I did not have a cookie cutter journey to my decision to apply to the OU Law Center’s Legal Assistant Education Program or my career as a paralegal. As an undergrad, I planned to take the LSAT and enter law school immediately after graduation. A double jaw joint replacement surgery usurped those plans and left me unable to attend class during a full semester of grueling recovery. “I’ll apply next year,” I told myself. But months turned into years and before I knew it, I was turning 30 still wrestling with the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
The truth was, I still wanted a career in law – but I was so scared. I made good grades in college and had done well enough on practice LSATs to get into law school, but did I still have what it took to make it in the legal field? Could I even handle the coursework? And I lived two hours from the nearest law school…how could I possibly go back to school and start a law career at 30?
My boyfriend was in law school at the time and urged me to consider whether I wanted to actually be an attorney – with the time and school loans that entailed – or if I just wanted to work in the legal field. It was something I had never considered before. I had never entertained the fact that I could do the things I loved and have meaningful work without the time and expense of law school. I began seeking out practicing paralegals and reading about every program in the United States. I was disheartened to find so few in Oklahoma approved by the ABA, and even fewer that would allow me to work full time and commute to class.
Enter the LAE program at the University of Oklahoma College of Law. The hybrid, Saturday-based class schedule and interactive web courses were a perfect fit for a student like myself who was working full time and would have to drive four hours for classes. I vividly remember my first conversation with the program coordinator. Classes started in one week, and I was desperate to jumpstart my new career. She guided me through the admissions process in record time, and I was in class the next weekend. I was overwhelmed by a sense of support and purpose that day. The students were just like me. Many were working, a great deal of them were choosing law as a second or third career, and almost all had families or were in committed relationships. My fears diminished after that Saturday. Would the courses be challenging? Yes. Would I have an incredible support system of faculty and students to help guide me every step of the way? Absolutely.
The professors in the program are incredibly invested in the welfare and the success of their students. They were extraordinarily accessible during the week and went above and beyond to make sure I succeeded in their courses. When there was a death in my family one Friday, the LAE program coordinator quickly arranged to film the Saturday session so I would not miss the content and could graduate on time.
During my second course, Legal Analysis, the professor encouraged me to start applying for paralegal positions. She said that the combination of learning to work as a paralegal as I studied in the LAE program would give me an incredible advantage in the job market after I graduated. She gave me guidance about the firms that were seeking an entry-level paralegal and recommended me for my first jobs. Even after I had completed her course, she regularly would give me counsel about the profession and specific, job-related tasks I was encountering.
One of the great advantages in OU’s LAE program is how each course builds on the next. From Intro to Law to Civil Litigation to Evidence, each course seemed to pull back a deeper layer of the law. Further, the vast array of elective courses provide an invaluable glimpse into which field of law a student might be best suited for. Finally, the program is really invested in helping students get a job – assisting students with resume writing and interviewing techniques and regular emails containing job openings and opportunities around the state.
Before I heard of this program, I had no idea that I could do everything I wanted to do in the legal field as a paralegal. Now, just two years into my career, I make a great salary with fabulous benefits and work on projects that are challenging and rewarding. The education I received in the LAE program has opened doors for me and given me every tool necessary to succeed in my career and be the best I can be. I have worked with numerous attorneys who have commented that the education and understanding I received – not just of how to be a paralegal, but how to understand and interpret the law – was the best they had ever seen.
I chose this program because of the reputation of OU Law, the endorsement of the ABA and the convenient schedule for working adults. The connections and relationships I made with students and faculty will be in my life forever. I am so thankful I chose to apply and take a risk when I did. The trajectory of my career and my life has totally changed in two short years! My only regret is that I did not apply sooner. I encourage you to apply to this program today.
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What led you to OU Law? I have wanted to go to law school since I was a teenager. I was active in speech contests and enjoyed making oral presentations. When I was in high school, I would go downtown and watch some of the trials at the courthouse, so, I got acquainted with the courtroom rather early. I obtained a Navy scholarship to go to OU. I was a regular Navy midshipman then I served three years in the far east before coming back to law school. I wanted to attend law school and came back to OU.
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What led you to OU Law? OU Law has been part of my family since the 1920s. My great uncle was Dr. Maurice Merrill, a 1922 graduate of OU Law who then earned a Doctorate in Law from Harvard University in 1925. Merrill taught at OU Law for 30 years, published numerous seminal works in oil and gas law, constitutional law, administrative law and the law of Notice. While still in his twenties, Merrill published the seminal treatise Implied Covenants in Oil and Gas Law, which has been a cornerstone of my cases. In law school, I lived with Uncle Maurice and marveled at his longhand scrawl which was literally final copy in its first draft form. In my mind, he will always be ten times the lawyer that I ever became.