March 25, 2011

Hamline broadens paralegal certificate program, graduates share success stories

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 Interested in law but not sure about law school just yet? For many students, Hamline's paralegal certificate program is a good option.

It can be completed by those who have already earned a bachelor degree, as well as those who are still in the process of earning an undergraduate degree.

“The program helps graduates emerge from Hamline, ready for a career,” said assistant professor Leondra Hanson, director of Hamline’s paralegal program. “We are one of few four-year, liberal arts institutions in the nation to have a program like this that combines critical thinking and professional, practical experience. Certification from Hamline signals that the student also has a bachelor’s degree,” Hanson explained. “In addition to a number of undergraduates, we get many post baccalaureate students returning for this great opportunity.”

The Federal Bureau of Labor estimates that the employment of paralegals will increase by 28% between 2008 and 2018—much faster than most fields. The bureau cites that law firms reduce costs to clients by hiring supervised paralegals to perform a wider array of duties previously performed by lawyers.

According to Hanson, the paralegal certificate can be useful for careers beyond the traditional paralegal role. “Graduates shouldn’t overlook the importance of a background in legal understanding. It is an extremely attractive quality to potential employers, with many industries finding a need for employees who have some basis or background in legal process, terminology, and research in order to help keep up with the array of legal issues they're facing.”

Hamline has placed recent graduates in several other industries. A student was recently placed as a real estate specialist at Target Corporation and another as a mortgage underwriting professional. The latter recently wrote a letter to Hanson, stating, "[The Hamline Paralegal Certificate] certainly gave me a leg up. From the handful of interviews I completed before I landed this position, I realized the paralegal certificate is very marketable and can be relevant to just about any work role.”

The certificate program consists of 32 credits, and many students choose to complete it simultaneously with a bachelor degree. It is a flexible program, making it attractive to students who already have an undergraduate degree and are returning to school while working or job seeking, as well.

“We schedule day, evening, and some weekend courses in order to accommodate all students,” said Karen Nelson, assistant director of the program. “We see several adults returning to school for a career change or career enhancement, and they often require classes with more flexible options.”

The program awards more than 50 certificates each year to undergraduates and post-baccalaureate students. That number continues to grow with the program’s expansion to the Hamline University Minneapolis location.

“The certificate requires that the student complete an internship and practicum class,” said post-baccalaureate student Judy Gunnarson, who is the chair of the Hamline University Paralegal Society and who will graduate this spring, “I'm looking forward to this opportunity to utilize what I've learned and gain experience. The classes offer more than just learning. The teachers do an excellent job of integrating practical skills into the classroom so we can apply what we've read and discussed.”

“Employers are impressed by a four year legal studies degree,” said recent Hamline College of Liberal Arts graduate Elise Eijadi. “The certificate is great, but that combined with the Hamline degree has set me apart from other candidates. Hamline is known for producing great paralegals because of the relationships and internships the university has built and maintained with firms throughout the Twin Cities.”

Learn more about the Hamline paralegal certificate program.