Jennifer S. Cantor, legal studies program chair at Herzing University’s Atlanta campus, discusses business law and corporate responsibility as Michael Knight listens.
By Clare Morris
For EDU Atlanta
For anyone looking for job security, there may be no better option than going to court.
Given the litigious nature of American society, the legal system is primed to keep growing, which means manpower needs will increase as well. According to statistics from the Georgia Labor Department, one area that will see a strong expansion through 2020 is the field of legal assistant and paralegal jobs.
Those almost interchangeable jobs require various skills in demand not only by courts, but by a myriad of other legal entities. As the chair of the legal studies and criminal justice program at Herzing University in Buckhead, Jennifer S. Cantor reminds students that, when it comes to landing a job, the options are extensive.
“You’ll definitely find these positions in government, courts, public service and private law firms,” Cantor said. “But not all the jobs are in firms; the Department of Justice, the Department of Labor or corporate legal departments are other places to look. And if students have a specific interest in say, family law, they can also find work in that area as well.”
At Herzing University, Cantor has seen an increase of students entering the field for two reasons, the first of which is the predicted need. Secondly, the school’s program is accredited by the American Bar Association.
“The ABA has very stringent guidelines for the training that we follow,” she said. “We find that a lot of people want to say they graduated from a program with that approval.”
Paralegal courses cover a wide range of topics, including legal research, torts (criminal versus civil actions), legal writing, civil litigation, and constitutional and business law.
“Students [graduate] knowing where lawsuits need to be filed, how to draft a motion, what the legal timelines to answer an action are,” Cantor said. “In every situation, they need to know how to research, and writing is imperative. They also need to understand conflict of interest, confidentiality and what to do when a client has a legal question.”
Those skills are what employers expect trained paralegals to handle with ease, she added.
“One of the biggest things they tell us is they want the students to be able to take initiative,” she said. “They want them to come in and work — to interview clients, draft documents, communicate with courts and conduct research.”
Completing the training varies by student and just how quickly they want to finish the course work.
“It really depends on the individual,” Cantor said. “Some students have an employer paying for them to complete the program, so there is more urgency.
“Someone just out of high school may want to take their time and take just a few courses each term. We could easily say it would take two years, but if you take one class every eight weeks and take the summer off, it will take longer.”
By the time graduates enter the job market, they will find positions with starting pay in the mid-$40,000s.
“We’re seeing associates with no experience get that,” Cantor said. “With some experience, there’s a much higher possibility that the salary could be in the low $50,000s. And those numbers are based on 2010 statistics."
Many students find that paralegal training is just the beginning. Some opt to continue their education, earning a bachelor’s degree or even enrolling in law school.
“For some students it’s a start, and it is a great start,” Cantor said. “We’ve had students in this program from across the board — men, women, second-career individuals, people who just graduated from high school, people who have been out of school for 20 years. It’s a great opportunity.”
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