Out of the Blue
One of the many reasons I signed up for the Paralegal certificate program at SF State Extended Learning was its emphasis on helping students find work after graduating. I'd been out of work for several years, having taken a break after a 19-year career in litigation support, and wanted to get back into the legal profession at a more substantive level. Bay Area firms were interested in my background, but I lacked a Paralegal certificate, private firm experience, and I didn't know how to design and create a database. The SF State Extended Learning program proved to be a boon in many ways: the school was conveniently located, the classes - teachers and students - were engaging and insightful, and it offered an internship program and job placement assistance. The program has some wonderful teachers - and by this I mean "teachers" who transmit insights about their class topics and how these apply to the real world. It became clear early on that this program would be a great opportunity for anyone committed and curious enough to do the work, ask questions, and develop their own talents.
After graduating from the program, I found a paralegal position with a firm in the financial district. This job opportunity came out of the blue: I was called in for an interview a month after I'd applied for the position. Several of the determining factors in my being hired were the Paralegal certification from SF State Extended Learning under Pat Medina's direction (Pat is well-known in the legal community), the Paralegal internship, and the Computer Application courses. The latter were especially relevant as I was hired to streamline an internal document handling and tracking process for one of the firm's practice groups, including the design and implementation of a new database.
Looking back, I see several common traits so far as completing the Paralegal program, job hunting, and thriving at a law firm: preparation, adaptability and congeniality - preparing for classes, interviews and work projects; adapting technologies, work technique, and strategy to a given situation; and treating people and circumstances with sensitivity and aplomb. One additional trait - a strong sense of commitment - has made it possible to focus and move forward despite the periodic setbacks and disappointments. My goal of working as a legal professional at a more substantive level - building databases, drafting pleadings and motions, participating in a trial - is a work in progress, but all the more real and tangible for having completed the SF State Extended Learning Paralegal program.
Paralegal Goes to Law School
Elizabeth Jessup is a Law Student at Lewis & Clark in Portland, Orgeon & a Probate Paralegal.
I started taking classes at SF State's Paralegal Studies Program because I ultimately wanted to become a lawyer. But before embarking on at least three years of schooling to earn a JD, and investing tens of thousands of dollars, I thought it wise to be certain I was making the right choice. I'm really glad that I first earned my paralegal certificate at SF State. Having completed the paralegal studies program has also helped me immensely as a new law school student.
For those who are considering law school, becoming a paralegal first is advantageous for numerous reasons. For example, you'll find out what it's really like to work in a law office. Unlike others in your law school class, you'll know what lawyers do every day. And you will learn whether or not you would like to do the same kind of work. When I finished the paralegal program, I knew that I wanted to do transactional work and not litigation. As a law school student, I can focus on taking classes in the areas of law that I already know I prefer.
Also, the courses you take at SF State will prepare you for your first year of law school. First year Civil Procedure, Torts and Contracts are a lot easier when you've already taken all three as a paralegal student. You will already know the language of the law. And many of the cases you read as a paralegal student will show up in your first year casebooks. But the biggest bonus of all is that your exam scores will likely be higher because you will have already been tested on the same concepts at SF State.
Another huge reason to become a paralegal first is that with your paralegal certificate, you can work while you're in school. I'm in an evening law school program, so I work as a paralegal during the day. Not only am I earning enough money to help defray some of my tuition costs, I am also building up a network of attorney contacts through my job. And I get to apply what I learn in law school on a daily basis, not just for a few months over the summer.
After graduation from the paralegal program, my first job was in the trust department of a major bank. Now while I am attending law school at Lewis & Clark in Portland, I am also working as a probate paralegal in a large firm and find the work quite different.
Working at Bullivant Houser Bailey is very different from working in a bank. Of course, having to make my billable hours goal every month changes the nature of the work in many ways. Whereas at the bank, we were encouraged to contact clients all the time just to check on them and see if they needed anything, at the law firm, I don't contact clients unless I have to, because just sending an email or making a quick phone call costs them a lot of money! But I really like working at Bullivant. The attorneys are so smart (and so fast and articulate - it's a bit intimidating). And the work is very fast-paced, so I'm never bored.
