Michelle Baker – Tenacious Professional
It was the strict admonition of a caring parent that triggered Michelle’s interest in the law. When the movie Helter Skelter came out, her father felt his 18-year-old daughter was too young for its graphic content. She did not watch the movie, but she did become curious. So when she came across the book several years later, she bought it and read it. But it was not the gruesome details of Charles Manson’s murderous rampage that captured Michelle’s imagination, it was the law and its machinations that the prosecutor employed to try to bring the famed killer to trial. She was amazed at the detail, complexity and depth in the law and she was hooked.
Taking the First Opportunity to Be Part of the Law
At the time, Michelle was working as an administrative assistant, so when a job as a legal secretary came up, she applied. She took a cut in pay but got the job and began a mentoring relationship with the sole practitioner lawyer that continues to this day. During the early years together, the lawyer would close the office at three o’clock every Friday and sit his eager young secretary down in the board room to explain the law, the judiciary, and the state court system, honing her knowledge and skill. His tuition was so effective and her ability to learn so keen that when she moved to another city, she was well qualified to work as a legal secretary.
Over time, Michelle’s work became that of a paralegal and she started to consider the benefits of structured education in the area. But mothering duties and life intervened and Michelle was satisfied with her situation, until a bitter divorce forced her into a position that meant work and accreditation were critical. That was when she enrolled in the online classes at Center for Advanced Legal Studies. At first, she was unsure about online learning, but she has found that she loves it.
Online Paralegal Learning
“The online system is interactive, and surprisingly, I’ve made a lot of friends, chatting during class and working together on projects.” And the quality of the education and the educators themselves has met Michelle’s high expectations as well.
“The courses are substantive and the teachers know how to use the technology to the student’s advantage. Some of the teachers are hard, but as long as you show that you’re willing to work, they’ll bend over backwards to help. They are extremely knowledgeable and are experts in their fields.”
The Qualities of an Effective Paralegal
Currently, life is full for Michelle. She has three children. She is going to school at night. She is working full time. In fact, she is back working with her first mentor who created a position within his firm just for her. So she is still learning a lot and making lots of contacts, and she is proud to be an effective paralegal. She says,
“Lots of people are organized and passionate about the law, but being an excellent paralegal means having integrity, being resilient, thinking outside the box, but within the parameters. Each case is a puzzle, all knotted up. I enjoy sorting through the tangle and seeing what’s plausible, what works. It takes stick-to-itiveness.”
Sticking to your Dreams
And Michelle has that quality in plenty. Just like the young woman who did not forget the movie her father had forbidden, an older Michelle knows what she wants and will work to make it happen.
She has her sights set on law school. Her dream is to start a non-profit organization for women who are going through divorce. The organization would provide legal advocacy, support and even a co-operative for babysitting services and meal delivery. I’ve no doubt that she will make it happen and that she will help many women in the process.
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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.