Paralegal Student Success Stories

Michaela Nelsen

Prepared for the Real World

Hello Pat, Baseemah and Eduardo,

I completed the Paralegal Studies program this week, and I wanted to thank all of you for all of your hard work. I really loved the program, and thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated every class and instructor I had.

I know I didn't have very much in-person interaction with you, but I know how hard you work behind the scenes, and wanted to let you know how much I appreciate it.

Pat, I was in your internship class. I stayed on with the attorney with whom I did my internship, and he is now expanding, with me as his "right hand."

I have to tell you that the program was even better than I had anticipated, and I actually feel so prepared for the real world!

Thank you again, and I hope you all have a relaxing holiday break.

Michaela Nelsen

Photo: Mariano Curat

Mariano Curat

From Argentina to Google

I moved from Argentina to San Francisco in 1998. Since I have always worked in the legal field I decided to apply my experience here in the US.

My knowledge of American law was very limited, and I did not want to go to law school. I researched and found the Paralegal Studies program at San Francisco State University and discovered that it had everything that I was looking for at a reasonable price.

The classes were excellent and the teachers were very knowledgeable. My English was not very good at the beginning of the program, so in addition to my work and classes, I spent several hours every week doing my homework and preparing presentations.

It took me a year and a half to complete the program, and on the same day that I graduated I was offered a paralegal position at Baker & McKenzie, where I worked from 2000 to 2007.

In 2007 I came to Google, where I'm still working as an international corporate paralegal applying everything I learned in the Paralegal Studies program at San Francisco State University. I have always wanted to work in international law, so the fact that I can speak a second language (in my case Spanish) helped me to market myself and find a job in that field.

One of the most valuable things that I am still enjoying from the Program is the friendship that I developed with several of my classmates. We get together every couple of months to catch up with our lives and to exchange experiences in our respective offices. Also, it's a great networking tool that has helped several of us to find jobs.

Photo: Paralegal Graduate Dean Whitney

Dean Whitney

Career-Changer Fit Right In

Dean came to SF State Extended Learning as a career-changer from the medical field. He graduated from the Paralegal Studies Program in summer 2014 and has since had an interesting career trajectory (working with law firms and as a contract paralegal for attorneys). Here are some excerpts from a discussion with Dean:

Please describe your experience with Paralegal Studies.

I did the entire ten-course program. I also returned and took two classes. The first was Elder Law because I was working with an Elder Law Attorney at the time. I also returned to take the Criminal Law class. The certificate program focuses on Civil Litigation, so I wanted some exposure to criminal law to get a sense of how they differed. Allowing grads to come back and audit at a discount is a good incentive.

What were some of the highlights of the course or courses?

The Torts class taught by instructor Steve Weisberg. The work done in that class paid off because I deal with that a lot in the work that I am in now.

The Discovery class with Charles Jenkins was another highlight. By having the instructor assign half the class as the plaintiffs and the other as the defendants, I was able to see the entire discovery process and learn how to draft the related documents.

Anytime an instructor brought in a guest speaker with a deep understanding of a legal area. Two memorable ones were the probate examiner for the Elder Law class and the workers compensation Judge for the Administrative Law class.

What are your career goals?

I would like to develop enough experience to become a supervising paralegal and train new paralegals. And perhaps even teach one day.

How did SF State Extended Learning help you reach your goals?

I like the support I received from the program staff and their accessibility. I really appreciated Pat's advice with course selection when I was in the program and especially the assistance she provided on my resume.

Could you say a few words about your current job?

I currently work with an attorney that handles probate and trust matters and personal injury. I work mostly on the personal injury side handling the discovery aspects.

What else would you like to you share about SF State Extended Learning?

Several points regarding the program. The first is having attorneys (and paralegals) currently working in the legal field as teachers brings real life experience into the classroom.

The second is I felt prepared for the job. No program can prepare you for everything, but I was exposed to the concepts so even if i was given a new task at work I felt I could, with the supervisor's assistance, take it on.

Thirdly I'm glad I received an ABA-approved certificate. When I went out on interviews that is what employers wanted.

A final note. I was a career changer and an older student and had concerns about fitting in, particularly with younger students. It ended up not being a problem. The students were great and I didn't feel out of place. I had similar concerns about the job hunt and competing against younger candidates. Again it wasn't an issue. I shared this with Pat Medina and she told me to how to address that by emphasizing my life experience, solid work history, and ability to interface with all kinds of people.