Finally, I think that having an ABA-approved paralegal certificate helped me get into law school. Law schools know that an ABA-approved program is more rigorous academically, which means that you are more prepared to study law. Also, I was able to ask several of my instructors to write letters of recommendation. It had been fifteen years since I had finished college, and without recommendations from my paralegal instructors, I would not have had any letters of recommendation from teachers or professors.
I think that anyone who is considering law school should also think about attending SF State's paralegal program first. It certainly helped me!
Recently my 16-year old daughter was perusing my senior high school yearbook. When she got to my picture, she laughed out loud. She said, "Wow, big dreams, huh Dad?" Under my name the caption read, "John plans to study law at Stanford."
My initial reaction to her comment was one of disappointment in myself. I remembered how much I really planned to pursue a career in law. We all have dreams, but then somewhere along the way, life happens.
I went on to UC Berkeley immediately after high school and received my BA However, law school became a "dream deferred." I went on to have a good career in the petrochemical industry, while helping out in my family's business.
Then an unexpected thing happened on the way to my mid-life crisis. My dad dropped dead of a heart attack. That's when the legal field came back into the forefront. After leaving my job and going into the family business with my siblings, the reality of going into business with family evolved as ill conceived and a tragic misstep. One word - "probate" - think very long and hard before you go into an inherited business with family - I found myself looking for a career change.
At my wife's encouragement, I took a job as a temporary "document coder" at a large, now defunct, national law firm. While the work was repetitive, it renewed my interest in a career in the legal field. I soon got a job at another large law firm, now also defunct, as a file clerk. With my college degree and lots of hard work, I quickly moved into a job as a "Legal Assistant."
My road to Certification started when Business and Professional Code 6450 was an Assembly bill. In the beginning of my career, a paralegal would need to have a declaration signed by a supervising attorney to validate their credibility as a working paralegal. In looking for new work this "signed letter of recommendation" had to be schlepped to each and every job interview. I wanted to obtain the credentials which would allow me to be recognized as a paralegal because I say I am, not because I could get an attorney to sign a piece of paper.
I took my first class at SF State Paralegal Studies Program in the summer of 2002. I could not afford to go full time with a family to support, so it was "one class at a time." However, the road to obtaining my certificate would not be easy. I had several personal trials along the way, including the death of an uncle, who was like a second-father to me. I had to take an incomplete to attend his funeral and then there were some semesters when I didn't have the money because of my daughter's school tuition, or ballet lessons or piano lessons, so I would have to wait to take a class.
However, in the fall of 2007, five years after my journey began, I graduated with honors from the SF State Paralegal Certificate Program. So while I never made it to Stanford to study law, I found a career which affords me to support and work with some of the best-trained lawyers in the country. I am now a paralegal specializing in Wage and Hour Class Action litigation at Jackson Lewis LLP.
Thank you, SF State, for helping me realize my dream.
Thank you for all your help when I was a student at the SF State Paralegal Studies Program. I think of you and Baseemah fondly, because the two of you made it possible for me to succeed in the program.
I work at the County of Alameda, Office of the County Counsel, as a legal secretary. The skills and knowledge I acquired from the Paralegal Program are so important to my everyday work and are instrumental in my future career in law. I am very grateful to both you and Baseemah for holding down the fort and for all you kindness, helpfulness, and consideration in helping me succeed in the program.
December 4, 2008
Greetings Pat Medina,
It was great speaking with you by phone this past weekend! You made my day!
As discussed on the phone, my military duty brings me to Joint Base Balad, Iraq of which I serve as the Brigade Paralegal of the 304th Sustainment Brigade (headquartered out of Riverside, California.)
