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Local paralegals share legal experiences, offer advice at Brazos Valley Paralegal Forum

‘Go into the profession with an open mind and be a team player’

April 20, 2017

The Brazos Valley Paralegal Forum panel featured (from left) Polly Bowers, litigation paralegal with West, Webb, Allbritton & Gentry, P.C.; Veronica Gray, paralegal with Bryan-based Payne, Malechek, Scherr, Campbell & Moore, P.C.; Blinn College Paralegal Program Coordinator Robert Stanberry; Kristi Evans, court coordinator for the 85th District Court; Stephanie Sterling, president-elect of the Paralegal Division of the State Bar and paralegal with Austin-based DuBois, Bryant & Campbell, L.L.P.; and Billy Hart, a member of Blinn’s Paralegal Program Advisory Committee and a litigation paralegal with College Station-based West, Webb, Allbritton & Gentry, P.C.

 

More than 100 Blinn College students recently networked with local paralegal professionals during the Brazos Valley Paralegal Forum hosted by the Blinn Paralegal Program and Legal Assistant Student Organization.

The forum was held in the Blinn-Bryan Campus Student Center and featured a panel of five veteran paralegals, including alumni of Blinn’s Paralegal Program. Billy Hart, a member of Blinn’s Paralegal Program Advisory Committee and a litigation paralegal with College Station-based West, Webb, Allbritton & Gentry, P.C., chaired the discussion that centered on trends and developments within the field, as well as the positive impact paralegals have on the legal profession.

The panel included: Stephanie Sterling, president-elect of the Paralegal Division of the State Bar and paralegal with Austin-based DuBois, Bryant & Campbell, L.L.P.; Polly Bowers, litigation paralegal with West, Webb, Allbritton & Gentry, P.C.; Veronica Gray, paralegal with Bryan-based Payne, Malechek, Scherr, Campbell & Moore, P.C.; and Kristi Evans, court coordinator for the 85th District Court.

“The Brazos Valley Paralegal Forum is a great opportunity for current and prospective students to learn, ask questions, and network with veterans in the paralegal profession,” said Robert Stanberry, Program Coordinator. “The presenting panel is elite and experienced. Billy Hart is a longtime supporter of Blinn’s Paralegal Program, and is one of the leading paralegals in the state of Texas.”

During the forum, panelists outlined the day-to-day activities of paralegals and fielded questions from students regarding job demand, education requirements, and career networking.

“When beginning your career, be confident but not proud,” Hart said. “As a paralegal, you are going to have a wide range of responsibilities, and your supervisor is counting on you to correctly complete those tasks. Go into the profession with an open mind and be a team player.”

Paralegals, or legal assistants, serve as attorneys’ top assistants in the delivery of legal services, performing duties that include attending trials, assisting in testimony preparation, locating and interviewing witnesses, conducting client interviews and conducting investigations and research. Their role is expanding as companies look to hire employees with a broad understanding of legal matters. Job opportunities abound in private law firms, courts, government, insurance companies, administrative agencies and corporations.

“Paralegals are essentially the ‘middle man’ between supervisors, clients, court staff, and reporters, so many responsibilities fall on our shoulders,” Evans said. “We are here to do a job and must be qualified to handle the many tasks at hand.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for paralegals is expected to increase 8 percent between 2014 and 2024, creating more than 21,000 new jobs in the field. Paralegals earn a median pay of $48,810 per year, or $23.47 per hour.

Students seeking careers as paralegals were advised to stay up-to-date on technological programs and software and to start early when making connections with experts in the field.

“Local, state, and national professional associations are great organizations to join to make your name and face familiar to employers,” Sterling said. “You will have exclusive access to job listings and information that will provide you with an advantage when seeking a career in the paralegal profession.”

Students also had the opportunity to speak personally with the visiting paralegals during a short reception prior to the forum.

With traditional classroom and online tracks available, Blinn equips students for a variety of law careers with an Associate of Applied Sciences (AAS) degree or Legal Office Certificate. Courses are taught by a faculty comprised entirely of lawyers and judges whose classes are structured to promote quality student-faculty interaction. Students completing the AAS degree are eligible to sit for the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) certification exam, and majors in the program join the Legal Assistant Student Organization.

In addition to preparing students for careers, Blinn’s Paralegal Program provides a strong foundation of legal knowledge for students who choose to continue their education via law school.

“The Blinn Paralegal Program strives to connect local professionals with students currently enrolled in the program,” Stanberry said. “We want to give our students every perspective possible so they can be successful.”

For more information, visit www.blinn.edu/twe/legal.