An Interview with Jessie Olsen
“My biggest tip for other students is not to procrastinate. If you find yourself having free time, you should fill it with your schoolwork. Make sure that you are always working ahead and planning for the next week.”
Jessie Olsen is in her second year of her Associate of Arts degree in Paralegal Studies at Western Iowa Tech Community College in Sioux City, Iowa. Before enrolling in her associates degree program, she earned a Paralegal Certificate and an Office Assistant Certificate.
Jessie chose to pursue paralegal studies because she hopes to eventually become a lawyer. When she graduates from her associates degree program, she wants to work with children and prepare for a job as a child advocate.
In your own words, what is paralegal studies?
Paralegal studies prepares students to become assistants to lawyers. In a paralegal studies program, you learn how to conduct interviews, work on case studies, perform research and prepare documents that may appear in court when the lawyer tries a case or when a judge reviews a client or suit.
Why did you choose to study paralegal studies?
I chose to study paralegal studies because I eventually want to become a lawyer. I thought that getting my associates degree in a paralegal program would help me learn what it is I will be doing later on in my career, and also help prepare me for law school.
When you first considered studying in a paralegal program what were your expectations?
When I first enrolled in my paralegal associates program, my advisor told me that it was a very hard program to complete. I have continued in my studies with this perspective, and I can say that it has been very challenging. So far, I enjoy it. However, not all of the students who enroll in the program graduate, and you really have to be dedicated and devote most of your time to your studies.
What do you find most and least enjoyable about paralegal studies?
What I enjoy most about my program is knowing that I am getting closer to being able to pursue my long-term career goals. I want to work with children as a child advocate.
On the other hand, I don’t always enjoy how much time the program takes out of my day. I don’t have any time to focus on anything besides doing well in my program, and that can sometimes wear on me.
What kinds of classes have you taken in your paralegal program?
In my paralegal program, students are required to take a variety of basic classes that every student at the associates level needs to complete. We also take classes in business law, legal ethics, general classes in paralegal studies and general business classes.
Which of these classes do you think will be most valuable for your future goals?
I have really enjoyed my business law classes, and I think that they will be valuable for my future goals. These classes have spent more time going over the specifics of law. Since I am studying at the associates degree level, not all of my classes are particularly tailored to legal studies, so I appreciated the attention that the business law classes paid to real examples of legal issues.
What classes do you feel will be least useful?
I don’t think that my typing classes will be very useful to me, since I entered the program as a quick and efficient typer. I can see how these classes would be helpful to someone who isn’t as familiar with computers, but I think most students take typing in high school and so it is unnecessary at the associates degree level.
What resources do you use to help you succeed in your studies?
I visit the library at Western Iowa Tech to use the computers and I also check out books for my classes. My teachers sometimes also suggest websites that students can visit to help us understand course material.
Have you done an internship in your field?
I haven’t done an internship yet, but I will in my last semester. It will last for about a month, and I will intern with lawyers. I will file papers, type memos and I might go to court with them as well. It will give me an introduction to the typical job duties of a paralegal.
What personality traits do you think would help a student to succeed in a paralegal program and what traits would hinder success?
Students need to be outspoken in order to succeed as a paralegal. You will often be communicating with people in the community as well as with lawyers, and you have to be able to express yourself and not be afraid to speak up. Overall, it is important to have very strong communication skills, both written and verbal, and you can use your English classes to become stronger in these areas.
In terms of personality traits that will hinder a paralegal student’s success, I think that being shy will not help a paralegal do well at their job. You will be interviewing people and spending a lot of time outside of the office, so being shy may keep you from interacting efficiently with others.
What is your weekly schedule?
Right now, I am taking 5 classes. I am usually at school from 8 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. I usually have Wednesdays free from classes and homework, and I am sometimes able to take a day off on the weekends. I work full time and I have a daughter to care for, so it is not very often that I actually have free time.
How do you manage your course load? What study tips would you give to a prospective student?
Time management is a very important skill for me. I try to use any time that I have between classes to start on my homework, even if it is only for 10 or 15 minutes. On my lunch breaks, I am usually working on homework as well.
My biggest tip for other students is not to procrastinate. If you find yourself having free time, you should fill it with your schoolwork. Make sure that you are always working ahead and planning for the next week.
What are your plans for after graduation?
After graduation, I am looking forward to finding a job in the child care field. My paralegal program has an 85% placement rate, so I am confident that I will find a job.
I am also looking ahead to law school. I think that I would like to work for about a year or so before I start preparing for law school. I will need to study and take tests, and also research law programs.
Now that you have completed 1 year of your paralegal program, if you could go back to high school, what would you do differently?
If I could go back to high school I would take it more seriously. I tended to procrastinate about my homework when I was a high school student. If I had been a more serious and dedicated student, I think that I would have been able to graduate with straight As.
If you were to redo the past year of college, what would you do differently?
I don’t think that I would do anything differently about my last year of college. I am on track to graduate, and I have been performing strongly in the program. I feel very grateful.
What advice do you have for students who are interested in studying to become a paralegal?
If you are interested in enrolling in a paralegal program, I would tell you to take it seriously. Know that it will require quite a bit of work and you will need to prioritize your studies over nearly everything else. If school isn’t going to be among your top 3 priorities, I would say don’t do it.
But remember to also have fun. You can be a serious and dedicated student while also keeping things in perspective and enjoying the process of getting an education.