ABA-Approved: IVC Paralegal Program Steps Up to Regional Demand Programs

May 24, 2019

Just this past February, Irvine Valley College’s Paralegal Studies program received the American Bar Association’s (ABA) approval, the gold standard for the field. The approval ensures that paralegals will receive the highest standard of training at IVC, and it is required for the Paralegal Studies Certificates of Achievement by legal consumers, including some insurance companies. Law firms only allow paralegals with an ABA-approved program under their belts to work on legal matters, so reaching this milestone is a tremendous achievement for the department.

The approval process was rigorous, taking many years of hard work and dedication and requiring two visits by the ABA. Program Director and Professor June McLaughlin says about the experience: “It was very gratifying to have the chair of the ABA site team’s final visit comment on how much hard work had been accomplished since their first visit.” It was an extensive team effort by the IVC faculty to achieve ABA approval, recalls McLaughlin. “It required collaboration from the library, admissions and records, many deans, marketing, and outreach, as well as counseling.”

The biggest beneficiaries of the ABA nod are the program grads themselves, who go on to do paralegal work in administrative agencies, corporations, insurance companies, private law firms, government, and other legal environments. According to McLaughlin, students at IVC learn much more than just the basics.

“Students learn many transferrable skills to support any business or government agency that is regulated or has a compliance department,” she says. “Chemical companies, healthcare organizations, banks, brokerage firms, and the county, city, and police departments all have divisions that support compliance with the many regulations at the state and federal levels. Courses in legal research, contracts and torts, and legal writing all build the skills that are valuable in multiple industries as well as law firms.”

Potential career paths include civil litigation, where paralegals do everything but go to trial, and family law, which deals with custody issues. There are also areas of the law that are “more laid back,” according to McLaughlin, including tax law, insurance, contracts, wills, trusts, estates, and bankruptcy, which might appeal to detail-oriented students who would rather not work in civil law. Students can also use their education to make a positive impact on society.

 “Students with the certificate would be qualified to work for nonprofits, legal aid societies, political campaigns, schools, and environmental advocacy groups,” says McLaughlin. 

It’s not just the variety of program opportunities that makes this field appealing. High-wage jobs are expanding quickly in this sector. Paralegal jobs are expected to grow 15 percent by 2026, making it one of the nation’s most upwardly mobile, “Bright Outlook” occupations, according to occupational data application O-Net Online. Professor McLaughlin agrees that a paralegal certificate can open many doors to future employment opportunities.

“OC is the location for the headquarters of major corporations, the medical device capital of the planet, and home for millions of people,” says McLaughlin. “Someone with a paralegal certificate is a valuable addition to tried-and-true businesses, educational institutions, and the government. As industries evolve and disrupt, that certificate becomes even more valuable. Understanding how to find and read new regulations is invaluable.”

The program draws problem-solvers and students who are interested in law, but not sure whether they want to go to law school. IVC gives them the real-world experience they need to succeed. For example, the program frequently serves students who are interested in getting hands-on experience in criminal law by connecting them to college-credit internships at the district attorney’s office. In these positions, students’ work is supervised by attorneys.

“They may work with investigators, investigative assistants, and paralegals,” says McLaughlin. “They could assist with research projects or collect information to support investigations.”

Many of the internships are obtained through connections with faculty, who are a key part of what makes the program so outstanding. According to McLaughlin, “The part-time faculty serve as mentors and role models for the students. We hired experienced lawyers and paralegals with deep connections to the OC legal community. Those connections create opportunities for students.”

Faculty members include former OC Paralegal Association president Alicia Nicosia, who is a certified, full-time paralegal at the OC District Attorney’s Office, where she helps many students obtain internships. For legal aid internships, there is Renato Izquieta, who has served as a supervising attorney with OC Legal Aid for 22 years. There is also Guy Ormes, a former deputy district attorney who has prosecuted major fraud cases and was recognized for excellence by the U.S. Department of Justice for outstanding performance as a special assistant U.S. attorney.

“Students respect all of IVC’s associate faculty,” says McLaughlin “But there is a special level of respect students give to Guy. He truly prepares students for working with lawyers.”

Students emerge from the program with a strong foundation, both professional and academic – students like Olga Tsentsiper, who graduated Summa Cum Laude with an Associate of Science in Paralegal Studies in 2017.

“The Paralegal Studies program at IVC deserves a round of applause,” says Tsentsiper, who continues to serve on the program’s board and has spent a semester assisting Professor McLaughlin. “I am proud to have been a part of this great program and a very friendly community of students and professors.”

It’s graduates like Tsentsiper who motivate McLaughlin to continue to take the IVC program higher.

“My students have full-time jobs, are caretakers, and come to class in the evenings,” she says. “They inspire me because I know how hard they are working to achieve their dreams.”