The Vance-Granville Community College Paralegal Technology program hosted a panel discussion on careers in the paralegal field on Oct. 11 on the college’s Franklin County Campus, where the program is based. VGCC Paralegal instructor Marque Debnam moderated the discussion, which was attended by current students in the program, prospective students and educators.
The panel featured Leslie Hargrove of Henderson and Shana Nunn of Wake Forest, both graduates of the Paralegal Technology program; Michael Putney, Jr., of Warrenton, an assistant district attorney with the 9th Prosecutorial District; two attorneys from the law firm of Oxner & Permar in Raleigh, Daniel Lehrer and Jamie Rudd; and Joy Belk, the assistant director of the North Carolina State Bar Board of Paralegal Certification. Among the topics covered were the expectations and various roles of paralegals in the workplace, ethics, confidentiality, employability and paralegal certification.
The two VGCC graduates described their very different jobs. Hargrove graduated earlier this year and is now employed by the 9th Prosecutorial District Attorney's Office as a victim services coordinator. “I set up files, communicate with crime victims, help the assistant district attorneys, look up records for them, and I go to court regularly,” Hargrove said. “It can be challenging sometimes, but I’m glad to be there. Every day, I’m learning something new.”
Nunn, meanwhile, graduated from the college in 2016 and is now employed by Oxner & Permar, dealing primarily with workers compensation cases. She is also studying Criminal Justice at North Carolina Central University through the “Eagle Voyage” partnership with VGCC. At her firm, Nunn said, “I do overall case management from the opening of the claim to the settlement or closing of the claim. I do all the day-to-day contact with the clients, adjusters, attorneys and whoever is involved in the claim. I do a lot of writing and managing calendars, making sure things run smoothly, and doing a lot of customer service.” Unlike Hargrove, Nunn rarely goes to court. Both graduates said they were well-prepared by Debnam and program head Antoinette Dickens, and that what they encounter at work is right in line with what they were taught at VGCC.
Attorney Lehrer also once worked as a paralegal before graduating from law school. “I don’t know if I would recommend working as a paralegal before going to law school to everyone, but it helped me immensely, getting that real-world experience of how a law firm works,” he reflected.
Lehrer added that “the paralegals in our firm are kind of the main point of contact” for many clients, who will often ask the paralegals questions about their claims. Still, as Joy Belk emphasized, paralegals are not allowed to actually give legal advice. Both Hargrove and Nunn said that they frequently have to make that clear to clients. Any certified paralegal who gives legal advice or violates other rules may have their certification revoked, Belk added. A paralegal also could cause the attorney who employs him or her to be sanctioned or disciplined by the State Bar for violating ethical rules, such as misuse of a client trust fund account. Rudd added, as a piece of advice, that “the worst thing you can do as a paralegal is not to keep your attorneys in the loop on things.”
VGCC’s program is designated as a “Qualified Paralegal Studies Program” by the N.C. State Bar, meaning that graduates may sit for the state’s paralegal certification exam. Upon passing the exam, students are designated as North Carolina Certified Paralegals (NCCP).
Attorneys on the panel emphasized the importance of paralegals to them. “People like Leslie are invaluable to us, because we wouldn’t be able to get people through court as quickly without her,” Putney said. “For victim services coordinators, we’re looking for efficient people but also people who will be able to work hand-in-hand with victims. They have more contact with victims than anyone else in the DA’s office.”
For more information on the Paralegal program, contact Program Head Antoinette Dickens at firstname.lastname@example.org or (252) 738-3609.
Above: Panelists at VGCC’s Franklin Campus included, seated from left, attorney Daniel Lehrer, VGCC Paralegal Technology graduate Shana Nunn, attorney Jamie Rudd, North Carolina State Bar Board of Paralegal Certification assistant director Joy Belk, Assistant District Attorney Michael Putney, Jr., and VGCC graduate Leslie Hargrove. (VGCC photo)