The American Bar Association visits the COD Paralegal Program for re-approval.

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The American Bar Association visits the COD Paralegal Program for re-approval.

Professor and Program Coordinator Sally Fairbank

Professor and Program Coordinator Sally Fairbank

Professor and Program Coordinator Sally Fairbank

Professor and Program Coordinator Sally Fairbank

Tessa Morton, Reporter

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For the second time in the existence of the paralegal program at College of DuPage (COD), it’s on the hot seat. Every seven years the program faces the re-approval process required to maintain American Bar Association (ABA) approved status. Without this status, the program loses its credibility. Students at COD who participate in the paralegal program all know how vital this is, not only for the school, but for their own future. Today, graduating from an ABA-approved program is a standard requirement for most employers.

Professor Linda Jenkins teaches in the paralegal program. She explained why this was so important.

“Our program is top flight; it complies with all the rules and regulations,” she said. “The students are subject to the best of the best as far as the quality, and the expectations are so high because the ABA has to approve all of that.

“It’s much tougher for a student going through a non-ABA approved program to find a job,” Jenkins continued. “COD being such a superior school, and having ABA approval on top of that… it’s invaluable when you’re looking for a job.”

Professor Sally Fairbank, the program coordinator, reiterated this, saying “It gives students confidence that it’s a good program, that they can take pride in the excellence of the education, and they can feel that this is the gold standard.”

Not long after the paralegal program at College of DuPage began in 2006, Fairbank and a team of co-advisers began the process of applying and preparing for initial approval status with the ABA. This included having the right number of general education and legal specialty classes, a two-tiered program, and an internship.

“I wanted to have an internship that was designed so that practical paralegal skills were taught, because that’s where the focus is on practical skills and ethics,” Fairbank said. “So as long as I had those two components built in, I felt that we were on track for ABA approval.”

The program first achieved ABA approval in 2010, and, since then, the professors involved in the program have worked to maintain the standards required to keep that approval, including filing interim reports every two and a half years.

On Feb. 19, the ABA site team toured the school with Fairbank and met with COD President Ann Rondeau. This visit also included a tour of the library, meetings with students and professors and a sit in on one of the paralegal studies classes. The process of preparing for this visit is no small feat. The application process began in 2016. In-depth reports were put together with details on the program, the courses and materials available and information on opportunities and resources available for students participating in the program.

Every professor in the program prepared detailed resumes and information about all of their classes. The ABA wants to know what experience each professor had with paralegals while practicing law. Portfolios from each class included syllabi, assignments and examples of graded student work. The ABA site team checks to see if the syllabus meets the standards required, such as the number of writing assignments assigned. Every paralegal studies class must include an ethics assignment to ensure students understand how crucial ethical behavior is in the legal field.

During the visit, the ABA site team spoke to faculty members, students and alumni of the program. Students were asked whether they were provided with adequate information during orientation on, not only the program, but also the many national organizations available for paralegals to join. Students received a chance to share their thoughts on the quality of the program and professors as well.

At COD, the Paralegal Program offers plenty of opportunities for students to immerse themselves in the subject and supplement their learning, both in and outside of the classroom. This includes the opportunity to apply for the LEX honor program and to be involved with the Paralegal Club here on campus. The Paralegal Club hosts seminars, speakers and events on a weekly basis. While there is a social aspect to the club, it is also a great chance for students to network and hear from other professionals in the area. There are also competitions and scholarship programs. In 2017 two students from COD received $500 LEX scholarships.

Lori Swanson is the current president of the Paralegal Club. She attended the student meeting with the ABA on Feb.19 to share her thoughts on the extracurricular opportunities.

“I have truly enjoyed getting to know other students that share the same passion in learning about the paralegal profession,” she said. “These friends will be the people I network with throughout my paralegal career.

“I am proud of winning a merit scholarship and being inducted into the LEX National Paralegal Honor Society,” she continued. “These are accomplishments that I am able to include on my resume. They will help me stand out above the competition.”

Christine Kickels, a professor and reference librarian at COD, also met with the ABA site team. In order to maintain the ABA approval status there are minimum requirements the library must also meet. This includes access to state statutes, encyclopedias and citation manuals. There are also materials that are not required, but must be included in the report for the ABA members to review. These include class textbooks and periodicals. Westlaw, in particular, is a vital resource for students in the Paralegal program. The site provides access to innumerable cases, statutes and other legal documents.

“It’s expensive,” Kickels said of the $20,000-a-year asset, “but good information, well organized information, vetted information is going to cost you. We see it as an investment in our students and our community.”

The College of DuPage library goes above and beyond what is required by the ABA, but Kickels stressed that providing these up-to-date materials and resources is part of what makes the program so successful. The ABA also wants to know what kind of instruction the library provides, especially on the use of legal sites, law books and journals.

Kickels said the job of staying up to date, is not something done in preparation for the ABA visit. It is a consistent process.

“It’s a marathon,” she said. “It is a constant thing. Every year I keep tabs on things and meet with Sally, and I serve on the advisory council. It’s not a one-shot thing.

“I would put up our collection against any paralegal program,” she continued. “Having ABA approval is a good thing, but we work hard to keep that. We knew it would be necessary for our graduates to be distinguished in the workforce. So it’s worth it.”

Achieving ABA approval is not something every school can do, but having ABA standards benefit the students and the school as a whole.

“Anytime you have an accreditation team coming to campus you have more exposure in the country about your program,” Kickels said. “The more activity we have on campus, the more notoriety, it brings attention to the campus in general.”

“There are stellar faculty here that are committed, that have not settled for just the status quo. They look for ways to make our programs distinguished amongst others.”

Fairbank also commented on the caliber of the program at COD.

“Employers have said to me that they will only hire from our program because they really feel that the education is so sound,” she said. “I’ve had students jump over district lines to take our program over our competitor’s program, even if they live closer to the competitor.”

Swanson echoed this idea.

“I have been nothing but impressed with COD’s paralegal program,” she said. “The faculty have been amazing, and I truly felt like they cared about helping their students succeed. The educational experience of COD’s paralegal program is unrivaled, in my opinion.”

You can find out more about the College of DuPage Paralegal Studies program at http://www.cod.edu/programs/paralegal/index.aspx

You can find testimonials from graduates of ABA approved programs, including the program here at COD, at the American Bar Associations website.

https://www.americanbar.org/groups/paralegals/resources/approved-paralegal-program-graduate-success/approved-paralegal-program-graduate-success-stories.html

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