How to Pick the Best Paralegal Studies Certificate or Degree Program Near Sturgis South Dakota
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Sturgis SD and begin your journey that will result in a fulfilling career in legal services. However, it's crucial that you find the best school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you require to be successful. As you most likely understand, the legal field is among 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 numerous options to choose from, where does one start? Many prospective students start by looking for schools within commuting distance of their Sturgis homes. Of those choices, they try to find the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are prime considerations when picking a school, they are not the only factors you ought to take into consideration. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the school ought to be taken into consideration too. Later in this article we will review a list of concerns that you need to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can examine 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 available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals for the most part both hold comparable job roles and responsibilities, just with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and are part of a different job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Sturgis SD lawyers with a wide range of job functions, including maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job duties are based upon the type of legal firm where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm could help with trial logistics or transferring documents to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is usually billed hourly as are the attorney's. And the same as attorneys, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and follow a strict code of professional ethics. As noted, their duties can be varied in support of the firms where they work, but some of their regular tasks might include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching applicable laws and cases
- Composing correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting lawyers 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 authorized to do is give legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not confined to clerical or administrative tasks more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the main support systems for attorneys. And since they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers are able to take on a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could on their own.
Paralegal Certificates and Degrees and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the academic prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The fastest way to launch your career as a paralegal in Sturgis SD is by obtaining a certificate, which may involve just six months to accomplish. Many entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which provide a more expansive education and can be acquired at numerous community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are an option as well. Once you have earned 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 may not only help increase your career opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. Some of the highly regarded certifying organizations 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 program (we will discuss the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 important first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Training
Paralegal and legal assistant online schools have become more available and can be a good option for individuals looking for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online schools can be particularly attractive to Sturgis SD students who keep working while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an additional advantage, online programs can in some cases be less costly than more traditional options. Even supplementary expenditures for such items as commuting or study materials may be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all online programs are accredited, which we will address in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the training you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the school and program you are reviewing are accredited by a reputable agency, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to attend classes in a less supervised and formal setting, then earning your certificate or degree online may be the right choice for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Programs
Once you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what educational choices are offered, you can start the undertaking of evaluating schools. But since there are so many programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Sturgis SD area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you must learn what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is especially true when you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like the majority of prospective students, you will begin by searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other crucial factors to consider as well, such as the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's take a look at several of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are considering so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your final selection.
Is the Paralegal Training Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you enroll in need to be accredited by a reputable organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it might also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance training. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will get will be of the highest standard, but it will establish with future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Many Sturgis SD law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited school. Finally, financial aid and student loans are usually available only for accredited programs.
What's the School's Reputation? Learn what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant programs you are looking at. This is of special importance if you are new to the field with no previous work history, since employers will have to rely on the caliber of your training exclusively. Confirming that the school you select is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating reports, such as those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also call some Sturgis SD law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask what schools they recommend. Bear in mind that even when a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs offer students a chance to experience working in a law firm or other legal establishment while remaining in school. They can also offer a pathway for students to begin creating contacts within the Sturgis SD legal field. Ask if the paralegal schools you are reviewing offer internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help available? You will most likely want to hit the ground running after graduation, but getting that first job in a new profession can be difficult without help. Ask if the paralegal schools you are considering have job placement programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good sign that the schools have sizable networks and good relationships with South Dakota legal services employers. It also corroborates that their students are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the School Located? Considering that laws vary among states, it might be a good idea to enroll in a legal assistant school located in South Dakota or the state where you want to work after graduating. In addition, it will be valuable to establish relationships in the area legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is even more justification to acquire your education in the community where you wish 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 wish to first look at those colleges that are within the Sturgis SD region.
How Much is the Total Cost? Paralegal schools can vary in cost depending on the credential received and the length of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expense for your training. Remember to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid may be accessible to help minimize some of the expense, so make sure to talk to the school's financial aid department to see what is available in Sturgis SD. Of course if you opt to attend an online school, some of these additional expenses, such as for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Accommodate your Schedule? Many paralegal students continue working while getting their training and need flexibility in class scheduling. If you can only attend weekend or evening classes near Sturgis SD, make sure classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make sure that the program you choose makes available that option. Last, inquire what the protocol is for making-up missed classes due to sickness, work or family obligations.
Choose the Right Sturgis Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Selecting the right paralegal degree program is an essential first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have addressed in this article, you have the option of attending classes on campus or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Sturgis residence. Paralegal training programs are offered in many lengths and formats. Several kinds of public and private institutions offer paralegal education, including community colleges, four year universities and colleges, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a profound influence on your opportunities for success in your new career. Since there is a wide range in the quality of programs, pick carefully. Give yourself the greatest possible opportunity to succeed in this fascinating profession. But no matter how you decide to acquire your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have presented you will be able to review each school and make your ultimate selection. And with the appropriate training you can achieve your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Sturgis South Dakota.