By Stephanie Davis | Photo by Jim Baron
The Lakeland Community College paralegal studies program equips students to recognize and work with legal documents, help in the courtroom, conduct online legal research, assist with mergers and acquisitions, draft wills and contracts, and speak with clients and witnesses.
LCC’s paralegal program, which celebrates its quarter-century mark this year, offers two options for students: an associate of applied business degree in paralegal studies and a certificate in paralegal studies. The latter applies to students who already have a two-year or four-year degree or equivalent coursework.
“Approximately half of our students are certificate students. These are people who may be recent graduates of four-year colleges and universities who find that they now need to do something practical. Maybe they majored in French or European history, for example, and can’t do anything with their degree,” Laura Barnard, professor and director of paralegal studies at Lakeland Community College, says.
“We also see a lot of people who simply wish to change careers. They can use this certificate, especially, as a way to jump-start their career,” she adds, noting that the range in age for the program spans from high schoolers all the way up to age 60-plus.
According to Barnard, some students use the coursework as post-secondary classes and start the degree program in high school. Others are near retirement and looking to spice up their careers. But the average age is in the upper 20s to mid-30s, with a fair number in their 40s and 50s. Additionally, many in the student body already have a degree of some sort.
To date, she says paralegal represents one of the “faster-growing” professions, if you study U.S. Labor Department statistics. “It’s certainly an expanding field, as lawyers are constantly looking for such expertise.”
For LCC, a distinguishing mark from other paralegal programs is its American Bar Association approval, according to Barnard. “If you are an ABA-approved type of program, you must meet a strict set of quality guidelines.” Students with the educational credential necessary to be eligible for the Ohio State Bar Association Paralegal Certification, according to the program description.
“When our graduates go out to get a job, [ABA] is a name that lawyers respect and know.”
Flexibility makes the program even more appealing to students who carry every kind of busy schedules. There’s a full program offered during the day and evening, with limited course offerings online and on Saturday mornings. “The program’s flexibility allows students to really mix and match what they want to take and when and how. It’s not like you enter as a day or night student. You pick courses at a time that works for you,” she says.
Flexibility goes hand in hand with the program’s costs, Barnard adds. “You cannot beat our affordable tuition. If a student were to come here and want to obtain a certificate that can be done, realistically, for under $3,000,” she says. Financial aid and grant money are available as well.
The program with all its perks – be they financial, scheduling, or age-friendly – also maintains an “excellent reputation” among the legal community, according to Barnard. “Lawyers and firms look to us when they want to hire. We also have an active job board in the college and we assist students in finding positions,” she says.
Students are given ample opportunities to line up work during their schooling, as well, according to Barnard, who mentions an annual networking breakfast every spring where working paralegals and attorneys are invited to mingle with the students. “That’s a really popular event to make connections,” she says.
On top of that, students are required to participate in the school’s internship program (100 hours of work experience) to ensure that every person who gets a degree or certificate will have on-the-job legal experience.
When all’s said and done, most paralegal graduates land positions in law firms; some work in legal departments in corporations, some in government agencies, such as the prosecutor’s office, or the public defender’s office.
“Upon graduation, you can take our degree or certificate and work in any state in the U.S., though many stay here in northeast Ohio,” Barnard says.
For more information: lakelandcc.edu/web/about/paralegal-departments