When looking back on your past, it can be hard to recognize how far you’ve come since starting your journey. With each step that we take, whether it’s big or small, it takes us that little bit further away from where we started and closer to who we will become. Three Mohawk College Alumni from the Paralegal program, Olivia Barontseff ‘22, Lauren Field ‘22, and Alley Stevenson ‘22, recently had the opportunity to reflect on how far they’ve come in their careers since they graduated.
To recognize their progress, these alumni looked back on where their stories started: The Paralegal program at Mohawk College. For Olivia, the most memorable part of the experience was absorbing the expertise of her professors. “The experience was lovely. The professors and instructors were absolutely fantastic. I could go on about each and every one of them, and not only the course content that they taught us, but the experience that they brought with them, the life skills and advice that they were able to share with us,” said Olivia.
She continued, “The swathes of experience the professors have to offer is huge. One professor was a Crown prosecutor. We had professors who were paralegals that worked in the field. We had professors from all different fields, personal injury paralegals, employment law paralegals, and people who had since retired from doing that type of work and were just able to give such rich experiences and anecdotes.”
Olivia isn’t alone in her appreciation for her professor’s expertise. Lauren was also thankful to have such knowledgeable professors to learn from. “The program was fantastic. I loved the experience. I loved our professors. It was great learning from people who had a lot of experience in the field and some who were still in the field. I really enjoyed being able to talk about things that were happening contemporaneously in the legal field with our profs because it's always changing,” she said.
“Having lawyers and paralegals who knew what was going on currently in the legal world as part of the program, that was a huge advantage. You get that real-world experience. That's invaluable in my opinion,” Lauren continued.
After having spent a year working in the field, these Mohawk alumni feel their professors prepared them well for the paralegal field, providing a strong knowledge base that they use every day. “My experiences in the program set the foundation for my career in the legal field. It allowed me to walk into a workplace that I had virtually no experience in and have the basic knowledge and information to get started,” said Alley.
Olivia and Lauren agree with Alley that their time in the program was foundational, expanding on how it has served them throughout their careers. “I feel the paralegal program gives a really well-rounded perspective of law overall. So right now, I'm not practicing solely as a paralegal. I act more in a support role. I do some paralegal work where I occasionally have my own files, but largely I work in a support role for two of the partners of the firm, in a clerk slash administrative assistant role,” said Lauren. “Having the experience of the paralegal program, having an in-depth knowledge of the legal side of things is hugely advantageous for understanding what they're talking about when they're asking me to do something.”
“The program is very targeted to the paralegal scope of practice. Instead of getting an overall theoretical legal learning experience, we get targeted courses. Things like, ‘this is an employment law course because paralegals can do employment law,’ ‘This is a human rights course because paralegals can appear before the human rights tribunal,’” said Olivia. “I found that that's been really helpful because I have the specific knowledge that I need, and the program introduced us to the resources that paralegals specifically could find useful.”
Olivia, Lauren and Alley were recently reminded of how far they’ve come in their field when they were involved in the Hamilton Law Association Success Summit, which provides a channel for professionals in the legal field to share tips, tricks and best practices in the field while networking with paralegals and other legal professionals.
“I think everybody experiences a bit of imposter syndrome, especially when you're a younger graduate of any type of program and you're entering the field for the first time, especially when presenting in front of experienced people who know a lot more than I do and have seen a lot more than I do,” said Olivia. “It became clear to me when I was standing up there and when I was meeting all of these new people, I thought ‘okay, a year ago, I was right out of school. I was so nervous. I felt like I had no idea what I was doing. And now, here I am, chatting with very experienced professionals on their level about the work that we do that we all do.’”
Lauren and Alley came to recognize how the program prepared them to be independent and tackles challenges they never saw themselves overcoming. “The program is very heavily geared towards paralegals practicing independently, as it should be. I think that's fantastic. When I got into the legal field, the Success Summit expanded my view that paralegals can act in a support role and independently,” said Lauren. “The summit was a very clear crystallization of, ‘hey, this is something I've done. I could keep doing more stuff like this because of my experience from the program and also my experience in the field.’”
“While I may not be practicing as a paralegal yet, I still feel the work I did on the summit, along with my career since graduating the Paralegal program shows me that I have grown since I joined the program. There are things I am able to do now with ease that I would not have dreamed of doing before I took this program – public speaking being one of them,” said Alley.
After taking the time to reflect on their lives, these accomplished alumni had advice to share for new paralegals entering the program. “Keep your mind open and be a sponge. Whoever you work with, wherever you work, learn anything and everything you can, even if it's how to use a copy machine. Then, one day, if you go to another firm, you're the guy who knows how to fix the copy machine. That extends to law as well,” she said.
“Maybe you're practicing in one area, but somebody that you work with used to practice in another area. Take them out for lunch, ask them about that, because maybe one day you're going to go work at another firm that works in that area, and now you have a base level of experience from talking to that person. Just be a sponge, absorb information, keep your mind open, and keep your values true to yourself.”