MSUM’s paralegal department is calling for more students to join this profession that the United States Department of Labor statistics predicts will have an 18 percent growth in available jobs between 2010-20.
The paralegal department is small, however, small does not mean unqualified. Their faculty and adjunct staff are welcoming and willing to have more students interested in the paralegal profession to come on board.
“Currently we have about 72 majors, and we would love to see and could certainly accommodate 20 more,” Deborah Kukowski, paralegal professor said. “We’ve got good jobs to offer, salaries are great and just by way of example in the last week I have posted on our listserv 10 different jobs looking for paralegals with the credentials we are able to provide.”
MSUM’s paralegal department is one of about 74 bachelor’s programs in the United States who are approved by the American Bar Association. There are no ABA approved bachelor’s programs in North Dakota and only three in Minnesota, including MSUM Kukowski said.
“As the profession has grown and the education has grown, law firms, corporations and even the government has caught on to what a revenue positive thing it is to hire paralegals,” Kukowski said, “people with this specific type of education.”
For Chelsea Hammond, a paralegal senior, the paralegal profession was her fifth choice before she found the right fit. She discovered her personality characteristics aligned with the paralegal profession and after taking Intro to Paralegal with Kukowski she realized it “was all she wanted to be in.”
Pays attention to detail, organized, thinks critically, enjoys research and successfully communicates through writing are personality characteristics a paralegal profession typically has, according to Hammond and Kukowski.
“A key element of being a good legal professional – and this is one of the things we work on with our students as they come through the program – is the ability to be thinking 10 steps ahead, because that is a lot of what legal professionals do,” Kukowski said. “We plan for the worst and hope for the best.”
Another reason Hammond chose the paralegal profession is because of the range of opportunities.
“You can do a lot with a paralegal degree,” she said. “You can go on to law school, you can do family law, you can do criminal law, you can do bankruptcy – you can do a lot with it. And you’re not just tied down … I couldn’t decide on just one, that’s why I like the options.”
The paralegal program provides a rigorous curriculum that was actually built from advice from local attorneys and paralegals when the program first began. Therefore, students move into the profession ahead rather than behind.
“Our curriculum is fairly revolutionary compared to what a lot of schools do,” Kukowski said. “I would guess you could almost sum it up by our students are only limited by what they don’t know. We prepare them to do things that some of them may never do again outside of their school environment.”
The paralegal graduates from May 2013 are a 50/50 split between working in the Twin Cities and working in the local area. Almost 100 percent of the student graduates are employed in the paralegal field, Kukowski said.
Whether graduates decide to travel farther from the Fargo-Moorhead area or not, employers are fond of MSUM graduates and what they’ve learned from the curriculum.
“We’ve always tried to keep abreast of what the industry is requiring, and if one compares our curriculum to other paralegal education programs, I think you’ll see that there is quite a night and day difference,” Kukowski said. “And the employers are certainly telling us that the professionals they hire that came out of MSUM are heads and shoulders above what they are hiring from other educational institutions purportedly with a paralegal degree.”
Hammond landed a paralegal internship from January to May, and looks forward to graduating in the spring. She is certain she made the right choice.
“I’m not worried about there not being a job – that’s for sure,” she said. “Our degree prepares us for everything.”
BY JESSICA JASPERSON