We have approximately 100 (plus) soldiers in Brigade. As a paralegal, I am the non-commissioned officer in charge (NCOIC) of the military justice, administrative law, operational law, and legal assistance issues for the 304th Brigade. There are 3 Battalions paralegals of which I monitor who are responsible for a cumulative of approximately 3,000 soldiers while in Iraq. Also, I am responsible for the eastern Legal Assistance Office in Joint Base Balad, Iraq which helps the soldiers with such things as: power of attorneys, wills, passports, notaries and the like. For attorney advice, we have several attorney present. This has been a rewarding experience utilizing my paralegal skills acquired from San Francisco State University via my paralegal certificate. My intentions are to continue growing it this field of law while working in the JAG corp. of the US ARMY. As it stands now, I rotate from my two offices throughout the day while maintain my military bearing.
Keep me in your prayer, and again it was a pleasure sharing with you on the phone.
Give my greetings to all there and Happy Holiday!
SGT Freddie Scott
Paralegal, NCOIC/Legal Assistance NCOIC
Sergeant Scott would enjoy hearing from other graduates.
Feel free to email him at email@example.com.
In the summer of 2007, it became more and more clear that my career in the mortgage industry would end soon. It was, and still is, heartbreaking to see my friends struggle with finding new jobs. Although I was worried about paying my rent and my bills, I didn't want to get just any job. I wanted to do something that was interesting and challenging. I don't remember what made "Paralegal" pop into my head. I guess it really doesn't matter that much now. The more I researched the responsibilities of a paralegal, the more I realized that was the path for me. That meant I had to go back to school.
There are so many factors in choosing a paralegal studies program. Whenever I make a decision, I think in terms of ROI, Return on Investment. What will I get in return for the cost? The amount of time, money, energy and work invested in a program compared to the quality of education and paralegal job in return made my choice an obvious one—SF State. There are several schools with paralegal studies programs that are much closer to where I live. However, none of those are ABA accredited programs. Does that really matter? YES IT DOES! In order to be accredited by the ABA, a standard of excellence must be maintained. At SF State, excellence is apparent in the students and the faculty. Employers in the Bay Area know that. In this economy, any advantage is priceless.
I began the Paralegal Studies program at SF State in the spring 2008 semester. When I first went to class, I felt like I was in a foreign country and didn't speak the language. I had no idea how to do any of the homework and felt like I was just bumbling along. I eventually hooked up with a study group and found out that I was not the only stranger in a strange land. Since then, I have met so many great people in this program. Everyone from my classmates to the faculty has been supportive and has helped me to excel.
This semester has been the best yet for me. I am doing an internship at a litigation firm in Novato that specializes in the mortgage banking industry. What a perfect fit! I've been able to apply so much of what I have learned in class to my internship tasks. In addition, a graduate of the SF State Paralegal Studies Program encouraged me to apply for the San Francisco Paralegal Association scholarship. I recently found out I won the scholarship! With the success I have been experiencing, my ROI in choosing SF State has paid off in spades!
Evidence at her Fingertips
Baljinder Heer came to the US from India with a great work ethic, and little professional education. She started out working her way up to managing donut shops, then to clerical work by getting an Associate Degree in Accounting. Determination being one of her strong suits, she decided that there must be more for her to accomplish. She investigated and joined the Paralegal Studies Program (PLS) here at SF State Extended Learning.
Despite initially enrolling in the wrong first class, a class that required basic knowledge of legal terminology and concepts already, she mastered it with the help of a fellow student, with whom Baljinder still laughs about her worried "deer caught in the headlights" look. She was hooked on the subject from there on out, enjoying it more and more.
Upon graduation from PLS in 2003, Baljinder asked Program Director Pat Medina for job hunting advice. She has always been very independent and was not necessarily seeking a 9 to 5 situation. Pat had just received an inquiry from an attorney—an SF State alumnus himself who turned to the PLS program based on the quality he expected from his alma mater—seeking a contract paralegal (paid by the court) for a federal drug case. Baljinder was a perfect match for the position and saw a dream coming true working in a maximum security court.
She continued her career as a contract paralegal, which included working on and sitting through a complete murder re-trial alongside the attorneys and the defendant, preparing evidence in real time to be projected onto the courtroom screen, responding to the prosecution. Baljinder had over 30,000 pieces of evidence at her fingertips, enabling her to assist her attorneys discredit witnesses, for example, by finding contradictory statements in a matter of minutes, doing her part in helping release an individual who already spent 11 years—wrongfully—in prison.
