How to Pick the Right Paralegal 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 gratifying career in legal services. Nevertheless, it's essential that you locate the right school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you require to be successful. As you most likely know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of educational choices are becoming available, both at school and online. However with so many options to choose from, where does one start? A number of potential students begin by looking for schools within commuting range of their Rapid City homes. Of those choices, they look for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are prime considerations when picking a school, they are not the only factors you need to consider. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the program must be taken into consideration also. Later on in this article we will review a list of questions that you must ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare each one prior to making your choice. But before we do, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the instructional options that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants essentially both fill the same job positions and responsibilities, 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 paralegals and legal assistants help Rapid City SD attorneys with a diverse array of job duties, such as legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job functions are based upon the type of practice where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm might assist with the logistics of a trial or transferring files to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is normally billed hourly as are the attorney's. And just like attorneys, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and adhere to a strict standard of professional ethics. As stated, their duties can be diverse in support of the firms where they are employed, but a few of their regular activities may include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching pertinent cases and laws
- Composing correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping lawyers get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal documents, files and other records
With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be involved and rather challenging. However, what they are not legally permitted to do is offer legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not confined to administrative or clerical tasks more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And because 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 on their own.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the academic prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The fastest way to launch your career as a legal assistant in Rapid City SD is by obtaining a certificate, which may involve as little as six months to complete. Many entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more expansive education and can be acquired at many community colleges in two years. For an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are an option also. Once you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you may choose to continue and obtain a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in South Dakota to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help improve your employment opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. Some of the highly regarded 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 cover the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 essential first steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Schools
Online legal assistant or paralegal programs have become more common and may be an excellent alternative for students looking for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be especially attractive to Rapid City SD students who continue to work while earning a degree. As an added advantage, online schools can often be less expensive than on campus options. Even supplementary expenses for such items as study materials or commuting may be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will address in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the training you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the school and program you are thinking about are accredited by a highly regarded agency, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less structured and formal setting, then earning your certificate or degree online might be the ideal choice for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Certificate or Degree 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 considering that there are numerous programs offered at community and junior colleges in the Rapid City SD area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you must learn what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is particularly true when you add all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like the majority of potential students, you will start by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other significant aspects to think about also, for instance the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's take a look at some of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are investigating so that you can effectively vet each one and make your final choice.
Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you pick need to be accredited by a recognized accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it might also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets distance or online training. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will get will be of the highest standard, but it will establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. A number of Rapid City SD law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited school. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are usually accessible only for accredited schools.
What's the School's Reputation? Investigate what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal schools you are contemplating. This is of particular importance if you are new to the profession with no previous experience, since employers will have to make a decision based on the quality of your training exclusively. Verifying that the school you select is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating services, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact a few Rapid City SD law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask which schools they recommend. Remember that even if a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the Program Sponsor Internships? Internship programs provide students an opportunity to experience working in a law practice or other legal establishment while remaining in school. They can also present an avenue for students to start creating contacts within the Rapid City SD legal community. Ask if the paralegal programs you are evaluating offer internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help offered? You will most likely want to hit the ground running after graduation, but getting that initial job in a new field can be challenging without support. Find out if the paralegal programs you are considering have job placement programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good indication that the schools have large networks and great relationships with South Dakota legal services employers. It also corroborates that their graduates are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the School's Location? Because laws vary among states, it may be a good idea to select a paralegal school located in South Dakota or the state where you want to work after graduation. Also, it will be important to create relationships in the local legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is even more justification to obtain your education in the community where you want to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most charge an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may want to initially investigate those schools that are within the Rapid City SD region.
How Much is the Complete Cost? Paralegal programs can vary in price depending on the credential received and the amount of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your education. Don't forget to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid might be obtainable to help minimize part of the expense, so make sure to contact the school's financial aid office to see what is offered in Rapid City SD. Needless to say that if you choose to attend an online program, some of these additional costs, for instance for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Match your Schedule? Numerous legal students continue working while getting their training and need flexibility in class scheduling. If you can only attend weekend or evening classes near Rapid City SD, make sure classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, confirm that the program you enroll in provides that option. Last, ask what the procedure is for making-up missed classes as a result of sickness, work or family obligations.
Enroll in the Right Rapid City Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Enrolling in the right legal assistant training program is an essential first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have discussed in this article, you have the option of attending classes on campus or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Rapid City home. Paralegal academic programs are provided in many lengths and formats. Different types of private and public institutions offer paralegal training, including community and junior colleges, four-year colleges and universities, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a pronounced impact on your prospects for success in your new profession. Since there is a broad range in the quality of programs, choose wisely. Give yourself the greatest possible chance to succeed in this fascinating profession. But irrespective of how you elect to acquire your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have presented you will have the ability to review each school and make your final selection. And with the ideal education you can realize your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Rapid City South Dakota.