Cynthia has been a paralegal educator for over 30 years, currently teaching Bankruptcy Practice & Procedures, Legal Technology and Advanced Legal Technology at Tulane University. She has also taught Legal Ethics, the Louisiana Notary Public Exam Course and participated with the internship program at the University of New Orleans. She is a Qualified Family and Civil Mediator, registered with the Louisiana Bar Association, a Securities Arbitrator for FINRA (formerly NASD) and a former Bankruptcy Trustee for the Eastern District of Louisiana. She has been an approved CLE sponsor with the Louisiana Bar Association, conducting seminars several areas including Law Practice Management, and conducts mediation training workshops. Her textbook Practical Law Office Management was published through Cengage in October, 2016. She has been a volunteer CASA Advocate, former CASA Board President, and a current Board Member with the American Cancer Society. Cynthia was elected to the AAfPE board as the ABA Commission Representative in November, 2018. She and her husband have six children and four grandchildren.
The ABA’s role in paralegal education is essential to ensure that high academic standards are maintained for students pursuing a paralegal certificate or degree. Considering that no formal education is required to become a paralegal, the profession deals with a precarious existence. I believe paralegal education and training is critical, and the ABA’s oversight is helpful in demonstrating the value of the paralegal profession. Most employers seek to hire experienced paralegals, and in doing so rely on the ABA’s rigorous educational criteria for all approved programs. The employers expect paralegals educated and trained in ABA-approved programs will be capable of performing job duties consistent with their profession. Employers have come to rely on the ABA’s reputation for having a rigorous course criteria for their approved programs, and students will be properly educated to handle paralegal duties. In fact, most job advertisements require that paralegals have a certificate or degree from an ABA-approval paralegal program.
Lawyers and legal professionals hire paralegals to perform substantive work such as research projects, drafting pleadings, gathering and organizing discovery material, and conducting certain types of interviews. In some cases lawyers will have their paralegals attend trials to assist with them with the proceedings. These are legal skills that students must be taught through proper education and training so that they can efficiently and adequately accomplish the tasks required of them. ABA-approved programs are required to teach core courses such as legal writing, legal research, litigation and ethics, which are similar to course taught in law school. Requiring paralegal students to take these courses ensures that they are trained to understand the legal profession, and the attorneys’ responsibility to competently represent their clients. Although most paralegal programs, including non ABA programs, follow a basic set of core courses and electives for students to obtain a certificate, without strict guidelines, there is no assurance that the content taught is adequate enough to prepare the paralegal for employment in the legal community.
The legal profession cannot afford to have constant employment turnover due to inadequate training and education. I have been a paralegal educator for over 30 years in two ABA-approved programs. The first program, I actually participated with the transition from a non-ABA program to an ABA-approved program. Through the transition and the later re-approval process, the program met the ABA’s educational guidelines, and as a result, our students were quickly employed by prominent law firms, agencies and courts. The employers expected the training to be consistent with ABA standards, and those standard were maintained. After being elected to the AAfPE position as ABA Committee Representative, I now participate in site visits for approval/re-approval of paralegal programs. The consistent comments stated by the paralegals, lawyers, judges and other legal professionals, was the importance of hiring paralegals with certificate/degrees from an ABA-approved program. The paralegal profession is a highly competitive, and without adequate training, those student will find it very difficult, if not impossible to become gainfully employed. Or, if employed with sub-standard training, the program and the profession will likely become diminished. The ABA approval commission’s high standards for programs seeking approval and to remain ABA-approved helps to maintain the paralegal profession’s valuable reputation. It is imperative that paralegal programs are held to high standards, and the ABA’s oversight accomplishes that goal.