How to Enroll in the Right Paralegal Program Near Sturgis South Dakota
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Sturgis SD and start your journey that will lead to a satisfying career in legal services. However, it's crucial that you find the right school so that you will receive the extensive training that you need to achieve success. As you probably know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of educational choices are being offered, both on campus and online. However with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one start? Some potential students begin by trying to find schools within commuting range of their Sturgis residences. Of those alternatives, they search for the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are very important considerations when picking a college, they are not the only qualifiers you must take into consideration. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the school ought to be considered as well. Later in this article we will cover a list of concerns that you ought to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare each one prior to making your decision. But before we do, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the educational options that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants essentially both fill comparable job positions and responsibilities, just with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and are part of a different job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals help Sturgis SD attorneys with a wide range of job duties, such as legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job functions are based upon the type of legal firm where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice could help with trial logistics or transporting documents to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is normally billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And just like lawyers, they must perform with a high level of professionalism and follow a strict code of professional ethics. As noted, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they work, but some of their everyday tasks might involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching relevant cases and laws
- Composing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping attorneys get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be complicated and very demanding. On the other hand, what they are not legally allowed to do is offer legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not restricted to clerical or administrative duties more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the right hand support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys have the ability to handle a much larger number of clients or cases than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the educational requirements and job prospects will be the same. The fastest way to begin your career as a paralegal in Sturgis SD is by earning a certificate, which can take just six months to accomplish. A large number of entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which offer a more expansive education and can be earned at numerous community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are available also. When you have earned either a certificate or degree, you might want to proceed and earn a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in South Dakota to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help boost your job opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. A few 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 school (we will discuss the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 essential first steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Schools
Online legal assistant or paralegal schools have become more available and may be a good alternative for students looking for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online programs can be especially attractive to Sturgis SD students who keep working while obtaining a degree. As an additional advantage, online programs can sometimes be less expensive than more traditional options. Even secondary expenses for such items as commuting or study materials can be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all online programs are accredited, which we will address in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the training you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the school and program you are considering are accredited by a reputable agency, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less supervised and conventional environment, then obtaining your certificate or degree online could be the right option for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Certificate or Degree Programs
Once you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what educational options are offered, you can begin the process of assessing schools. But since there are numerous programs available at community and junior colleges in the Sturgis SD area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you must know what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is particularly true when you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like the majority of 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 critical aspects to research also, including accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's go over some of the questions you should be asking the schools you are considering so that you can properly vet each one and make your ultimate selection.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you pick should be accredited by a recognized accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it might also get 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 quality, but it will show potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. Numerous Sturgis SD law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited program. Also, financial assistance and student loans are typically accessible only for accredited programs.
What's the School's Reputation? Research what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal schools you are considering. This is of special importance if you are entering the field with no prior experience, since employers will need to rely on the quality of your education exclusively. Confirming that the program you pick is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating reports, such as those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact some Sturgis SD law firms that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask what schools they recommend. Keep in mind that even when a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the School Provide Internships? Internship programs offer students an opportunity to experience working in a law firm or other legal establishment while attending school. They can also present a means for students to begin creating contacts within the Sturgis SD legal community. Ask if the paralegal schools you are assessing offer internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will undoubtedly wish to secure employment quickly after graduating, but getting that first job in a new field can be difficult without support. Ask if the paralegal programs you are interviewing have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high 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 students are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the School's Location? Since laws vary from state to state, it may be advantageous to choose a legal assistant school located in South Dakota or the state where you plan to work after graduation. Also, it will be important to establish relationships in the area legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is all the more reason to obtain your education in the area where you want to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most require a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may need to first investigate those colleges that are within the Sturgis SD area.
How Much is the Complete Expense? Paralegal programs can vary in cost depending on the credential earned and the amount of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your education. Remember to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance might be available to help offset some of the expense, so don't forget to talk to the school's financial aid office to see what is offered in Sturgis SD. Naturally if you decide to attend an online program, some of these supplementary costs, such as for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? Numerous legal students continue working while obtaining their training and must have flexibility in class scheduling. If you can only attend night or weekend classes near Sturgis SD, make sure classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make sure that the program you choose provides that option. Finally, find out what the process is for making-up classes missed because of sickness, work or family emergencies.
Choose the Best Sturgis Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Enrolling in the best paralegal studies certificate school is a vital first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have covered in this post, you have the option of attending classes on campus or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Sturgis home. Paralegal academic programs are provided in numerous formats and lengths. Several kinds of private and public institutions make available paralegal education, including community 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. Considering that there is a wide range in the quality of schools, choose wisely. Give yourself the greatest possible chance to be successful in this fascinating profession. But regardless of how you decide to obtain your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to assess each school and make your ultimate decision. And with the right training you can accomplish your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Sturgis South Dakota.