How to Pick the Best Paralegal Studies Degree Program Near Rapid City South Dakota
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Rapid City SD 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 receive the extensive training that you require to succeed. As you most likely understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more academic choices are becoming available, both at school and online. But with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Many potential students begin by looking for schools within commuting range of their Rapid City homes. Of those options, they search for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are prime considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only factors you must take into consideration. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the school must be considered also. Later in this article we will cover a list of concerns that you need to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare each one before making your selection. But before we do, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic alternatives that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants essentially both hold comparable job positions and functions, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and belong to a separate 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 are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm might assist with trial logistics or transferring files to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is normally billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And the same as attorneys, they must perform with a high level of professionalism and adhere to a strict code of professional ethics. As stated, their duties can be varied in support of the firms where they are employed, but a few of their everyday activities can include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on relevant cases and laws
- Drafting correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting attorneys get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be complex and quite demanding. However, what they are not legally permitted to do is offer legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not restricted to administrative or clerical tasks more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the right hand support systems for attorneys. And since they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys are able to take on a much larger number of cases or clients than they could alone.
Paralegal Certificates and Degrees and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the educational prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The fastest means to start your career as a legal assistant in Rapid City SD is by obtaining a certificate, which may involve just six months to complete. A large number of entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which provide a more extensive education and may be obtained at many community colleges in two years. For an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are offered also. Once you have acquired either a certificate or degree, you may choose to continue and receive a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in South Dakota to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help increase your employment opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. Some of the highly regarded certifying agencies 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 school (we will address the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 crucial initial steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Programs
Paralegal and legal assistant online programs have become more available and may be an excellent alternative for students searching for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online schools can be especially appealing to Rapid City SD students who keep working while earning a certificate or degree. As an additional benefit, online classes can in some cases be less costly than on campus options. Even ancillary expenditures for such items as study materials or commuting can be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all online schools are accredited, which we will discuss 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 sure that the program and school you are considering are accredited by a reputable agency, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less structured and formal environment, then obtaining your degree or certificate online might be the ideal option for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Studies Programs
Once you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what training options are offered, you can begin the undertaking of assessing schools. But since there are so many programs available at community and junior colleges in the Rapid City SD area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you need to know what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is particularly true if you add all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like most prospective students, you will begin by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other important aspects to research as well, such as the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's go over some of the questions you should be asking the programs you are investigating so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your final choice.
Is the Paralegal School and Program 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 may also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online learning. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will get will be of the highest standard, but it will show potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Numerous Rapid City SD law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited school. Also, financial assistance and student loans are typically accessible only for accredited schools.
What's the Program's Reputation? Research what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant programs you are looking at. This is of specific importance if you are entering the field with no previous work history, since employers will have to make a decision based on the quality of your education exclusively. Confirming that the program you choose is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating services, including those provided 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 practices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask which schools they suggest. Remember that even when a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an excellent reputation.
Does the Program Offer Internships? Internship programs provide students an opportunity to experience working in a law office or other legal establishment while remaining in school. They can also offer a pathway for students to begin establishing contacts within the Rapid City SD legal community. Ask if the paralegal schools you are reviewing provide internship programs, specifically 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 difficult without assistance. Find out if the paralegal schools you are considering have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good indication that the schools have sizable networks and great relationships with South Dakota legal services employers. It also substantiates that their students are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the School's Location? Since laws vary among states, it might be beneficial to enroll in a legal assistant school domiciled in South Dakota or the state where you want to work after graduation. In addition, it will be necessary to build relationships in the local legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is all the more justification to obtain your education in the community 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 need to initially look at those colleges that are within the Rapid City SD area.
What is the Complete Cost? Paralegal programs can vary in price depending on the credential obtained and the length of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your training. Remember to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid may be obtainable to help reduce part of the cost, so make sure to consult with the school's financial aid office to see what is offered in Rapid City SD. Naturally if you choose to attend an online program, a portion these supplementary costs, such as for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Fit your Schedule? A number of legal students continue working while getting their training and must have flexibility to schedule classes. If you can just attend weekend or evening classes near Rapid City SD, verify classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, confirm that the program you enroll in makes available that option. Finally, inquire what the process is for making up missed classes because of work, illness or family obligations.
Choose the Right Rapid City Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Selecting the right paralegal degree school is a crucial first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have discussed in this post, you have the choice of attending classes at school or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Rapid City residence. Paralegal training programs are made available in numerous formats and lengths. Different kinds of private and public institutions provide paralegal education, including community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a pronounced influence on your opportunities for success in your new career. Considering that there is a broad range in the quality of schools, choose wisely. Afford yourself the best possible opportunity to be successful in this rewarding profession. But no matter how you elect to obtain your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have presented you will have the ability to examine each program and make your ultimate decision. And with the ideal training you can realize your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Rapid City South Dakota.