Career choices abound for Roosevelt paralegal studies alums
By Laura Janota | From the Fall 2011 issue of Roosevelt Review
Roosevelt University Paralegal Studies Director Carrie Lausen remembers a time when few people understood the job of a paralegal.
That isn’t the case anymore. Four decades after the University’s Paralegal Studies Program, previously known as the Lawyer’s Assistant Program, was founded, and 35 years since it was approved by the American Bar Association (ABA), the paralegal profession is stronger than ever.
Through the year 2018, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is projecting that employment of paralegals will grow by 28 percent, which is a much faster rate than most occupations are growing in these uncertain economic times.
“It’s been a tough job market for law firms as clients have been cutting back,” said Eric Baker, president of the Illinois Paralegal Association and a 2006 graduate of Roosevelt’s Paralegal Studies Program. “We are now seeing more paralegals starting to get hired, as well as being called on to take on more duties.”
More than 10,000 students have graduated from Roosevelt’s program which offers post-baccalaureate certificates in as little as four months and bachelor’s degrees with a concentration in paralegal studies.
Working under the supervision of lawyers, paralegals draft legal documents; they conduct legal research; they interview clients and witnesses for legal cases; and they assist lawyers in all areas of litigation. “There’s very little lawyers do that paralegals can’t do,” added Lausen, noting that while a paralegal might be the contact for a pending case, he or she can’t set legal fees or give legal advice, which are the lawyer’s responsibility.
With a team of professional instructors, including judges, lawyers and practicing paralegals, Roosevelt’s Paralegal Studies Program provides course work in ethics and professionalism, commercial law, civil law, pre-trial litigation, legal research, trial and post-trial litigation, legal technology, intellectual property and legal writing.
Roosevelt also has a strong internship program and many students are able to gain full-time employment following their internships. “We’ve had a lot of great experiences with our Roosevelt interns,” said Beth Fawver McCormack, a partner with the Chicago law firm of Kamerlink, Stark, McCormack and Powers. “We’re willing to give them as much responsibility as they can handle.”
A case in point is Rachel Boehm, a Roosevelt paralegal studies intern who was hired by the law firm after she graduated in 2007. Today, she is a law clerk at the firm and also a student at the John Marshall Law School in Chicago.
The many different career paths that graduates of the Roosevelt program have taken is truly impressive. “Our graduates have gone on to become lawyers, professors and even judges. The sky’s the limit on what a paralegal can do with his or her career,” said Lausen.
Below are some of their success stories.
Graduate working on BP case
Samantha Heinritz, who received her certificate in paralegal studies from Roosevelt in 2010, never imagined she’d be employed by one of Chicago’s largest law firms and would be contributing to the largest legal case in American history.
Hired by Kirkland and Ellis LLP in August 2010, Heinritz, 26, is a member of one of three teams of paralegals assisting more than 200 attorneys at the law firm preparing for trial in a case about last year’s BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
“It’s cool to be able to say that I’ve worked on the biggest case in American history and that I’ve been able to read some of the confidential documents that are involved with the case,” said Heinritz.
Two other 2010 graduates from Roosevelt’s Paralegal Studies Program – Jeff McMurray and Kristine Bompadre – also were hired last year as paralegals by Kirkland and Ellis. “We have had opportunities to be involved with very extensive and detailed cases while working for Kirkland,” said Bompadre. “The last year has given us amazing learning experiences and opportunities that would be hard to find elsewhere as an entry-level paralegal.”
Illinois judge got his start at Roosevelt
When Illinois 17th Circuit Court Judge J. Edward Prochaska graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree in history and political science in 1975, he didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life.
He tried the restaurant business. He did a short stint as a salesman. Then one day, he got to talking with a friend who had gone through Roosevelt’s Paralegal Studies Program. It was a conversation that changed his life.
“It was a like a light went on for me,” said Prochaska, who entered the program in 1982. “From the moment I stepped into those classes I was convinced that I’d finally found my niche. I knew the law was for me.”
After graduating, Prochaska went to work as a paralegal for Shell Oil Co. in Houston, where he worked on discovery for a class-action antitrust litigation case involving charges of price fixing on gasoline by the big oil companies. While he was there, he got his law degree at the University of Houston and soon after returned to his hometown of Rockford, Ill., where he joined a law firm. In 1996, Prochaska was appointed associate judge in the 17th Circuit. Then in 2006, he ran on his own and won election as a 17th Circuit judge.
