February 17, 2018

TCC paralegal program gets nod from American Bar Association

TCC paralegal program gets nod from American Bar Association – 

The staggering investment of time and money that goes into law school is enough to deter the savviest of students from pursuing a career in the legal field.

Fortunately for them, Tulsa Community College’s Paralegal Studies Program provides a path for professionals to sidestep the stressors of becoming an attorney while still being involved in the practice of law. The program also recently gained approval from the American Bar Association, a distinction the organization uses to identify quality paralegal education in the United States.

The distinction comes after an intensive review of several years of data and documentation, TCC officials noted, and an on-site evaluation.

 “You can make a decent living, and you can support yourself with minimal investment in education,” program coordinator Michael Speck said. “With a two-year degree, you can go into the labor market in Tulsa, or virtually any market in the country, and make a living wage in a short period of time.

“This approval assures a new student that the paralegal studies program at TCC is living up to standards set by the profession and provides a degree that is competitive with any paralegal education in the community.”

The program equips more than 60 percent of the area’s new paralegals for the demands of the profession that may include research, discovery and investigative work under the supervision of an attorney. The program has about 115 students and graduates about 15 a year.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for paralegals was $48,810 in 2015. The occupation is expected to grow at a faster rate as paralegals continue playing a larger role in the legal office.

TCC’s program has long been coordinated by either an accomplished paralegal or a lawyer who has worked with paralegals, a fundamental part of the program’s success, according to Speck.

Robert Harmon, 31, found the program after quitting what he called a mundane job with a “call center atmosphere.” He took some time to travel abroad and reflect on which direction he wanted to go in life.

“Through that time, I realized that I really had a passion for law and changing things around me and working with the public,” Harmon said. “I wanted to go to law school but determined the paralegal program would help me decide if that was the best path for me.”

He enrolled in TCC’s program in 2014 and graduated the following year to become a legal assistant at the Tulsa County District Attorney’s office. His education helped prepare him for the quick-on-your-feet demands of the occupation, including how to anticipate the needs of his attorney.

“What I have learned is that attorneys only have time to think about the law,” Harmon said. “They don’t have time to think about the procedure. That is what a paralegal’s job is. We come and make sure the office is running smoothly.”

Harmon said the variety of people and challenges he encounters is what make his position so enjoyable.

“You get to work with different kinds of leadership and different kinds of attorneys, so that mixes it up a little bit,” he said. “That is my favorite thing about being a paralegal: how it’s different every day and you learn new things every day.”

Harmon said law school is not out of the question, but he has no immediate plans to pursue that.

“I think the world has plenty of attorneys, and I believe that those attorneys need educated and passionate leaders to help them achieve the great things they have planned,” he said. “Right now, that’s where I fit in.”