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Internships Prepare Paralegal Students for Rule of Law in Real World


Convening to discuss their internship experiences this spring are, seated from left, Denise Lleuen, Erin Wycoff and Stacie Kim; standing, from left, Jennifer Stoop, Program Coordinator Erin Rybicki, J.D., and Sylwia Szleazk.

Karen Orozco, who earned her A.A.S. degree in Paralegal in May, was selected for the program's 2018 Outstanding Achievement Award at Mercer's Honors Convocation that preceded Commencement. She is pictured with, from left, Dean of Business and STEM Winston Maddox, Paralegal Program Coordinator Erin Rybicki, J.D., Vice President for Academic Affairs Brandon Shaw, and President Jianping Wang.

Stacie Kim earned her Certificate of Proficiency in Paralegal and was selected for the program's other Outstanding Achievement Award. She is pictured with, from left, Dean Maddox, Erin Rybicki, Vice President Shaw and President Wang.

West Windsor, N.J. – Classroom learning is an excellent foundation. But there’s nothing like learning in the real world.

Students pursuing Paralegal studies at Mercer County Community College (MCCC) spend a considerable part of their final semester completing a required internship in a legal setting as part of “Field Experience” (LEG 212).

According to MCCC Professor and Paralegal Program Coordinator Erin Rybicki, J.D., the internships provide a head start when graduates apply for jobs. “Students may work as many as 200 hours,” she said. “The internship gives them an idea of what type of legal environment they want to work in, and they can add the experience to their resumes.”

Sometimes, internships lead directly to jobs. This spring, three students worked with one of the college’s growing list of internship partners: the New Jersey Office of the Public Guardian for the Elderly. Student Sylwia Szlezak was hired immediately.

“Our clients are senior citizens who can no longer take care of themselves and have no family or friends to help them,” she said. “We appoint a guardian to oversee their care. As an intake paralegal, I process documents from the court.”

Szlezak notes the difference between the classroom and the professional world. “We spend time learning and preparing in class. Once we start applying those skills in an office, we learn how it’s really done.”

Stacie Kim said her internship was an eye opener. “You do not get to apply your learning until you go out there. Then you find out this is the type of work you will actually do,” she said.

According to Rybicki, the Paralegal program has internship arrangements with more than 20 companies and state agencies. (Some students find placements on their own.) “Our internship placements usually work out really well. Our students have taken numerous legal courses. All say they welcome more of our students,” Rybicki said.

Students enrolled in “Field Experience” convene for an hour each week at the college to share their work experiences, prepare resumes and cover letters, and build their resumes on job search sites like LinkedIn.

The Paralegal program offers two options. Students may pursue a 65-credit A.A.S. degree in Paralegal, typically taken over four semesters, or a Certificate of Proficiency, a 30-credit program for those who have already earned an associate or bachelor’s degree. The curriculum covers a variety of specialized topics including civil litigation, family law, business law, legal research and writing, wills and probates, and real estate and commercial law. All specialized courses are taught by practicing attorneys.

Rybicki observes that students who come to Mercer with bachelor’s degrees find that adding legal expertise to their resumes is very valuable. “Some go from paralegal to eventually pursuing law school. It’s phenomenal preparation," she said, adding that of the graduates from this year's certificate program, 60 percent are going directly into law school or graduate school.

Erin Wyckoff, who earned her bachelor’s degree in an unrelated discipline from Rutgers University, concurred. “This is a solid career choice. I have been surprised by how in-depth the curriculum is. I did not expect my instructors to be practicing attorneys. This program has been a career changer for me,” she said, adding that she has discovered a special interest in real estate law.

Returning adult student Denise Lleuen also found that the curriculum was more comprehensive than she anticipated. “I have a new appreciation for the work of paralegals,” she said. With a day job in the New Jersey Division of Taxation, Lleuen completed her internship in municipal night court this spring, working with clerks and prosecutors. “Each night was something and someone different,” she said, adding that her skills were well-utilized and appreciated by the court staff.

Lleuen notes that she has always been fascinated with the law. “I have found my calling,” she said.

Another student, Jennifer Stoop, managed to juggle two internships concurrently – one at Sparta Systems, a quality management software company where she worked with contract databases, and another at a small law firm. “I found out I prefer the bigger company environment,” Stoop said.

Rybicki says that paralegals are in demand and that their skills are valuable in many settings. “You can work for a private law firm or corporation, in government agencies, in banks, and in title and insurance companies,” she said.

MCCC’s Paralegal courses are offered in the evening. Other courses required for the associate degree are offered both days and evening. The program may be pursued either full-time or part-time and is approved by the American Bar Association.

Paralegal - A.A.S. Degree Program

Paralegal - Certificiate of Proficiency

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