How to Enroll in 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 result in a gratifying profession in legal services. However, it's crucial that you locate the right school so that you will receive the extensive training that you require to succeed. As you most likely understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more academic choices are being offered, both at school and online. But with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one start? A number of potential students start by looking for schools within commuting distance of their Rapid City homes. Of those options, they look for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are important considerations when selecting a college, they are not the only qualifiers you should take into consideration. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the program need to be taken into account too. Later on in this post we will cover a list of concerns that you should ask potential paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare every one before making your choice. But first, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the instructional options that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants for the most part 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 different job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Rapid City SD lawyers with a wide range of job functions, such as maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job functions are based upon the type of legal firm where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm may help with trial logistics or transporting files to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is typically billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And the same as attorneys, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and abide by a strict code of professional ethics. As stated, their responsibilities can be diverse in support of the practices where they are employed, but some of their routine activities might include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on pertinent laws and cases
- Drafting correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping attorneys get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal documents, files and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be complicated and very challenging. However, what they are not legally permitted to do is provide legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not limited to clerical or administrative tasks more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the main support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers have the ability to handle a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could on their own.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the academic prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The quickest means to launch your career as a legal assistant in Rapid City SD is by earning a certificate, which may require as little as six months to complete. A large number of entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which provide a more comprehensive education and can be obtained at many community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are available also. After you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you might choose to continue and earn a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in South Dakota to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help improve 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 degree or certificate from an accredited program (we will address the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two crucial first steps that will help ensure 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 can be a good option for students 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 degree. As an additional advantage, online classes can sometimes be less costly than on campus options. Even supplementary expenses for such things as study materials or commuting may be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all online programs are accredited, which we will cover in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the education you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the school and program you are considering are accredited by a respected agency, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less structured and formal setting, then obtaining your certificate or degree online may be the right choice for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Programs
Since you now you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what educational options are available, you can start the undertaking of assessing schools. But considering that there are numerous programs available at community and junior 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 evaluate each one. This is especially true if you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like many prospective students, you will start by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other significant factors to think about as well, such as accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's go over several of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are researching so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your final selection.
Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you select need to be accredited by a recognized accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it can also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance learning. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will get will be of the highest quality, but it will establish with future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Many Rapid City SD law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited school. Finally, financial aid and student loans are typically offered 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 considering. This is of special importance if you are entering the profession with no prior work history, since employers will need to make a decision based on the caliber of your training exclusively. Checking that the program you pick 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 rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call several Rapid City SD law practices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask which schools they suggest. Bear in mind that even if a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the Program Offer Internships? Internship programs give students an opportunity to experience working in a law practice or other legal establishment while attending school. They can also present a pathway for students to start establishing contacts within the Rapid City SD legal field. Ask if the paralegal schools you are assessing provide internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will probably want to hit the ground running after graduating, but finding that first job in a new field can be difficult without support. Ask if the paralegal programs 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 students are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the School Located? Considering that laws differ among states, it may be a good idea to choose a paralegal school domiciled in South Dakota or the state where you wish to work after graduating. In addition, it will be important to cultivate relationships in the neighboring legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is even more reason to acquire your education in the area where you choose to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many require an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may wish to initially consider those schools that are within the Rapid City SD area.
How Much is the Complete Expense? Paralegal programs can differ in cost depending on the credential obtained and the amount of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only cost for your training. Remember to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid might be accessible to help offset part of the cost, so don't forget to check with the school's financial aid office to find out what is offered in Rapid City SD. Needless to say that if you opt to attend an online school, some of these supplementary costs, such as for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Fit your Schedule? Many legal students keep working while obtaining their training and require flexibility in class scheduling. If you can solely attend weekend or evening classes near Rapid City SD, make certain classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make certain that the program you choose offers that option. Finally, ask what the process is for making up missed classes as a result of work, illness or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Best Rapid City Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Choosing the right paralegal studies training school is an important first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying 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 education programs are offered in many lengths and formats. Different types of private and public institutions provide paralegal training, including community and junior colleges, four year colleges and universities, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a profound impact on your opportunities for success in your new career. Since there is a broad range in the quality of programs, choose wisely. Afford yourself the best possible chance to succeed in this fascinating profession. But regardless of how you decide to obtain your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will be able to assess each school and make your final selection. And with the ideal education you can achieve your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Rapid City South Dakota.