When I was laid off from the oil business for the second time in my 15-year career, I was in shock. I couldn’t believe I was out of work again. Ups and downs are normal for the energy sector, and Texans are used to it. But the 2014 oil bust in Houston was particularly harsh for me. What was supposed to last a year at most would never come back, at least not like it used to be in the boom days.
By 2015, I had nothing in savings and I needed to work. Because I was a contractor who worked on a project basis, the 2014 down cycle was harder on me because I was not eligible for a severance nor unemployment benefits. Losing my career was not only financially devastating, but emotionally devastating as well. Most of my adult life I had a title and a hefty paycheck, and my identity was tied up in my career. I lost my identity when I lost my job, and I had no choice but to start over. If I wanted to have a better life long term, I had to find a career that was stable and offered more security.
It took me a few months to decide what to do. I worked at any job I could get. I was a maid; I was a hotel room attendant. I did anything to pay the bills. I was a 42-year-old college graduate with a very narrow skill set. All I ever knew was oil and gas land administration. When I really thought about what my strengths and weaknesses were, and I was honest with myself about the kind of work environment I felt most comfortable in, a paralegal career was the only choice that made sense.
If I was going to make this huge career change, it had to be worth my time. I’d already been to college and it was the last place I wanted to go, especially at my age. If I was really going to do this, it had to be the best training available in the shortest amount of time. I knew I couldn’t just jump into a paralegal position without any experience. I wanted practical experience I could put on a resume. As I started to look at job postings for paralegals, almost all employers required a certificate, so my search began.
There are many paralegal education programs offered online, but I wanted to be sure I picked a school with a national accreditation which qualified for financial aid. I was looking for a certificate that would prepare me for a job right away. Center for Advanced Legal Studies was my choice. Initially, I was impressed with the courses offered and the fact that career services were available after graduation. I also soon realized CALS was the only school in the U.S. that specialized solely in paralegal education and training. All the other programs that offered online or on campus were too vocational and basic for my needs. I knew if I could finish the program at CALS, I could have a new career with better opportunities and flexibility. I was in.
I could never have imagined what a great choice I made. My courses were tough, but that prepared me for the harsh reality of working in a legal setting. Deadlines must be met, there are many different personalities to accommodate.The work is very detailed and at times exhausting (just like class at CALS). My favorite course was Intellectual Property, but I soon discovered I had an aptitude for contracts and corporate forms. I left my oil career behind in Texas, and I started completely fresh in Los Angeles, California. I worked with a great recruiter who placed me in a temporary position supporting the general counsel of a large entertainment services company in Burbank. I was eventually offered a permanent position and I must say, although it is very challenging, I do enjoy my career change every day.
All I can say is every step you make is one step closer to the life you imagine for yourself. If your current circumstances are not fulfilling you, then you have the power to make a change. It is not easy and it takes hard work and patience, but it will pay off. You may not have the material things you used to afford in your past career (at least not at first), but you will feel satisfied and content. If you truly follow your heart and mind, there will be no regret. Becoming a paralegal was one of the best decisions I ever made with regard to my future, and I am very glad I chose CALS for my training. I am exactly where I am supposed to be, and that feels good.
by Kelli Porter
2016 Paralegal Certificate Graduate
Center for Advanced Legal Studies