Rolando Vega

Graduate Success In-House at a Tech Company

Dear Pat,

I wanted to take some time to thank you, the faculty, and the staff from the ABA Paralegal Studies program at SFSU. I have found that obtaining my ABA Paralegal Certificate has progressed my legal career substantially. I started my legal career at various law firms, doing records/conflicts/intake and soon moved in-house to a biotech company as legal patent support. It was there that I realized I wanted more exposure to the paralegal world, and started the paralegal program at SFSU. This program taught me new skills, provided encouragement, and confirmed what I had already gained through my real life work experience.

Upon graduating, I was offered a paralegal job at a local pharmaceutical company. From there, I made the transition to my first tech company, Twitter, where I was able to put the skills I learned at SFSU into play. Most recently, I was offered a legal position at Snap, Inc. and the training from some elective courses I took at SFSU have been very beneficial in helping me to understand my new role. Being in-house at a tech company has been very rewarding and has helped me to grow as a person and employee. The perks don't hurt either! =)

Thank you again for all the resources and education you provide your students! It gives me great pride to have earned my certificate from SFSU!

Rolando Vega

Carmen Wierenga

Internships Get Honors Graduate a Job a Month after Graduation

Carmen graduated with honors in May 2016, and her internship experience made her the perfect fit for this job. More and more employers are hiring paralegals for paperless offices and consider internships as real legal world experience.


I want to tell you that I started as a legal assistant/paralegal at a small personal injury firm in San Francisco today, and it's amazing. :) It's called Sally Morin Law. All women, paperless office, very tech-savvy, really friendly. The combination of my two internships made me the perfect fit, technically, and they also have similar senses of humor. Who would have thought that the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Department of Health and Human Services, combined, would get me the first job I applied for? :)

We're moving to a larger office in the next few months and then they may want interns from SF State. I'll keep you updated! Let me know if I can speak/present to any of your classes/orientations.

Thanks for everything, Pat!


Emma Heinichen

Special Placement Internship for Working Student Led to Promotion

Among many of the invaluable skills and opportunities I have gleaned from this program, I can attribute my recent promotion to the Paralegal Certificate Program and Pat Medina's Special Placement Internship Program. Ms. Medina devotes careful attention and time to sourcing internship opportunities for students of the program. She then meets with each and every student to place them in the internship that will best-suit them, it is truly incredible how much time and effort she puts into this. For students like me, who are currently working in a law firm, the internship is extended to us just the same, and allows us to get class credit for working on special projects in addition to our regular jobs. By giving me paralegal tasks to complete to fulfill my internship requirements, my bosses were able to see what I was capable of and when there was an opening for the paralegal position in my office, they offered it to me. This program will get you a job and if you already have a job, it will get you a promotion, because it doesn’t just give you a certificate, it gives you the skill set to be a truly confident and knowledgeable paralegal.

Emma Heinichen

Christopher Wong

Update on First Year after Graduation

It's been about a year since I graduated from the paralegal program now. I'm sorry that I missed completing the survey that was sent out, as I'd have had some very encouraging things to say. I hope this update makes up for the lapse.

About a month after graduation, I ended up landing a job at Choulos, Choulos and Wyle, a plaintiff-side personal injury firm in the Financial District. I'd been working, at the time, for Rebecca Grey, a solo practitioner. It was a position I'd gotten through the internship program, owing to being placed there and subsequently being taken on permanently. Unfortunately, my hours had been reduced owing to the fact that there simply wasn't enough work to go around, and my supervisor, another graduate of the paralegal program, was ably handling the lion's share.

As it happened, my current employer put out notification on the SFTLA listserv, and I went in armed with a good word put in for me by Rebecca and a shiny, new paralegal certificate. Although I'd interviewed for a position that included both paralegal and secretarial duties directly under one of the partners, that position ultimately went to someone who had ten years of experience on me and – you might be interested to know – had also graduated from your program. In fact, she had a copy of the – I believe – third edition of your textbook from when it was a bound book, rather than a binder.

In any event, while I didn't get the position I'd interviewed for, they'd also been looking for a dedicated docket/calendar clerk. Although the firm, at eight people, is the largest firm I've personally ever worked at, the small size meant that there has been ample opportunity to take on extra paralegal work from my coworkers, who are constantly swamped. As a result, it's been a busy year, to be sure. This is the first time I've really had the time to sit down and write to refresh acquaintances.

I'm happy to report that the paralegal program has been entirely worth it and an exceptional boon. Not only did it help me to secure a job almost immediately after graduation and is helping me to maintain it, but also through it I've built up a solid network and foundation in the field. In fact, I have been receiving a relative steady stream of news about the program from running into people who are just now graduating or still in the program, and one of the law firms on our floor with whom we are mutual of-counsel just hired on another graduate, Karume Richards, who was in my year.

