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Paralegal, legal assistant training provides entrance to law firms

Judy Restis is restless. The recent community college graduate has an associate degree in business and yet isn’t sure of which employment field she wants to apply herself to in order to create a solid future.

“It’s hard to find a job out there, but what I’m really looking for is a job that I can turn into a career,” she said. “I’m talking long term — a job that is stable enough to handle tough times and good times, like law.”

She may be on to something. The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows a projected employment growth of 28 percent for paralegals and legal assistants through the next decade. And they should plan to be very busy with diverse duties expected to be piled on to these entry-level employees.

She’s done her research. Many local law firms are beginning to hire administrative assistants, providing training and assistance to help them become certified to perform tasks that in the past lawyers typically had time to complete.

“I thought a business background would be a good platform for any career I decided to get into,” the 24-year-old new resident said. “I’m looking into becoming a paralegal or law aid or at least getting a foot in that (field) in administration because I think it will have a good future for business, whether or not we come out of the recession quickly.”

“Employers are trying to reduce costs and increase the availability and efficiency of legal services by hiring paralegals to perform tasks once done by lawyers,” the BLS states. “Paralegals are performing a wider variety of duties, making them more useful to businesses.”

Restis may return to school to become a certified paralegal, although she has found simply working in the administrative side of the law could lead to a brighter future with experience that can carry her into the health, immigration or financial fields.

The economic downturn has also created a larger pool of clients, many of whom need bankruptcy and other financial legal assistance to pull them out of serious debt. Health care and elder issues are also hot legal topics as that population swells to significant numbers over the next decade with the aging of the baby boomer generation.

The BLS also expects paralegals to be in demand as prepaid legal plans, pay-by-life event programs with affordable monthly fees for access to a lawyer, become more popular.

Beyond that, specialized paralegals in areas such as medical malpractice, bankruptcy, real estate and other newsworthy fields will be particularly valued in the law arena.

“The wide range of tasks paralegals can perform has helped to increase their employment in small and medium-size establishments of all types,” the BLS states.

One local firm agrees.

“At Christensen Law we have been fighting for the injured and wronged for over 25 years,” said Tammy Harless, office manager for Christensen Law. “Our experience has shown us that, unfortunately, while the economy may go up and down, the need for personal injury representation will never go away.”

The firm has weathered the hard times with an eye on the future.

“Fortunately, the economy does not have as much of an effect on our area of law as it does on others,” she said. “Our need for legal assistants tends to grow with our firm, rather than with the fluctuations of the economy.”

The local private firm Christensen Law has created an in-house training program for its legal aides.

“When the chance arises, Christensen Law offers a unique opportunity to individuals looking to make a career in the legal field,” she said. “Whereas we appreciate the experience that seasoned candidates bring to the table, we also value and recognize the potential in candidates who desire to develop a career in the legal field, even if they have never even stepped foot into a law firm.”

Thomas Christensen has been practicing law, primarily personal injury, for 28 years. His father, retired Judge Carl J. Christensen, has been a member of the legal community for 50 years. Christensen Law currently has 15 legal assistants on staff.

The firm expects to hire within the next year, depending on circumstances, client need and other factors, particularly the economy.

“Thomas Christensen, Esq., is the principal partner at Christensen Law,” Harless said. “We think of him as our coach as he is dedicated to attracting and developing new talent. Christensen Law is always looking for motivated, responsible individuals who desire a long-term career in the legal field to join our team.”

There is no particular training or post high school education that is specifically required to join the Christensen Law team. Each candidate is evaluated on his or her individual traits, desires and goals.

“While education is important, we adhere to the ‘to think is to create’ concept when building our team,” she said. “Most of all we require an honest, long-term commitment to our rigorous training program and to being a part of our winning team.”

For contact information and available positions, go online to the website www.injuryhelpnow.com.

Paralegals and legal aides will continue to find solid employment opportunities within community legal service programs that provide assistance to the poor, elderly, minorities and middle-income families, the BLS states, as well as in federal, state and local government agencies, consumer organizations and the courts, particularly as immigration needs increase over the next decade.

Inland Valley University College of Law offers a one-day seminar that has seen impressive growth recently due to the need for legal assistance in the immigration law area.

The seminar, “Become a Certified Immigration Paralegal,” is given once a month in Los Angeles, San Diego and Las Vegas. The cost is $500 for the one-day training session.

“There is a large Hispanic population there in Las Vegas and I think they could benefit from having a very clear picture in what’s going on in the immigration law (field),” said Sy Littman, director of Inland Valley University College of Law. “They can know what they need to do and do it after (attending).”

The one-day seminar to become a certified immigration paralegal promises that students can work in a law office, their own office or a paralegal’s office upon completion of the training. The seminar and lecture is streamlined to assist attendees in understanding the requirements they need to understand in order to work within the immigration process.

“We have created a seminar and a textbook that includes the law, forms and procedure,” Littman said. “The format is simplified so that you will be able to organize, analyze and understand the problems you encounter with any prospective client.”

Inland University’s programs are designed to teach its students how to work and earn money in positions within the justice system. The immigration system is broken down into three categories for the seminar: temporary visitors, their applicable visas and change of status requirements; permanent status, mainly green card information; and citizenship, the naturalization process.

Littman said that the program is easily understood and comes with Inland University’s text book, which clearly takes students through the entire immigration process.

“People are extracting what they can and we explain to the people exactly what a visa is, what they need to know, other things that are important,” he said. “The seminar puts them in control, which is what they are trying to do.”

Inland Valley University is located in Upland, Calif., and has more than 3,000 graduates of its nearly 25-year-old school. Because Inland is a certified university, the seminar attendees would become a certified immigration paralegal and be able to help those who are looking for help.

According to the size of the crowds at the Inland seminars, there is a need for immigration law paralegals.

“We draw a very big crowd,” he said. “We give them all they need to do to accomplish their goals.”

The University of Nevada, Las Vegas William S. Boyd School of Law has a total of 465 students enrolled this year, a steady enrollment figure.

“We look to keep that number fairly stable,” said Frank D. Durand, dean for student advancement.

The Boyd school offers Juris Doctor programs in full-time, part-time evening and part-time day formats.

“While most of our students attend on a full-time basis, our part-time programs provide access to legal education for individuals who must work full time or have other full-time obligations,” Durand said.

The school keeps a stable enrollment figure and class size, however, it expects some students are attending the law school to increase their job placement abilities.

“While few applicants have mentioned specifically that their pursuit of a legal education is in response to the economic downturn, certainly a tighter job market pushes folks in the direction of educational opportunities,” he said.

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