CALS is a paralegal school that has specialized exclusively in the education of paralegals since opening our doors in 1987.Read More
Brody Francois is a dreamer and he's chasing several of these at once. And one of his dreams - to become a paralegal - has just come true.
Week One: It is the first week of Paralegal Studies at Center for Advanced Legal Studies. Six students are in a classroom looking up a specific case that Thomas Swanson, Academic Dean, has just recounted. His witty delivery and personal perspective has them intrigued. Some of the students have legal experience and training; others are just beginning their legal journey. But all are on their way to a rewarding career in law.
The great debate
When employers look to hire a new employee, which do they believe is better—education or experience? Does book knowledge outweigh hands-on experience? Or would a “seasoned” employee be a better addition to the team?
Those on the education side quickly cite various statistics on the impact of education on a person’s future, employability, and earnings. Yet, those who lean to the side of experience always bring up famous college dropouts like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.
Someone with a formal education and considered “book smart” may easily deal with real-world work situations. However, they may still have a hard time landing that first job if they lack experience. On the other hand, the person with experience but lacking any formal education may do well in certain positions. However, they may find it difficult to advance professionally in their chosen career.
Having a network of professional contacts and colleagues is a huge advantage in today’s working world. It gives you a support system full of people who do the same type of work you do. It provides a group of knowledgeable people to contact if you have any questions, concerns, or need to refer someone or obtain a reference. And we all know it’s easier to find employment or grow in the position you have when you “know people.”
But how does one build their professional network? At Center for Advanced Legal Studies, we want our students and graduates to thrive in their paralegal careers, and that includes growing their professional network and always sharpening their knowledge and skill-set. But that’s not always easy. Maybe you’re like me, and networking doesn’t come quite as easily to you as it does to some of our more extroverted colleagues. But everyone can make the conscious decision to pursue building his or her network. Here are 3 simple steps to help augment your career with a strong network of legal professionals.
1. Connecting to the Law
Her parents might say that she likes to argue, but Gretchen Trower enjoys questioning, researching, and building her case, which makes her well-suited to a paralegal career. And she just graduated from Center for Advanced Legal Studies and is in her second month as a paralegal, the profession that she has dreamed about for almost 20 years.
It was in an undergraduate political science class at the University of Missouri where Gretchen's passion for the law was sparked. She became very interested in how the law affects government policy and society. The connection between courtroom decisions, policy, and people’s everyday lives made her want to become a lawyer. She began to study for the LSAT, the entrance exam for most law schools. But her plans changed after marrying a soldier she met while serving in the military.
As someone who helps graduates find employment, the one question I get asked the most by students is “How am I supposed to gain experience when most employers won’t hire without it?” Students in all schools face this dilemma when they near completion of their education. Even students in paralegal programs. So, how can you gain work experience when no one will give you a chance?
At Center for Advanced Legal Studies (CALS), students have the opportunity to complete an externship at a law firm or legal department in order to gain experience they can include on their resumes. But not all schools provide this experience. If not, don’t get discouraged. Stay positive and pro-active. Here are 5 ways you can escape the proverbial Catch-22 between experience and employment. (Note: this blog post is aimed specifically toward paralegal students/graduates, but can apply to all college graduates!)
David Mosier had already been working as a paralegal for decades when he enrolled to be a student at Center for Advanced Legal Studies. David was in the litigation support industry, and the job prospects were withering due to a declining economy. As an independent contractor, it was becoming increasingly difficult to land jobs.
A Legal Background
Ironically, David's father is one of the most prominent real estate attorneys in Harris County. Why did David not follow the well-worn footsteps of his father and become an attorney?
It certainly wasn't for lack of trying on his father's behalf. When David was in high school, he would help out at his father's busy law practice. He learned how the office ran and a little bit about the practice of law. But David went to college for music education, until life happened and he needed to drop out of school to take care of his new family. His father encouraged him to finish college and then go on to law school so David could carry on the family business.
But David chose a different path to the legal field. Since he already had a “mild background in the legal industry,” he and his brother started a litigation support business. For 25 years, that was enough, but five children later, David needed better security and a chance to make a better living.
"As a paralegal, become indispensable." These are the words of Center for Advanced Legal Studies’ Academic Dean, Tom Swanson, to a class of new paralegal students which includes Andrea Keprta. Andrea looks up, waiting to see if another story is on the way. "Let me give you an example," says Swanson, and the students put down their pens and drop their hands from their keyboards to listen, riveted as one of their favorite instructors relates matters of the law and the paralegal profession.
Thanks to its recognition as a highly-skilled and hugely helpful profession, the paralegal career is gaining in popularity and becoming more in-demand. A significant number of people are setting their sights on becoming paralegals because the job is rewarding and the career outlook is sunny. Many people desire a legal career without the time and cost of law school. Others desire to use a paralegal career as a helpful stepping-stone to becoming an attorney.
Paralegals can take several different paths to enter the legal profession. These typically involve different levels of education, on-the-job-training, and certifications. Where paralegals work and what specific tasks they perform, however, depends on the kind of skills, experience, and education they have.
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