During such a trial, she mostly worked 16-hour days, got very little sleep, and even squeezed getting married between two meetings. In addition, Baljinder got her Bachelor's in Criminal Justice from SF State, where many of the academic units she earned in the PLS program were accepted. She's taking a little break now with less work, and a lot of focus on her big traditional Indian wedding ceremony.
Part of her work is also talking to clients and working with investigators as requested by the attorneys she works for. Baljinder has also been instrumental in helping many PLS students from India get a great start in the program.
It's been quite an amazing experience coming from the point where I realized I was interested in law to working in a national law firm which handles securities litigation. The SF State Extended Learning PLS program was absolutely wonderful in helping me facilitate that process, and I couldn't believe how confident in my abilities I was coming out of the program.
The program gave me an essential understanding of the legal process which has helped guide me in so many ways. From small research tasks to helping to edit and make sense out of pleadings which are hundreds of pages long, being able to be an effective part of a lawsuit has been invaluable.
Furthering my education after getting my bachelor's degree was probably the best thing I could have done for myself, and the PLS program was the perfect place for me to do it. It's been a great foundation for a journey into the field of law that I feel like has just begun, and I'm absolutely optimistic that when it comes time for me to go to law school I will be able to excel above the majority who haven't had any experience in the field.
A Job in Tokyo, Please
Anne Koike is on her way to Japan. She will be managing paralegals in the Tokyo Morrison and Forester office. The freshly-baked graduate of the SF State Extended Learning ABA-approved Paralegal Studies Program is looking forward to this new challenge.
Anne has always had a great interest in the law, but her husband's career has required frequent moves, not giving Anne enough time to get into and through law school in the same city, or even country. When they moved to San Francisco she investigated the paralegal programs offered in the Bay Area, hoping to have enough time to finish one before the next move. Anne picked SF State after attending the Information Session and went on to graduate with straight As.
When it came time for Anne's husband's next assignment—in Japan—she turned to program director Pat Medina for job-hunting advice. What should her strategy be? Although Anne speaks Japanese fluently, she decided to look for work at a US firm, dealing with US and Japanese clients. Pat knew just the person to call. She recommended Anne to a Morrison and Foerster member on the program's advisory board, who facilitated an introduction to their Tokyo office. Shortly afterwards she was contacted by a recruiter for Morrison and Foerster, and was hired promptly as a manager of the paralegals in their Tokyo office.
We wish Anne all the best and are looking forward to hearing about her Tokyo adventures.
I graduated from the Paralegal Certificate program in 2002. Completing the program was one of the most rewarding and fruitful projects I have ever undertaken. I am indebted to you for guidance and support during my years in the Program, and belatedly offer you my heartfelt gratitude.
Between 2001 and 2004, I served as a litigation and trial paralegal for the firm of Stoel Rives, LLP, in the San Francisco Financial District. My responsibilities included management of over 150 actions. By the time I left the firm in 2004, I had been granted the privilege of sitting at counsel's table at trial, was offered promotion to full-time trial paralegal, and was making more money than could ever have imagined.
In 2004, at age 51, I turned my attention to fulfilling some lifetime dreams. The money I saved during my paralegal career helped make this possible.
Since 2004, I have completed several 2-3 month silent meditation retreats in California and New England; completed several journeys to remote corners of Asia, and undergone formal training as a Zen Buddhist monk in the mountains of Big Sur, California.
I now am making plans to return, once again, to full- or part-time work as a litigation paralegal in San Francisco.
I look forward to meeting with you later this summer, if possible, to catch up, and to explore continuing education opportunities with the Paralegal Program.
SF State's Paralegal Studies program gave me the grounding necessary to capitalize on the many diverse networking opportunities it offered.
Additionally, they afforded me the support needed to develop my own personalized paralegal internship.
It was this grounding, networking, and internship that led to my dream job as an Intellectual Property paralegal, specializing in trademarks!
Thank you, SF State!