New Junior Paralegal

First Semester Student Finds Job after Taking Notary Class

A notary is an important part of the legal system so we offer a continuing education Saturday class for our students. The exam follows the class, and it is a great way for students to increase their marketability in the legal world with a one day class. This was an immediate success for this student who just completed her first two classes. She was immediately rewarded for taking the class. Many temporary jobs turn into permanent positions so time will tell what happens, but one thing is certain: she is launched on her paralegal career.

Hi Pat,
I wanted to write to thank you for recommending the notary course to us. Because I took the course and passed the exam, I have just been offered a junior paralegal role that will last for eight months. I am only in my first semester of the program, so I am very excited to have a position like this so quickly. I was told that passing the notary exam was a major deciding factor for the hiring team. I will definitely be recommending the course to others!
New Junior Paralegal

Ryoko Negishi

Hello from Japan — 2014 Graduate

Ryoko was an international student whose internship helped her get an interview for the job she now has in Tokyo. She was invited to an in-person interview in Japan and was hired before graduation. Her internship was not in Trademark law, but was with an Immigration attorney. Internship contacts and the networking contacts they offer are valuable for students in all areas of law.

Hello Pat,

Thank you for sending my certificates and for guiding me through the Paralegal program, especially when I was looking for an internship.

I am currently working as a trademark paralegal at Baker & McKenzie in Tokyo. I'm happy to let you know that things are going well, and I'm almost done with my probation.

There are so many things that I learned at SF State that I could apply here; writing skills, case management software, time recording, etc. I strongly believe the Paralegal Studies program is a significant program, and I'm glad that I have completed it.

I would like to keep in touch with you so that I could keep you updated how I'm doing.

Hope this semester is going well.

Best regards,

Ryoko Negishi

Victor Ponce

Greetings from Atlanta, GA — The value of an ABA Paralegal Certificate

Dear Ms. Medina,

I am writing to you from my desk in Atlanta, GA. A recent graduate of the Paralegal Studies program at SF State, I relocated to Georgia upon finishing last spring. I am writing to thank you for all that you do to ensure that we as graduates come out of the program with a well-rounded understanding of what it is to practice as a paralegal, not just in California but in other states as well.

The resources and guidance that you provide are a testament to the success of your graduates and I, being one of them, just wanted to thank you.

The challenges that we face as students in each of the required courses and then each elective we choose effectively teach each of us the skills we need to be resourceful as well as giving us the confidence to know that we can definitely do the job and do it well.

One of the last courses I took, Dr. Koory's writing class, was particularly effective in content and practice. Dr. Koory emphasized the importance of knowing your audience and writing to them concisely and effectively and it is this skill that has proven to be, in my field of work, one of the most useful. I am a paralegal in a firm that holds as its main client Grady Memorial Hospital, which is the leading trauma unit in the metro Atlanta area. My job, among many other things, is to communicate to our client the status of our cases, summarizing the complicated negotiations among other attorneys, insurance adjusters, doctors and nurses, and the patients themselves to an audience that is not necessarily legally inclined. I find myself using many of the writing skills learned in Dr. Koory's class, as well as Mark Yates's (in terms of research) and Vince Avellino's meticulous attention to detail. I have only been working in this position for two and a half months but I have excelled and have already manage to gain the trust of the Director of Client Services as well as their in-house legal department. I couldn't of done this without having completed your program.

I wanted to take the time to write you a thank you note and to wish you well. Thank you and your staff for the opportunity to learn from the best.

Victor Ponce

Golzar Ahmadi

International Student Success at Top Tier Law Firm

Golzar had completed her BS in chemical engineering in Iran, MA in environmental science in Sweden, and a second MA in engineering management prior to considering a legal career and starting our paralegal program. She graduated with a 4.0 GPA - highest honors in May and applied for a post-graduation unpaid internship at Mo Fo (Morrison and Foerster), where she was hired two months later. Her job title and responsibilities reflect the changes in the way law firms view and value the 21st century paralegal.

I earned my bachelor's degree in Chemical Engineering in Iran, studied Environmental Studies and Sustainability Science in Sweden, and got my second master's degree in Engineering Management in New Jersey. When looking for jobs, I realized that my degrees are not as much help as I imagined them to be. Entry level positions in my field were few and far in between.

