Paralegal program offers new opportunities to students.
When 22-year-old Matthew Morris attains his dream of representing athletes and actors as an entertainment and sports lawyer, instead of crediting a prestigious Ivy League institution with his big start—it will be the paralegal program at College of the Canyons.
Morris was among the first students who joined the paralegal studies program—which began in the fall of 2005—that allows students to earn an associate in arts degree in paralegal studies in two years.
Encouraged by COC paralegal professor Deborah Orlik, Morris decided to become a paralegal because the legal profession has always been a childhood dream of his.
“I was always interested in law,” said Morris. “I was working at a law firm at the time but I wanted to get more information.”
As the need for legal services has continued to grow, so has the need for trained paralegals nationwide. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, paralegal jobs will grow by an average of 27 percent between now and 2012—which is higher than the expected growth rate for attorneys.
Morris described his paralegal training at COC as very “hands-on” and that it immediately applied to his job at the time.
Paralegals work side-by-side with attorneys and other legal professionals and work under the direct supervision of an attorney. They draft various documents, assist the attorney with trial preparation and work directly with clients. Some experienced paralegals can also work as independent contractors and work for different attorneys on specific projects on a contract basis.
The more than 60 students currently working towards a paralegal studies degree at COC must take 10 required courses and three electives.
The college’s paralegal program is currently awaiting approval from the American Bar Association (ABA), which approves both law schools and paralegal programs that are dedicated to offering the best instruction to students. Considered a lengthy process, the approval includes a comprehensive application with exhibits and a visit by ABA representatives to the college.
“We anticipate that should everything go as planned, the college’s Paralegal Studies Program will be formally approved by the ABA in Spring 2009,” said Nicole Lucy, the paralegal studies department chair at the college.
Lucy described the average paralegal studies student as a female between the ages of 30 and 40 years old, working full-time, with some college education and with children.
Morris felt compelled to apply what he had learned in the classroom to the real world, so he confidently walked into courtrooms and asked about available positions or internships. His persistence paid off when he landed an internship with the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office, where he helped summarize child support cases for jury instruction.
“We helped the jury understand the trial,” explained Morris, who plans to apply to a local law school such as UCLA, UC Irvine or Pepperdine.
After graduating from COC in June 2007, Morris was well prepared to study sociology law and society at UC Riverside.
“It put me ahead in many of my classes,” said Morris of his COC paralegal education. “It was a smooth transition.”