Five hundred paralegals are at work in South Dakota, according to the 2011 employment survey conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Paralegals represent nearly one third of all legal professional in the state.
In South Dakota, Supreme Court Rule 5.3 directs that paralegals must work under the direct supervision of an attorney who also accepts responsibility for their professional conduct. In addition, South Dakota’s Supreme Court Rule 97-25 sets minimum qualifications for those wishing to work as a legal assistant or paralegal. Those qualifications are:
- National certification through the National Association of Legal Assistants, Inc. as a Certified Legal Assistant (CLA)
- Completion of an American Bar Association (ABA) approved program in paralegal studies
- Completion of coursework in paralegal studies at an accredited but not ABA- approved educational institution that is the equivalent of sixty semester hours of classroom study
- Completion of a course of study for paralegals, other than those described above, and a minimum of six months of in-house paralegal training
- A bachelor’s degree in any subject, and a minimum of six months of in-house paralegal training
- At least three years of law-related experience under the supervision of a licensed attorney, including a minimum of six months of in-house paralegal training
- A high school diploma and two years of in-house training as a paralegal
Is There Paralegal Certification in South Dakota?
Although the South Dakota Supreme Court’s definition allows paralegals to enter the profession through in-house training, increasing numbers of aspiring paralegals are choosing education as an entry-point into a career. Earning a certificate or degree can help job candidates stand out from the competition. Education can also qualify a paralegal for taking a national certification exam. Employers and the national professional associations offering certification exams may desire that candidates have completed coursework at an ABA approved or accredited institution.
|South Dakota Job Statistics|
Aspiring paralegals may earn certificates or degrees in paralegal studies. Currently, there are associate, bachelor’s and master’s degree programs available in paralegal studies. Degree programs offer a mix of specialized coursework in paralegal studies and general education classes.
Certificate programs are educational programs that do not grant degrees but offer shorter, focused programs in paralegal studies. Upon completion of such a program, graduates receive certificates of completion and are then considered certificated paralegals. Some certificate programs are open to anyone with a high school degree or equivalent. Others require that applicants have previously earned a bachelor’s degree in any subject. These programs are called post-baccalaureate certificate programs.
Although the terms are similar, certificated paralegals are not the same as certified paralegals. Certified paralegals have earned a credential from a national paralegal association by successfully completing a national certification exam. Requirements for the national exams differ between the three national paralegal organizations and can be found here.
Currently there are four exams from which to choose. In South Dakota, most paralegals who choose to become nationally certified take NALA’s CLA/CP exam as it is specifically recognized in Rule 97-25.
- The PACE offered by the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA)
- The PCC also offered by National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA)
- The CLA/CP offered by the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA)
- The PP offered by the Association for Legal Professionals (NALS)
The South Dakota Paralegal Association (SDPA) represents paralegals throughout the state. Members may attend monthly meetings throughout the state in one of five regions: Aberdeen, Black Hills, Pierre, Sioux Falls or Watertown. As an affiliate of NALA, the SDPA works towards upholding NLA’s goals within the state of South Dakota, including cooperation and networking with state bar associations and others within the legal field, maintaining high standards of ethics and professionalism and to encourage educational goals among its members. The SDPA encourages its members to earn their CLA/CP and offer scholarships to members to help with this goal.
The SDPA offers these levels of membership:
- Active Member – Open to those with a high school diploma/GED who meet one of the following:
- Passed NALA’s Certified Legal Assistant (CLA)/Certified Paralegal (CP) exam
- Graduate of an ABA-approved paralegal program
- Graduate of an institutionally-accredited paralegal school with 60 semester credits of classroom study
- Graduate of paralegal program plus six months of in-house paralegal training
- Bachelor’s degree in any field plus six months of in-house paralegal training
- Three years of law-related experience under an attorney’s supervision, including at least six months of in-house paralegal training
- Two years of in-house paralegal training
- Associate Member – Open to anyone who endorses the paralegal concept who meets one of the following:
- State Bar of South Dakota membership
- Member of the paralegal education field
- Member of the law office management field
- Anyone who has previously qualified for Active Membership, but who is currently not employed as a paralegal
- Sustaining Member – Open to any entity that supports the paralegal concept
Student Member – Open to any student enrolled in a paralegal program who has completed at least half of the courses required to graduate
Rocky Mountain Paralegal Association (RMPA) – A National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) affiliate with four membership levels:
- Voting Member – Must be an employed paralegal
- Associate Member – Open to individuals who support the RMPA
- Sustaining Member – Open to firms, organizations, and businesses that support the RMPA
- Student Member – Open to students enrolled in a paralegal program
Black Hills Legal Professionals Association (BHLPA) – An affiliate of NALS, the BHLPA encourages NALS paralegal certifications and promotes these levels of NALS membership:
- Individual – Open to those engaged in work of a legal nature
- Associate – Open to those engaged in work of a legal nature such as educators, judges, and attorneys
- Students – Open to students taking at least nine semester credits from a legal-related program offered by an accredited school
- Retired – Open to those who have been a NALS-affiliated member for at least five years prior to retirement
- Life – Open to qualified individual members
- International – Open to those engaged in work of a legal nature who reside outside the US
Veteran and entry-level paralegals often find large law firms to top employers of paralegals. Rural states like South Dakota tend to have concentrations of jobs in their larger cities. In South Dakota, Sioux City and Rapid City are home to large law firms that include:
- Davenport, Evans, Hurwitz & Smith, LLP
- Bangs McCullen Law Firm
- Vogel Law Firm
- Gunderson, Palmer, Nelson & Ashmore, LLP
- Pesall Law Firm
- Siegel, Barnett & Schutz, L.L.P.
Important Contacts for Paralegals
- South Dakota Paralegal Association (SDPA), affiliated with NALA
- State Bar of South Dakota
- South Dakota Minimum Qualifications for a Legal Assistant
- South Dakota Secretary of State
- South Dakota Unified Judicial System