I entered the paralegal studies program hoping to eventually work in a field where I could take advantage of my previous education. Knowing its good reputation, I selected San Francisco State University's ABA-Approved Paralegal Studies program. I was pleasantly surprised by how caring, kind and engaged the staff were and by how focused the program was on student's career prospects.

After I finished the program, I worked as an intern at Morrison & Foerster LLP. Now, I am a "Scientific Specialist" at MoFo's patent department. The responsibilities fall between those of a paralegal and a patent agent. Had it not been for the moral support and career counseling I received at the paralegal studies program, I would not have this job now. I am truly grateful to all teachers and staff at the program!

Thomas Nguyen

Graduates Are Finding Jobs outside of the Traditional Law Firm

Good Afternoon Pat,

…I just wanted to say thank you for a great program. I'm currently working at a large tech company in Mountain View in their legal department and couldn't be any happier. Thanks to you, your program, and especially all your wonderful professors, I now have a great career to look forward to.

Thomas Nguyen

Shayla Jackson

Paralegal Classes Lead to Law School Success

Hi Professor Hanft,

I'm not sure if you remember me, but my name is Shayla Jackson, and I was a student of your Wills and Trusts course at the SF State Paralegal Studies program back in spring of 2010. I successfully completed the paralegal studies program with honors at the end of that semester then went on to attend Santa Clara University School of Law beginning that fall of 2010. Three years have passed since then, and I successfully graduated from law school in May of this year. I am now in the process of studying for the CA bar exam, which I will be taking at the end of this month.

I'm writing because I wanted to thank you. Your class was so very useful during my law school studies and even now as I prepare for the bar exam, I am still using many of the concepts you taught in your course. Your class was challenging, but it forced me to effectively learn the material. I retained the information so well, that I am able to recall so much of what I learned in your class after all of these years. It occurred to me to reach out to you and let you know that I really appreciate it and that what you do in your class works!

Well, I'm not sure if you are still teaching at SF State, but I hope all is well and once again, thank you for everything.

All the best,

Shayla Jackson
J.D. Candidate, Class of 2013
Santa Clara University School of Law

Jennie Schattle

Career Changer with Social Work & Military Background

Dear Pat,
Thank you so much for your encouragement regarding the Swords to Plowshares interview. I did get the job! I started Friday, and I am very much looking forward to the work. I'm so appreciative for all that you do to make the Paralegal Studies program at SF State a strong asset in the job market, and also, a great curriculum that built my confidence to succeed. While I admit I'm a bit nervous to start, I feel prepared to make a career change. I know that I'm ready to rise up to the challenge of starting legal work! It's a great promotion for me.

I hope you enjoy the rest of your summer. See you on campus for my continuing education courses!
Best Wishes,
Jennie Schattle
Paralegal Studies Graduate, Fall 2013

Ken Breiten

Law School Is Easy for Our Paralegal Graduate


After four weeks of law school I wanted to give you an update. So far, I'm really enjoying myself and thoroughly digesting the material. The paralegal studies program at SF State was a great decision! I'm quite comfortable with first year law subjects and really a step ahead of most of the class. Feels almost like I'm taking Civ Pro, Torts, Contracts, and Research & Writing in slow motion from our paralegal version which provided me with a superb foundation, and has enabled me to obtain a much deeper understanding of the course material. I'm definitely using the outlines I developed in Steve's Civ Pro, Torts & Contracts classes.

Ken Breiten

Gene O'Brien

Internship Leads to Job for Career Changer

After a 12-year career in technology services, I came to the SF State's Paralegal Studies Program with the desire to steer my career in a new direction. Anyone considering such a significant life decision wonders whether it will be wise, and usually no less having decided, but from the very first class session of Introduction to Law and Civil Procedure I knew that I loved returning to school and that working in the legal field could be interesting and meaningful.

Because I was changing careers, I was very attracted to the program's internship placements that offer students the opportunity to work at local law offices and public agencies in exchange for experience and course credit. After completing five of the required courses, I decided I was ready to try and find an internship, and I spent time between semesters reviewing student journals in the paralegal library to find a law firm or agency that would appeal to me. Although I have genuinely enjoyed every class I have taken in the program, the internship was perhaps the most fulfilling, as I was able to apply in a workplace what I had learned in the classroom. And though I did not know it at the time, that internship would be invaluable to me.

At the time of this writing I am completing my last course in the program, and though I have yet to graduate, last week I began a promising new career at the public agency where I had interned, working as a Case Assistant until I complete my certificate.

I would like to express my gratitude to Pat Medina, the faculty, my fellow students, and SF State Extended Learning for providing me with the opportunity to embark on this fulfilling new career!