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How to Choose the Right Paralegal Studies Certificate or Degree Program Near Sturgis South Dakota

Sturgis South Dakota woman paralegal speaking with client on phoneCongratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Sturgis SD and start your journey that will lead to a gratifying profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's essential that you find the ideal school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you require to succeed. As you probably understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more academic alternatives are being offered, both on campus and online. However with so many options to choose from, where does one start? A number of potential students begin by searching for schools within traveling distance of their Sturgis residences. Of those alternatives, they try to find the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are necessary considerations when selecting a college, they are not the only qualifiers you need to take into consideration. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the school should be considered also. Later on in this article we will review a list of questions that you must ask potential paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare every one prior to making your selection. But before we do, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the educational options that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.

Paralegals and Legal Assistants

Sturgis South Dakota law books

Legal assistants and paralegals for the most part both fill comparable job roles and functions, only with different titles. However, 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 help Sturgis SD lawyers with a diverse array of job functions, such as maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job duties are relevant to the type of practice where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice might assist with the logistics of a trial or transferring documents to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is typically billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And just like lawyers, they must conduct themselves with a high degree of professionalism and abide by a strict standard of professional ethics. As stated, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they work, but a few of their regular activities can include:

  • Researching and fact checking cases
  • Conducting research on pertinent cases and laws
  • Preparing correspondence and legal papers
  • Submitting legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
  • Helping lawyers get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
  • Organizing and maintaining legal documents, files and other records

With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be complex and quite demanding. However, what they are not legally authorized to do is give legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not confined to clerical or administrative functions more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the right hand support systems for attorneys. And since they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers have the ability to take on a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could on their own.

Paralegal Education and Certification

Sturgis South Dakota male legal assistant on cellphone writing notes

As we previously covered, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the academic requirements and job prospects will be the same. The fastest way to start your career as a paralegal in Sturgis SD is by obtaining a certificate, which can involve just 6 months to accomplish. Most entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more expansive education and may be obtained 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 obtained either a certificate or degree, you might want to continue and obtain a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in South Dakota to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help improve your job opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. A few of the highly respected 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 degree or certificate from an accredited program (we will discuss the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 essential initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.

Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Classes

Sturgis South Dakota female student attending paralegal online classesOnline paralegal or legal assistant schools have become more popular and may be a good alternative for individuals searching for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be especially attractive to Sturgis SD students who keep working while obtaining a degree. As an added advantage, online classes can sometimes be less costly than more traditional options. Even secondary expenses for such things as commuting or study materials can be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all online programs are accredited, which we will discuss in more detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the education you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the program and school you are reviewing are accredited by a respected organization, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less structured and conventional environment, then earning your degree or certificate online might be the right choice for you.

What to Ask Paralegal Schools

Now that you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what academic options are offered, you can begin the process of evaluating schools. But because there are numerous programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Sturgis SD area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you must know what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is particularly 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 start by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other important issues to consider as well, for instance accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at some of the questions you should be asking the schools you are considering so that you can properly vet each one and make your final choice.

Is the Paralegal Training Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you select should be accredited by a respected accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it may also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online education. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will obtain will be of the highest standard, but it will show future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. A number of Sturgis SD law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited school. Also, financial assistance and student loans are often accessible only for accredited programs.

What's the School's Reputation? Learn what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant schools you are looking at. This is of particular importance if you are entering the field with no previous work history, since employers will need to make a decision based on the caliber of your training exclusively. Confirming that the program you pick is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating services, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact a few Sturgis SD law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask which schools they suggest. Remember that even though a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an exceptional reputation.

Does the Program Offer Internships? Internship programs provide students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal enterprise while remaining in school. They can also offer a means for students to begin establishing contacts within the Sturgis SD legal field. Ask if the paralegal programs you are assessing offer internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering after graduation.

Is Job Placement Assistance offered? You will most likely want to secure employment quickly after graduation, but finding that first job in a new profession can be difficult without assistance. 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 an excellent indication that the schools have sizable networks and good relationships with South Dakota legal services employers. It also confirms that their students are highly regarded and sought after.

Where is the School Located? Since laws vary from one state to another, it might be beneficial to enroll in a legal assistant school domiciled in South Dakota or the state where you wish to work after graduating. Also, it will be necessary to build relationships in the local legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is even more justification to obtain your education in the community where you wish to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most require a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might want to first consider those colleges that are within the Sturgis SD area.

How Much is the Entire Cost? Paralegal schools can vary in cost depending on the credential obtained and the amount of training furnished. However, 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 assistance might be accessible to help offset some of the expense, so make sure to consult with the school's financial aid department to find out what is available in Sturgis SD. Of course if you decide to attend an online school, some of these added expenses, for instance for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.

Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? A number of legal students keep working while receiving their training and require flexibility to schedule classes. If you can solely 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, confirm that the school you select provides that option. Last, ask what the process is for making up missed classes due to work, illness or family emergencies.

Find Out More About Sturgis Online Paralegal Studies

Enroll in the Best Sturgis Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program

Choosing the right paralegal certificate school is an important first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have discussed in this post, you have the choice of attending classes on-campus or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Sturgis residence. Paralegal training programs are provided in various formats and lengths. Different types of public and private institutions offer paralegal education, including junior and community colleges, four year universities and colleges, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a pronounced impact on your prospects for success in your new profession. Given that there is a broad range in the quality of programs, pick wisely. Give yourself the greatest possible chance to be successful in this fascinating profession. But regardless of how you decide to receive your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to examine each school and make your final selection. And with the ideal training you can accomplish your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Sturgis South Dakota.


 

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