Thomas B. Swanson, J.D.
Academic Dean and Faculty
"Students realize that I'm committed to them entering the field and doing well..."
An Original Paralegal Instructor
Thomas Swanson is an original. He was the first teacher that the Center for Advanced Legal Studies hired 27 years ago and his crusty charm, self-effacing humor, and extensive knowledge of the law make him someone to impress and emulate for students and faculty alike.
An Original Paralegal
Born in Washington, D.C., Swanson served in the United States Air Force from 1971 to 1976 where he worked primarily as a paralegal. He received a Commendation Medal for his outstanding service as an investigator in the USAF Foreign Claims Commission in Taipei, Taiwan. After obtaining a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from the University of Florida, he came to Houston, where he entered the South Texas College of Law, graduating with a Doctorate of Jurisprudence. He was licensed as Texas attorney by the Supreme Court of Texas in May of 1981. After having worked for a number of years at an established Houston law firm, Swanson started his own firm in 1986.
"I started with zero clients," he says. So when the brand-new Center for Advanced Legal Studies advertised for an instructor, he applied. Teaching would fill up some of his extra time and provide financial compensation during an uncertain period. Swanson couldn't know all the other benefits that it would provide.
An Original Paralegal Instructor
The role of paralegal is relatively new. When Swanson started, most paralegals were in government. Often, the only non-legal support person employed by an attorney was a legal secretary. Paralegal education was in its infancy; there were no curricula or texts to teach students the profession. But Swanson knew what had made him successful in the position and used that knowledge and a commitment to the college and its students to develop the first paralegal course.
And he's still teaching. Swanson currently teaches about two classes a term and over the years has taught every law course that the school offers. He is also still practicing law; he is a trial lawyer in civil, family, and criminal law.
"I do what I teach," he says.
An Original Innovator
Paralegals have become fully integrated into the practice of law in all areas, so their roles and duties have expanded, and so too must their training. In an effort to stay current and engaged, Swanson makes sure his classes are responsive to the needs he sees demonstrated in the profession in which he actively participates.
One of the benefits of having taught for almost three decades is that Swanson crosses paths with past students almost every day. He even runs into the children of former students. He gets together with graduates to find out what they are doing and what they are involved in and that feeds into his teaching. He's also not above asking them for help and they are only too willing to provide it. Everyone remembers Thomas Swanson.
Improving the Original
Although he had been a substitute teacher for HISD, Swanson admits that he was no teacher at first, but learning how to communicate effectively with students has made him better at speaking in the court room.
"Continuing to teach makes me a better lawyer because the new generation of students helps me understand their priorities and thoughts and forces me to move with the technology. I can escape being the practitioner and explain and enjoy; it makes me think about what I'm doing and why."
Students are Changing
Swanson feels that students have changed over the years. They are better educated and more serious than the ones he first taught. And many of them now have advanced technology skills. Swanson works hard to change with them.
"I keep thinking that they're getting younger, but it must be me getting older," he says.
Students enjoying collaborative learning in Mr. Swanson's on-campus paralegal classroom.
Sometimes Originals are Still the Best
"Students realize that I'm committed to them entering the field and doing well, so that's why they and the school's administration put up with me."
Center for Advanced Legal Studies offers an online paralegal certificate program and AAS Degree program. Paralegal programs are also taught on-campus. Call 800-446-6931 for more information or click the button below and an admissions adviser will be happy to discuss your interests, the paralegal profession, and answer your questions at your convenience.
Joy Oden is an Adjunct Professor at Center for Advanced Legal Studies and a Guest Blogger for CALS. Here, she writes about CALS' paralegal faculty member. Most often she writes about 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.