wide range in the quality of schools, choose wisely. Give yourself the best possible chance to succeed in this fascinating profession. But no matter how you choose to acquire your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to evaluate each school and make your ultimate decision. And with the ideal training you can realize your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Rapid City South Dakota.