Helen Yune Trowbridge
Helen is a 1998 graduate of the Paralegal Certificate Program and is currently one of San Francisco County Superior Court's newest Probate Examiners. After completing a double major in German and Political Science and a Masters at Indiana University, she wandered westward and after a variety of jobs found a perfect fit working for a sole practitioner in probate and estate planning. She wanted to learn more about her job and after researching various programs decided to enroll at SF State. Helen says, "I was impressed by the solid curriculum, respected faculty, and found the downtown location to be very convenient. I had an excellent educational experience and even elected to take Contracts and Torts which was outside my area of specialization because of the outstanding instructor." She also says that the bankruptcy elective revealed to her that she actually enjoyed number crunching!
The Paralegal Certificate Helen earned at SF State helped to boost her hiring salary and landed her jobs at large San Francisco law firms where she worked before continuing her career-path and becoming a Probate Examiner. Helen sums it up by saying, "The best rewards are intangible. I developed lasting friendships, increased my network of colleagues in the legal field, acquired confidence and a solid foundation for a lifetime of learning in the legal profession."
Joan E. Barton
I am a native of San Francisco and have a degree in music. I played the viola for over 35 years, seeking work during the day time hours to ensure a steady source of income and benefits. After holding a variety of jobs in retail, accounting, credit management and leasing, I eventually ended up in the legal department of a gold mining company for 22 years doing land transactions.
The company was sold and I decided to take some time off to recharge my batteries as well as consider my job options. After going through a battery of tests at an executive outplacement agency, I decided to enter the paralegal field.
Experience with the program
I simply cannot say enough about the PLS program at SF State's downtown campus. The teachers are not only very experienced legal professionals, but they are highly committed both to the program and to the students, encouraging us every step of the way. All of the classes that I took gave me a solid foundation of legal knowledge to bring to my new job. Going through the PLS program has been one of the best investments of my time and money!
What job leads did the PLS program help me with?
The program director and the teachers were very generous about sharing job leads, giving recommendations, helping us with resumes and cover letters.
- The internship program not only gave me recent legal experience to use on my résumé, but my supervisor at City Hall gave me a glowing recommendation to prospective employers.
- The on-campus job fair introduced me to many fine recruiters with whom I still keep in touch as friends.
- There was a great deal of support and encouragement for the mature (translate: "over-50") students going thru the program. Clearly, all of our life experiences can be relevant in the legal world and being a "mature" paralegal is not an obstacle.
- For those entering a brand new area of employment, (as I was), the program provide a way to build new professional contacts and form new networks.
How did I find my present job?
I wanted to work for a small to midsize law firm in San Francisco that focused on elder law, wills, trusts, estate planning and conservatorships. There were virtually no openings, until I spotted an intriguing job posting on Craig's List. (Normally, I would not have considered Craig's List, but the program director, Pat Medina, always encouraged us to try everything!) As it turns out, Pat was right and the job posting on Craig's List turned out to be my ideal job. I love going to work every day! There is no doubt in my mind that getting my paralegal certificate from the ABA-approved program at SF State was the key to my success. Thank you Pat and all my wonderful teachers for sharing your time, knowledge and experience!
Lenore Thorpe commutes from Oregon to attend the SF State Paralegal Studies Program.
"I have always wanted to work with the law. That is why I got my B.A. in Legal Studies from Cal. That is why I bent my career toward Employment Law and Human Resources. I have never wanted to be a lawyer, although I have considered it many times. Voila, Paralegal!
With that epiphany, I moved on to the complicated logistics and many details of getting into the best paralegal program, and adjusting my work and personal life around it.
My home state, Oregon, does not offer an ABA accredited paralegal studies program. I read about all of the programs in Washington State and Northern California from the Bay Area to Sacramento. Then, there it was, the door of opportunity, opened wide in front of me, SF State CEL Paralegal Studies Program! SF State CEL simply provides the best program with the variety of classes, a demanding course of study and a professional staff and faculty all made available at an amazing price!
