Louisiana State University’s Paralegal Studies Certificate Program is celebrating its 40th anniversary. Previously, we interviewed Bilijana Marjonovic, an alumnus of the program. In this second installment, we interview Dorothy Sullivan, a current instructor and alumnus of the program. Her interview highlights how the paralegal studies certificate program has helped students over the last four decades, how it has grown, and where it is heading.
Dorothy is a long-time instructor in the LSU Paralegal Studies Certificate program. She went through the program in its earlier days, then returned after a few years to improve the curriculum based on her experience in the field.
Describe your experience being an instructor for the paralegal program.
“I began teaching in the program in 1990, and I have been an instructor ever since. I taught the intro course, Principles of Paralegal Studies, for a while. Then, I co-wrote the Practicing Paralegal course, which I have been teaching for more than 20 years.”
How that happened: I went through this program myself. Once I finished, I got a job at an insurance defense firm that was in the midst of a huge jury trial. I had no prior legal experience. One of my classmates [Carol Landry] and I-- she was working for a personal injury firm-- would be on the phone with each other asking, ‘How do you all do this? How do you do that?’
The coursework we took was all theory and books. Carol and I eventually got together and said, ‘They need a class that teaches practical information, hands-on.’ The two of us drafted an outline for a new course consisting of what we thought new paralegals should know once they went to work. We met with the director at the time to pitch our proposal. He looked over the outline, thought it was great, and said ‘Dorothy, why don’t you teach it?’
I started teaching the course as an elective. We received positive feedback. Due to the demand for paralegals to learn practical skills, the curriculum was updated, and the class became a required course.
What makes this program unique?
“I think it is unique in our student-teacher ratio; it is small and intimate. It’s not like undergrad where you sit in a classroom with two hundred people, and the instructor doesn’t know you. Most classes are interactive, which opens communication between the instructor and the student. The instructors in the program are practicing attorneys and paralegals. Teaching is not our primary job. The instructors are here because we want to educate the future paralegals. We want paralegals to be prepared to enter the legal field upon finishing the program.
The program is also unique in its success. We have two law schools in the Baton Rouge area, and two more law schools within an hour’s drive. There is a big demand for paralegals, so as fast as we turn them out, those paralegals are going to work.
The teachers in the LSU Paralegal Studies Certificate Program take a personal interest in the students. I try to prepare them to hit the ground running when they get out. My class is one of the last ones they take, so I try to make it as real and as much like on-the-job training as possible. For example, some of the assignments include drafting pleadings, learning the importance of calendaring deadlines, summarizing deposition testimony, getting familiar with the discovery process, all of which they will be doing once they graduate from the program and begin their career as a paralegal.
More and more lawyers realize they can train people how they want; they don’t need anyone to come in with three to five years of experience. They are hiring students upon graduation. So, that is another thing that makes our program so successful. Our students go to work.”
What would you say to someone debating on entering the paralegal program?
“With this program, if you do good work, there is a high probability that you will be employed as a paralegal upon completion of the program.”
The fact that this program is ABA-approved, and the fact that it is at LSU (which carries weight in itself), gets a student’s foot in the door quicker than someone who went to another program.
Students should make sure this is what they want to do. It is an investment, and you must be thick-skinned. It’s not a 9 to 5; there can be long hours. Still, if you are detailed oriented, organized, and assertive, and if you like researching and finding a resolution to a problem, I think it’s a great profession, and you’ll do well. There may be long hours, but with that comes a lot of rewards, professionally, personally, and financially.”
What inspired you to enter the legal field?
“My father finished at LSU Law School and practiced law for more than fifty-years. I have two brothers that practiced law. It was just in the cards that I was going to be a lawyer. I studied social work in college, and upon graduation, instead of heading to law school I began working as a counselor. I did that for several years, and I got burned out.
Then, my husband and I moved to Baton Rouge, and I thought, 'Okay, I’ll go to law school now.’ But right before moving, I saw a job opening for a paralegal at Capital Area Legal Service Corporation and felt it was a perfect match. It was social work and legal work. I thought this would be ideal until I applied to law school.
I was fortunate. While at Legal Services Corporation, two lawyers took me under their wings, and before I knew it, they turned me loose. I began representing clients at disability and unemployment hearings in front of administrative law judges.
The date to apply to law school had come and gone. Then, I found out about this paralegal program and applied, still thinking it would be a steppingstone to law school. I started this program, and I loved it. During my last semester, one of my professors contacted me about a lawyer in her network looking for a paralegal. I interviewed and got the job. It was the job that threw me into the busy world of litigation.
That firm handled a lot of bench and jury trials. I was hooked. I just had so much fun doing what I was doing that I never looked back.”
How do you see the program evolving over the next 40 years?
“We have done a good job of keeping up with the trends in the legal field, but to keep up at the same pace, technology must continue to be at the forefront.
We also need to keep abreast of changing our electives to meet the needs of law firms. I think so far, we have done a good job of doing that. Immigration law is an example. We did not always offer a course in immigration law, and there is a demand for it.”
What does forever LSU mean to you?
“I guess it’s kind of two-fold. When I hear ‘forever LSU,’ I think of how LSU has been here since the mid-to-late 1800s, and it is still here. LSU will be here for another 100, 200 years. It is not going anywhere.
LSU also has a great reputation. LSU does an excellent job of preparing students in all fields; you get a good education. Long live LSU.
LSU Paralegal Studies Certificate Program: 40 Years of Success
The ABA-approved LSU Paralegal Studies Certificate Program has been around for 40 years and will undoubtedly be around for many more. Students from all over the world have earned their Certificate of Paralegal Studies through this rigorous and practical program. All instructors have extensive field experience and are committed to supporting students in achieving their career goals. Teaching a comprehensive curriculum and helping students build strong networks are crucial to this program’s success.
Both students and teachers highly recommend the program and the profession. Earning a paralegal certificate can lead to a long-standing, fruitful career. The skills you learn in the program are also transferable to out-of-state firms. If you have the drive and the passion for this field, begin your career with LSU. Learn more about our paralegal studies program and apply today.