We recognized Pitt Community College for offering one of Top Associate’s Degree Programs in Paralegal Studies, adding them to our list of top recommendations for students in the area.
We were excited to hear from Vicki G Coleman, faculty member at Pitt 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?
Vicki: Yes, most years a majority of our students are considered “non-traditional”, in that they are not coming to us directly from high school. Of those folks, many have had careers in the military, criminal justice, and service industries. The urban area at the center of our region is growing rapidly; consequently there are many openings for legally trained workers in law firms, the courts, education and health institutions and private industry. The word has gotten out.
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?
Vicki: We have promoted the professionalism of paralegals since our beginning in the 1970s, so our approach has not changed. A subtle change, perhaps, that we are seeing in the workplace, is the level of sophistication employers expect from our graduates regarding technology. Attorneys have always understood that their staff would be adept at things they themselves do not understand, but in the past, this meant short-hand and the copy machine. Today, attorneys are relying on their paralegals to be able to, for example, hire and interact with specialists in the fields of e-discovery and data security. Most states now have ethics rules requiring attorneys to be knowledgeable of technology issues–they are complying by hiring the right paralegals. We must train to that standard.
Does the program at your school include an internship and are faculty available to help students find one?
Vicki: Our program has a two-hour elective that can be completed by doing a 20 hour per week internship. We encourage completion of an internship and assist students in finding them. Because internships in our area are not typically paid, we provide alternatives in the curriculum. Some students cannot give up paying jobs or afford child care to be able to do an unpaid internship.
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?
Vicki: We love the small size of our program the most. Someone once referred to us as a “one-room school”! We have two full-time instructors who also serve as academic and career advisors to all our students. Our face-to-face classes meet in the paralegal lab which has desktop computers at every seat. We have a bulletin board and large white-board calendar in the lab and our campus events, course deadlines, paralegal association activities, job-searching and advising are all coordinated from that space. While students do not proceed through the program in exactly the same sequence because students may start any semester with their program of study, most students will be in multiple classes with the same classmates and instructors every semester. The students and instructors behave as a law firm. “Paralegals” and “supervising attorneys” work as a team to produce authentic workplace products so that all students get real legal experience–they will use case management systems, westlaw and fastcase subscriptions, and specialized legal subject matter software. It is effective and it is fun!
Check out our full interview series here to see what other professors and faculty are saying about their paralegal programs.