"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.
Today, the days of classes, homework, and group studying at Center for Advanced Legal Studies are behind Andrea, who proudly received her Associate’s Degree in Paralegal Studies at the February 22, 2013 graduation ceremony. And she has been happily employed in as a paralegal ever since.
But it took her a long time to get there.
Andrea is a native of Lake Jackson, Texas, where she still lives. After high school, she devoted her time to raising her three children and taking care of the home. But when the kids were in intermediate and high school, she began to look for work. With no college education and no formal training, Andrea was left with a series of administrative jobs. She found good companies but unsatisfying and unstable jobs.
An Interest in the Law was Piqued
Andrea next found a job with Brazoria County Dispatch, working the 911 line. It was interesting work and satisfied her need to help others. But it raised some questions: Why is the word 'aggregated' and not 'aggravated?' Why don't officers just go get the bad guys? Why all the paperwork? What is due process? By the time Andrea left her dispatch job, a small but persistent interest in the law and its processes had been planted in her mind. When she moved on to another administrative position at the Brazoria County Airport, she found she missed the legal aspect of her former work.
What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?
Already in middle life, with grown children, Andrea and her husband found themselves driving through the countryside one day discussing Andrea's dissatisfaction with her working life.
"What do you want to be when you grow up?" asked her husband.
"I don't know," said Andrea.
A few days later, while she was watching CBS's popular "The Good Wife," Andrea had her answer. On the show she saw paralegals, and she thought: "I could do that." She had no illusions of grandeur—she didn't need a fancy Mercedes or glamorous clothes; she just wanted a stable, fulfilling job where she could interact with and help people. Remembering her interest in the law, she began to form a plan.
The Premier School for Paralegals
Center for Advanced Legal Studies was recommended to Andrea by an associate of her husband as the premier paralegal school. So Andrea looked into it and enrolled in the on-campus Associate's Degree program. She said she enjoyed her time at CALS very much. She always looked forward to getting to school in the morning and was often one of the first students there. She found she was learning new information every day, and she was surprised by how much camaraderie there was between the students.
"People would come early in order to study together. We would help each other out.”
And making it all possible was her family. Andrea's husband and sons worked everything around her school work. The TV was turned off, and a son would often come home from college to cook dinner.
"Cheerleaders is what they are," says Andrea.
An In Demand Paralegal
Even before completing her degree at CALS, Andrea was in demand. She is now busily employed with a solo practitioner who specializes in family law and personal injury and she enjoys the work thoroughly.
But the best part? On a recent day off, she received several texts from her boss: Where was a file? Where was he supposed to go? What else did he need to have for his meeting? Andrea smiled, competently answered all of his questions, and enjoyed the rest of her day off, confident in the knowledge that she had, in fact, become indispensable.
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Joy Oden is an Adjunct Professor at Center for Advanced Legal Studies and a Guest Blogger for CALS. She writes about her students because she is continually amazed at their desire to change their lives, their ability to overcome difficult circumstances, and their determination to help others.