Wednesday, November 4, 2009

My Top Three Reasons for Teaching Paralegal Classes

Kathy Miller ACP CAS has been a friend and colleague for many years. I so admire how she manages a full time job and yet has hours left to promote the paralegal profession through her contributions to NALA, CAPA and OCPA, as well as through teaching paralegal classes. When I asked her why she continues with the grueling teaching schedule, here's what she said:

My Top Three Reasons for Teaching Paralegal Classes
By Kathy Miller, ACP, CAS

Over 20 years of teaching in the paralegal profession – where does the time go? Looking back, I realize why I continue to teach, even though I teach after spending long hours working as a litigation paralegal (for 25+ years at a traditional law firm and now in-house) my “day job”.

My top 3 reasons for teaching paralegal classes:

1. Teaching forces me to keep up to date on substantive law, legal procedures and technology. The law changes constantly. Every January, and often in July, new laws and court rules take effect. New cases are decided that can overrule existing law and/or set precedence. As I prepare to teach courses scheduled for the next quarter I review the syllabus carefully to make sure that the course material reflects these changes. I also attend seminars to keep current.

The biggest changes I have seen are in the technology arena. Technology affects every aspect of the legal profession. Staying current is challenging and often requires me to go back to school to learn the latest software programs. For example, even though my office was still using Office 2003, I needed to learn Office 2007 because the paralegal program’s computer lab was updated to 2007. Recently the new Federal and my state’s e-discovery rules required me to get up to date and check out the new programs.

Because I must keep up to date with changes in the law, legal procedures and technology, I am more valuable and efficient in my “day job.” I also find that in order to be an effective teacher I find myself in the role of student – taking courses in the classroom, at seminars, via webcasts and online. I try to take notice of “what works” and “what doesn’t” and modify my teaching techniques accordingly.

2. I meet great friends and colleagues. I treasure the students from my classes who have become great friends and professional colleagues. I still keep in touch with many of them. I love following their careers. If I hear of a job possibility, I will recommend it to one of them. Often my former students will come up and relate how much a particular course helped them in their career.

3. Teaching keeps my passion in the profession alive. I love the paralegal profession and have thoroughly enjoyed watching it evolve during the past 20+ years. Teaching allows me to impart this knowledge and to meet the “newbies.” It is so refreshing to see the enthusiasm of these students.

When I have had a tough day at my “day job” and just want to go home and be a couch potato, a change comes over me when I enter my classroom. I find that my spirits and energy are boosted as I teach and interact with these future paralegals. While my early students were predominantly legal secretaries seeking to move up and become paralegals, today’s students are a mix that includes those who have just finished college, individuals who were victims of the recession, individuals reentering the workplace.

While I wonder how teaching will evolve, I know the reasons why I still teach will continue to motivate me. I encourage you to consider teaching in the paralegal arena as an avenue for enriching and enhancing your career.

Kathleen (Kathy) Houts Miller, M.A., ACP, CAS, received her paralegal certificate from UC Irvine Extension Paralegal Certificate program in 1986. she has taught numerous paralegal courses in UCI Extension's paralegal certificate program since 1986, including fundamentals of Legal Assistantship; Discovery; Paralegal Internship; Software Applications for the Legal Environment; and Technology Solutions. She has also taught paralegal PowerPoint courses through NALA Campus LIVE! Ms. Miller has over 25 years as a practicing litigation paralegal; three years ago she moved from a traditional law firm to an in-house paralegal position. Ms. Miller is a member and has served in many leadership positions with the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA), the Commission for Advanced California Paralegal Specialization (CACPS), California Alliance of Paralegal Associations (CAPA) and the Orange County Paralegal Association (OCPA). She also currently serves as program advisor and Advisory Board member for the UC Irvine Extension Paralegal Certificate Program.

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