New Program Highlight: Paralegal
Several new academic programs were implemented at Northern this fall. We will highlight each in CAMPUS and begin with the paralegal baccalaureate degree.
Paralegals play a critical role in law firms, government agencies and corporations. They are qualified to perform many of the same functions as the licensed attorneys who supervise them—from researching relevant laws and compiling evidence to drafting court papers and formulating a defense. More clients are demanding the services of paralegals, when possible, to reduce fees. And more lawyers are confidently delegating important tasks to paralegals to save valuable time amid heavy caseloads.
These and other factors have contributed to significant growth in the field. Employment of paralegals and legal assistants was projected to grow nearly 17 percent from 2012-2022—faster than the average for all occupations. Most paralegals find employment in law firms, government agencies and corporate legal departments. Other settings may include banks, hospitals, insurance offices and title/abstract companies.
Students in Northern’s paralegal degree program will develop a general understanding of law and learn to…
•become proficient in legal research using LexisNexis and Westlaw
•investigate the facts of a case
•write memos and reports to help lawyers prepare for trials
•form well-reasoned arguments
•draft legal documents and correspondence
•gather and arrange evidence
•develop office management skills
•gain specialized knowledge in criminal, family, probate, real estate and contract law
The paralegal major is composed of political science, criminal justice and management courses taught by a combination of NMU faculty and licensed attorneys. NMU alumnus Jeremy Pickens is an instructor. He practices commercial and insurance defense litigation at the Marquette firm of O’Dea, Nordeen and Burink, P.C.
“Northern is committed to having practicing attorneys teach so students can learn from practical situations,” Pickens said. “Students will leave this program with all they need to know. If they’re talented and take a degree and reference to a law firm, they’ll be hired tomorrow. If they have specialty knowledge in areas such as engineering or the medical field, their opportunities are even greater. Business clients realize that paralegals can do a bulk of the work that used to be done exclusively by lawyers and that paralegal services are often billed at a lower rate as compared to an attorney. Therefore, law firms need to hire competent paralegals to remain competitive and offer value to clients. Attorneys also benefit because by delegating work to paralegals, they can then focus on the things that do require a law license, such as going to court, drafting complicated pleadings and meeting with clients.””
Northern’s paralegal degree program might be a good fit for those who are: intrigued by a career in the legal field, but don’t want to invest the added time and expense required for law school; want an undergraduate degree that is an ideal precursor to law school; desire more value/credibility than a paralegal certificate to increase their employment prospects; and are already employed in the field, but seeking a credential that might propel them into a managerial role.