How to Find the Best Paralegal School Near Sturgis South Dakota
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Sturgis SD and begin your journey that will lead to a rewarding profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's important that you locate the ideal school so that you will get the extensive training that you need to achieve success. As you probably understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of educational options are becoming available, both at school and online. But with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one start? Many potential students start by searching for schools within driving range of their Sturgis homes. Of those choices, they search for the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are prime considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only qualifiers you ought to consider. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the program ought to be considered as well. Later on in this post we will cover a list of questions that you should ask potential paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare each one before making your choice. But first, let's take 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
Legal assistants and paralegals essentially both hold comparable job positions and functions, 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 classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants 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. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice could help with trial logistics or delivering documents to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is usually billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And the same as lawyers, they must carry out their duties with a high degree of professionalism and abide by a strict code of professional ethics. As mentioned, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they work, but some of their day-to-day tasks may involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on pertinent laws and cases
- Composing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting attorneys get ready for trial and keep 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 rather challenging. However, what they are not legally permitted to do is give legal advice and counsel 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 really are the main support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers are able to take on a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could alone.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the academic prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The quickest way to launch your career as a paralegal in Sturgis SD is by obtaining a certificate, which may take as little as six months to accomplish. Most entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which provide a more extensive education and may be acquired at many community colleges in two years. For an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are an option also. Once you have acquired either a certificate or degree, you may choose to proceed and obtain a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in South Dakota to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help increase your job opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. A few of the highly respected certifying agencies 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 degree or certificate from an accredited program (we will cover the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 essential first steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Schools
Online legal assistant or paralegal programs have become more popular and can be a good option for students looking for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online schools can be especially attractive to Sturgis SD students who continue to work while obtaining a degree. As an additional advantage, online programs can often be less expensive than on campus options. Even secondary expenses for such things as study materials or commuting can be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all online schools are accredited, which we will discuss in greater 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 highly regarded organization, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less supervised and formal environment, then earning your certificate or degree online could be the right choice for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Since you now you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what educational choices are offered, you can begin the process of evaluating schools. But since there are numerous programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Sturgis SD area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you must find out what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is especially true when you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like the majority of potential students, you will begin by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other crucial factors to research as well, for instance the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's go over some of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are researching so that you can effectively vet each one and make your ultimate decision.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you select need to be accredited by a highly regarded accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it may also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance training. Accreditation will not only certify 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. A number of Sturgis SD law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited program. Also, financial aid and student loans are typically accessible only for accredited schools.
What's the School's Reputation? Learn what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant programs you are looking at. This is of particular importance if you are entering the field with no previous experience, since employers will have to rely on the caliber of your education exclusively. Checking that the school 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 confirm school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact a few Sturgis SD law firms that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask which schools they suggest. Keep in mind that even though a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs provide students an opportunity to experience working in a law firm or other legal establishment while still in school. They can also offer a pathway for students to begin developing contacts within the Sturgis SD legal community. Find out if the paralegal schools you are assessing offer internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help provided? You will most likely want to secure employment quickly after graduation, but getting that first job in a new field can be challenging without assistance. Find out if the paralegal schools you are interviewing have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have large networks and good relationships with South Dakota legal services employers. It also substantiates that their students are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the Campus Located? Considering that laws vary among states, it may be beneficial to enroll in a paralegal school domiciled in South Dakota or the state where you wish to work after graduating. In addition, it will be necessary to cultivate relationships in the local legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is all the more reason to acquire your education in the area where you want to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many require an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might need to initially look at those schools that are within the Sturgis SD region.
What is the Complete Cost? 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 education. Remember to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid might be available to help offset some of the cost, so be sure to check with the school's financial aid office to find out what is available in Sturgis SD. Of course if you choose to attend an online program, a portion these additional expenses, for instance for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? A number of legal students keep working while obtaining their training and must have flexibility in class scheduling. If you can just attend night or weekend 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 select makes available that option. Finally, find out what the protocol is for making-up classes missed because of sickness, work or family obligations.
Enroll in the Right Sturgis Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Selecting the best paralegal certificate school is an important first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have covered in this post, you have the choice of attending classes on-campus or you can attend them online in the comfort and privacy of your Sturgis home. Paralegal education programs are made available in many formats and lengths. Different types of private and public institutions offer paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four year universities and colleges, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a profound influence on your prospects for success in your new profession. Considering that there is a wide range in the quality of programs, pick carefully. Give yourself the best possible chance to succeed in this rewarding profession. But regardless of how you choose to obtain your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will have the ability to examine each program and make your final decision. And with the appropriate training you can realize your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Sturgis South Dakota.