I started SF State's Paralegal Studies Program this past spring completing Legal Research & Writing, Introduction to Computer Applications and Introduction to Law and Civil Procedure. I commuted between my home in Lake Oswego, OR (15 minutes south of Portland) and the Bay Area every other week to attend SF State and keep my marriage happy and play with my dogs! I completed a summer internship in San Francisco with the Legal Aid Employment Law Center.
Great news! I've just been hired as a litigation paralegal in Portland with the Tonkon Torp law firm where I'll complete an internship that will fulfill my last requirement for the PLS program. Then I'll start full-time with the law firm in mid December. My appreciation goes out to Pat Medina, program director, and to Baseemah Rahman, program assistant without whom I would never have been able to figure it all out, get into this wonderful program, and have an opportunity to learn from the great SF State CEL Paralegal Studies Program staff and faculty."
Internship Leads to a Job
When I first enrolled in the San Francisco State University Paralegal Certificate Program, I was looking for a new career. I had been considering getting my Paralegal Certificate for a couple of years and finally I was able to enroll in the program. To my delight, the first class, Introduction to Law, by Steve Weisberg, was so fascinating that I was "hooked" on the law. My subsequent classes, Pleadings and Motions, and Discovery, all went into substantial depth about the pre-trial and trial litigation process.
When Pat Medina encouraged us to take the Internship class, I looked at the list of private and public law firms that sponsored paralegal interns. I chose to do my internship with a local government agency that assists indigent clients because I was really interested in helping people who could not afford a private attorney. My internship was very rewarding in many ways. I got "real world" work experience. I was able to use all of the skills that learned from my classes during my internship. And the internship led to a paralegal position with this agency.
I would highly encourage students to take the Internship class as a stepping stone to finding opportunities in the paralegal field. It is a chance to get work experience on your résumé and an opportunity to find out what kind of law you would eventually like to practice.
I cannot say enough good things about the San Francisco State Paralegal Program. This is the best program in the country and it is ABA-Approved. Getting my Paralegal Certificate through this program has opened up new career doors for me and has led to an exciting future in law.
Graduates Using Paralegal Skills in Related Fields
The paralegal program sends regular surveys to our graduates to see how they are doing, and also to get their feedback on our courses and suggestions for curriculum improvement. This graduate was hired at the end of her internship at a real estate firm and graduated in fall 2009. When her job ended due to the downturn in the real estate market, she used the skills she had learned in our paralegal program to create her own web site and start a blog. She had a teaching background, was multilingual, and used the combination of skills to start her own business.
Dear Pat and Eduardo,
I will complete the survey shortly. I am also using the opportunity to let you know once more how much I appreciate the educational experience with the Program. I worked with Cooper, White & Cooper until April, after which the work dried up, and while looking for another job, I decided to register my own tutoring business. I'd never even have considered the possibility without the eye-opening experience as a paralegal. I built my own website from scratch and established a blog as a promotional tool. My business took off and a college in Moraga took heed - this semester, I am teaching Latin and Greek for them. Having your own business is great if you are ready to work hard, even on weekends.
I am not currently working as a Paralegal because I have a background in journalism and I was offered a journalism-related job before being offered a paralegal job. I use the skills and knowledge that I learned in my paralegal classes in many ways on my jobs in writing and editing for various websites.
I am not working as a Paralegal but use the knowledge and skills I learned in my paralegal classes every day in my in job. My position in Human Resource as a consultant in community college human resources was GREATLY enhanced by my Paralegal Studies Program courses! They added to my ability to respond to agency complaints, lawsuits, and to assist employer-counsel in writing complaint answers, interviewing complainants and respondents, and drafting contracts.
My work as a Human Resources management consultant in the California community college system has been GREATLY enhanced with the knowledge that I gained from Paralegal Studies. Among other skills, I can now research court cases online, write concise and meaningful employer responses, draft contracts, interview complainants and respondents for investigations; respond to agency interrogatories and requests for documents; understand legal terminology; and therefore be much more of a "partner" to legal counsel than before I took these courses.
This is a wonderful, well-organized, relevant, and future-oriented Program that adds value to the professional development of current and future paralegals and non-legal professionals.