“When I look back on things, I realize that it was Roosevelt University that was a watershed event in my life,” Prochaska said. “It was only a four-month program, but it changed the trajectory of my career, and I would tell anyone who is interested in the law to consider the program.”
Early graduate shines as state insurance commissioner
Susan Voss was one of the first graduates of Roosevelt’s Paralegal Studies Program, earning her certificate in 1976.
Today, she is president of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners and insurance commissioner for the state of Iowa, dealing with everything from regulating insurance companies to handling the nation’s new health care reform policies.
“Roosevelt was a good stepping stone for me and good base upon which to build my career,” said Voss, who previously worked in government service as legal counsel for the Iowa attorney general, the department of transportation and the Iowa Department of Revenue, where she wrote tax legislation and other laws for the Iowa state legislature.
Former UPI reporter springboards to new heights
When United Press International shut its doors, leaving James Fisher without a reporting job, he mulled what to do next.
“I had always wanted to go to law school, but I didn’t know if it would be worth it, and I thought it would be a good idea to see if I would like it before making a commitment to it,” said Fisher, who joined Roosevelt’s program in 1992.
Fisher became intrigued by what he was learning in the Civil Procedure class taught by Lewis Nixon, a Cook County Circuit Court judge and Roosevelt adjunct. He also realized he had a knack for legal writing, a skill that Fisher has developed beyond his wildest dreams researching and assisting in writing opinions today as a law clerk to Illinois Supreme Court Justice Charles Freeman.
After law school at Chicago Kent College of Law, Fisher clerked for U.S. District Court Judge Elaine Bucklo in Chicago and then Illinois Supreme Court Justice Mary Ann McMorrow.
“I would tell anyone who’s interested in the law that the paralegal program at Roosevelt is worth looking at,” said Fisher. “You can take so many different directions once you get started, and I’m a good example of that.”
Alumna founds paralegal training program
Kristine Condon always wanted to teach, but she didn’t anticipate her training as a paralegal would lead to founding an ABA-approved program for budding paralegals at Kankakee Community College in Kankakee, Ill.
Her journey began in 1984 when the college graduate couldn’t find a job as a teacher. Instead, she took a job as a paralegal in New Lenox, Ill. If she wanted to move up in the job, Condon’s supervisor told her she’d need more education. Condon entered Roosevelt’s program in 1985, and the rest is history.
“I remember being told ‘You’ve got to be a strong writer, you have to have strong communication skills, you’ve got to be able to stay on time and on task, and you’ve got to be able to keep a lot of pucks in the air,” said Condon. “I can tell you today that everything I learned in that program, I used, and continue to use today.”
After graduation, Condon became first deputy clerk for the Illinois Supreme Court in Chicago. However, she still wanted to teach so she became a full-time instructor in the Roosevelt program and also took other part-time paralegal teaching jobs with area colleges.
“I always figured that I would make my legal and teaching backgrounds come together,” said Condon. “I just didn’t know how it would come about.”
After joining Kankakee Community College in 1998, Condon, who also has a master’s degree in corporate training and development, proposed starting a paralegal training program. Today, she is professor of corporate and continuing education and coordinator of the college’s Paralegal/Legal Assistant Studies Program. Currently, she is also working on a doctoral degree in community college leadership.
Graduate becomes federal prosecutor
Anastasie Senat received her bachelor’s degree in broadcast communications in 1997, but didn’t want to live in small towns to gain the experience she’d need for a career in TV.
“Roosevelt’s Paralegal Studies Program was an excellent way to learn about law,” said Senat, who enjoyed living on campus in downtown Chicago. “The program had great connections with law firms in the area,” added Senat, who landed a paralegal job with the Chicago law firm of Winston and Strawn.
After going to law school, Senat was selected for the U.S. Attorney General’s Honor Graduate Program, making her eligible for a position with the U.S. Department of Justice. Today, she is a prosecutor with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement Division.
“There are lives you’re dealing with. There are families to consider. It’s challenging work because you have to balance factors and make the right recommendation,” said Senat, who handles deportation proceedings and trials, including a number of high-profile cases.
In the Roosevelt tradition, Senat is committed to social justice and community service. The daughter of Haitian immigrants, she co-founded the Haitian American Lawyers Association. The group has helped victims of the earthquake in Haiti. She is also a board member at large for the Black Women Lawyers’ Association.