How to Select the Best Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program Near Rapid City South Dakota
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Rapid City SD and start your journey that will lead to a satisfying career in legal services. However, it's important that you locate the best school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you require to be successful. As you probably understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more educational choices are becoming available, both at school and online. But with numerous options to choose from, where does one begin? Many prospective students begin by searching for schools within commuting distance of their Rapid City homes. Of those choices, they search for the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are necessary considerations when choosing a school, they are not the only qualifiers you need to take into consideration. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the school must be taken into account too. Later in this post we will cover a list of questions that you must ask potential paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare each one before making your selection. But first, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic choices that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals essentially both hold the same job roles and functions, only with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and belong to a different job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Rapid City SD lawyers with a wide range of job functions, including maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job functions are based upon the type of practice where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm could help with the logistics of a trial or delivering files to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is typically billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And just like lawyers, they must carry out their duties with a high degree of professionalism and comply with a strict standard of professional ethics. As mentioned, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they work, but some of their everyday activities may involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching applicable cases and laws
- Composing correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping lawyers get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be complex and rather demanding. On the other hand, what they are not legally authorized to do is provide legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not confined to administrative or clerical tasks more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys have the ability to manage a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could alone.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the academic requirements and job prospects will be the same. The quickest way to launch your career as a paralegal in Rapid City SD is by earning a certificate, which can take just 6 months to accomplish. Most entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more comprehensive education and may be earned at many community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are offered also. After you have acquired either a certificate or degree, you might want to proceed and receive a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in South Dakota to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help boost your career opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. Some of the highly respected certifying organizations 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 certificate or degree from an accredited program (we will discuss the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two crucial initial steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Programs
Online legal assistant or paralegal schools have become more popular and may be a good option for those searching for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be particularly attractive to Rapid City SD students who continue to work while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an added advantage, online classes can sometimes be less costly than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenditures for such items as study materials or commuting may be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will cover in more detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the training you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the school and program you are thinking about are accredited by a respected agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less structured and conventional setting, then obtaining your degree or certificate online may be the right choice for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Studies Programs
Now that you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what educational options are available, you can begin the process of evaluating schools. But considering that there are numerous programs available at junior and community colleges in the Rapid City SD area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you must learn what questions to ask so that you can 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 the majority of 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 issues to research also, including the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's take a look at a few of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are investigating so that you can effectively vet each one and make your ultimate choice.
Is the Paralegal Training Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you select need to be accredited by a recognized organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it may also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance education. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will get will be of the highest quality, but it will show future employers that you are a qualified professional also. A number of Rapid City SD law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited school. Finally, financial aid and student loans are usually available only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Find out what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant programs you are looking at. This is of particular importance if you are entering the profession with no prior work history, since employers will have to make a decision based on the caliber of your education exclusively. Verifying that the program you select is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating reports, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also call a few Rapid City SD law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask what schools they suggest. Remember that even though a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the Program Offer Internships? Internship programs provide students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal enterprise while remaining in school. They can also provide an avenue for students to begin developing contacts within the Rapid City SD legal community. Ask if the paralegal programs you are reviewing provide internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance offered? You will most likely wish to hit the ground running after graduation, but finding that first job in a new profession can be difficult without support. Find out if the paralegal schools you are interviewing have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good sign that the schools have large networks and great relationships with South Dakota legal services employers. It also confirms that their students are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the School's Location? Considering that laws differ among states, it might be advantageous to select a legal assistant school domiciled in South Dakota or the state where you want to work after graduating. In addition, it will be necessary to cultivate relationships in the area legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is even more reason to obtain your education in the community where you wish to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many require a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might need to initially look at those colleges that are within the Rapid City SD region.
What is the Complete Cost? Paralegal schools can vary in cost depending on the credential obtained and the amount of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your training. Remember to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid might be available to help reduce some of the expense, so don't forget to talk to the school's financial aid office to find out what is available in Rapid City SD. Of course if you opt to attend an online program, some of these added expenses, for instance for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Fit your Schedule? Many paralegal students keep working while obtaining their training and must have flexibility to schedule classes. If you can solely 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, make certain that the school you enroll in offers that option. Last, ask what the procedure is for making-up missed classes because of work, illness or family emergencies.
Choose the Right Rapid City Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Selecting the ideal paralegal studies training program is a crucial first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding 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 Rapid City home. Paralegal academic programs are made available in various formats and lengths. Various types of private and public institutions offer paralegal training, including community colleges, four year colleges and universities, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a pronounced influence on your opportunities for success in your new career. Given that there is a wide range in the quality of schools, choose wisely. Give yourself the best possible chance to succeed in this rewarding profession. But regardless of how you decide to acquire your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to assess each program and make your ultimate decision. And with the right education you can achieve your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Rapid City South Dakota.