We recognized Moraine Valley Community College for offering one of Top Entry-Level, Pre-Degree Paralegal Certificate Programs, adding them to our list of top recommendations for students in the area.
We were excited to hear from Cathi Predl, faculty member at Moraine Valley Community College, who took the time to answer a few questions about how the school works to create a great student experience that helps prepare graduates for a career in the legal field.
Are you finding a lot of career changers in your program looking to get their start in the legal profession?
Cathi: Our office career programs here at Moraine Valley Community College have many adults returning to school to change careers or to learn skills they need in order to advance in their jobs. As the program coordinator, I have an opportunity to guide many students on a career path that best suits their interests and personalities. After working in a legal office for 34 years before becoming a full-time faculty member at Moraine Valley, I am always excited to share my passion for the legal profession. Many students begin their education in the administrative assistant area and then take the necessary classes to specialize in becoming a legal office professional.
Paralegals are really getting the respect they deserve these days, and taking on more and more responsibilities on the job. How is this changing the approach to educating new paralegals?
Cathi: When I began working in a very small law office 39 years ago, there were not many paralegals around; therefore, the administrative assistant essentially took on the responsibilities of a paralegal. That being my experience, I wanted to learn more about the law and why certain documents are prepared a certain way so I went back to school to get my paralegal certificate. Moraine Valley offers a Legal Office Assistant Certificate and an associate in applied science degree with a Legal Office Assistant concentration.
I first started teaching the core course, Legal Documents and Terminology, in 1992. I have developed this course over the years to include such things as oral instructions, online document preparation, documents prepared in the format that our local counties require, ethics, work ethic, customer service skills, etc. During every class we talk about a different topic and we prepare Illinois documents that reinforce what we learned. We prepare complaints, appearances, answers, motions, etc., and cover topics such as real estate, estates and trusts, civil litigation, etc. We also learn to scan documents for e-filing and we practice transcription.
In the current economy, there are a lot of people competing for the same jobs. If a candidate can demonstrate they have legal office assistant and/or paralegal skills, in addition to strong administrative professional skills and great work ethic, they will get the job, and better yet, keep the job.
Does the program at your school include an internship and are faculty available to help students find one?
Cathi: Our associate degree requires an internship. While the Legal Office Assistant Certificate does not require an internship, I am very passionate about internships, and as the internship coordinator, I stress the importance of one. I work very closely with our Job Resource Center, which helps students in their search for jobs, as well as internships. When our students take on an internship, it is a partnership between the student, the internship coordinator, the Job Resource Center, and the internship supervisor. As the internship coordinator, I’m in constant contact with the student intern and with the student’s supervisor. I’m available to my student interns seven days a week. Students must submit a bi-weekly report to me listing the hours worked and their job responsibilities. They also must tell me what they learned and if they encountered any problems. If there were any problems or issues, I meet with the student to discuss the situation and will meet with their supervisors who appreciate my understanding of legalese. This relationship is a great benefit to all.
The significant advantage of attending Moraine Valley is that there is usually a small group going through the program at one time. I can work very closely with each student and understand what their duties are and how best to help if there is an issue.
What are some of the things you love most about the paralegal program at your school – the kind of things you’d like future students to know about as they consider their options?
Cathi: I think what I love most about the program is that it is always evolving, the classes are small, and the instructors take a personal interest in their students. We want our students to succeed. We are constantly monitoring the job market to make sure we are teaching our students the skills they need. We understand that today’s legal office professional and paralegal must have a strong administrative assistant foundation in addition to knowing legal document preparation and terminology. We maintain ongoing contact with the law offices in the area to make sure that our students are learning the skills they need to be successful and are keeping up with the changing software requirements. In addition, I bring 34 years of experience in the law office to our students. Our students prepare common legal documents, both in local county format and according to Illinois law. I think that is a major advantage to our students because many end up doing their internship and getting employment in Cook County, which is Moraine Valley’s county. Students go right into the work field with a working knowledge of what is required in this county. We also work on the Cook County Clerk of the Circuit Court website so that students are familiar with going online and preparing documents online.
Also, I feel that Moraine Valley’s program is unique in that it recognizes employers are looking for more than legal understanding, they are looking for someone who can do it all. Students learn that technical skills will get you the job, but personal skills will keep you in the job. A legal office worker must have technical skills, proofreading skills, an ethical attitude, great work ethic, attention to detail, customer service skills, etc. Our instructors in the office program are all dedicated to making sure our students are successful and learn these skills so they can enter the job market, and more importantly, be a valuable asset to any employer.
Check out our full interview series here to see what other professors and faculty are saying about their paralegal programs.