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Those Who Can... Teach!!!
guest author: Sandra Leigh King, J.D., LL.M.

We've all heard the phrase, "Those who can do; those who can't teach." I beg to differ, and I take offense to those who claim that somehow teaching is the easy way out rather than actually practicing in some form of law related occupation. I have worked as a paralegal, attorney, and judicial clerk, and by far, my experience as an educator for the past fourteen years has perhaps been the most transformative professional experience of my life. In my teaching career, I have come to embrace three tantamount principles.

First, teaching is truly a way to inspire and impact lives. Ask yourself who inspired you to enter the legal field. Did you experience an "ah ha" moment where you realized that this is how you want to spend your adult years professionally doing? I am going to guess that you do remember that moment. I am also going to speculate that perhaps a small part of you longs to now be that person who provides that epiphanic moment to someone else. For me, one of my first students was someone who had gone to law school, left sometime during her first year for personal reasons, and was uncertain about her future in the field. I was able to give her the confidence she needed in my paralegal classes which helped hone her research and writing skills. She ended up returning to law school and now is a successful attorney. Recently, she stated, "I owe my career to this woman." You, as an educator, have that ability to truly transform lives in this manner. You might not get the recognition from the school either in pay or accolades, but you will know at the end of the day that you went out and made a real difference. You can be a game changer.

Second, teaching provides an opportunity to prevent or preempt those who think they want to go into the legal field, but for whatever reason just should not. I have learned that most people have multiple and varied misconceptions about the actual day to day mechanics of a law office. It is not that I necessarily blame television or movies for this, but rather that individuals need to realize that it is called "entertainment" for a reason. It is a fantasy world that allows us to escape from real life. The actual grunt work as a paralegal or legal professional, as you well know, is well, at most times, a bit boring. Every now and then you might find yourself waiting for a verdict on a big case, but the everyday mechanics can be mind numbing. One thing that I do with my paralegal and prelaw students is to emphasize that law is usually not glamorous. I give them projects to work on to help cement this concept. I went back, in preparation for this article, to look at numbers of students who, after hearing my stories from the trenches, changed their mind about a legal career. I do not regret a single one who changed their mind and ended up in flourishing careers in other fields.

Third, teaching is a way for those of us who have been at this game for a long time to finally have some closure over the big wins or, more importantly, the big losses in our careers. Often, I find myself using real life examples and reliving moments from my legal career. I have learned that it is one thing for a student to read a case study from a book, and a whole other thing to hear about a real life legal event their professor worked on. As an aside, for me personally, each time I rehash a case that I either won or lost, it is a way to have some sort of closure and realize that everything happens for a reason. Perhaps that loss way back happened so that twenty years later, I could tell the story to the next generation of legal professionals. You have the power to use your experiences in your firms for the benefit of your students as well as providing some sort of personal resolution for you.1

If you are up for the challenge, I highly recommend teaching. The qualifications on being a paralegal studies educator have been slightly relaxed since I began my teaching career in 2004. In the early 2000s and before, one needed to hold a law degree (either a J.D.2 , an LL.B.,3 or a B.L.4) to be considered qualified to teach in an accredited paralegal studies program. One might also need an LL.M. to teach more advanced courses.5

Today, in many states, it is possible for a paralegal with at least three years work experience in the field to teach paralegal courses.6 Usually, these courses would include legal research, legal writing, and basic procedural classes in civil and criminal law. By far, there is considerable demand for educators in legal research and legal writing because many attorneys simply do not want the low pay and long hours of an adjunct position coexisting with the fact that these classes are extremely labor intensive. In a class of let's say fifteen students, that means that the educator is going to spend a minimum (and I say this based on experience) at least 20-30 hours a week reading, editing, and explaining things like Bluebook format (and Greenbook format if you are in Texas) as well as Shepardizing, procedural and subsequent history, and online and old-school research.

In conclusion, you, the experienced paralegal can pay it back by giving of your time, your energy, and your talents, and you can pay it forward to the next generation. There is no substitute for YOU. You are unique, and your experiences working with clients, attorneys, and judges is invaluable. Teaching is also a very good networking opportunity for you to meet other legal professionals. You, like me, have known a thing or two because you've seen a thing or two. Use your experiences for greatness because THOSE WHO CAN... TEACH!

1 Obviously, unless it was a case that was a matter of public record in the manner of a filing, I change the names to protect client confidentiality.

2 Juris Doctorate. The most common law degree in the United States.

3 Legum Baccalaureus. A bachelor degree in law. In my home state of Texas, an LL.B. degree was common until the 1970s when the J.D. replaced same.

4 A bachelor of law degree. One might find these overseas. In the United States, they, for the most part, do not exist.

5 A Master of Laws degree. I hold one from Southern Methodist University with an emphasis in intellectual property. In law, there are currently three degrees. The first one is your J.D., and after passing your state's bar exam and the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam, you are licensed to practice law. If you decide to pursue further legal education, you can then choose to get an LL.M. which is a more advanced law degree. If you then decide (usually because you want to do research or work full time at a premier law school, you can try to pursue an S.J.D. which is a doctorate of law. I have only known one person in my career who holds an S.J.D.

6 Redsteer, Andrine. "How to Become a Paralegal Studies Lecturer." Work - Chron.com, http://work.chron.com/become-paralegal-studies-lecturer-21935.html, last accessed August 15, 2018 (Houston Chronicle online version). Most community colleges that offer paralegal courses will consider a highly experienced paralegal with at least three years experience in the field, especially for teaching legal research and legal writing. In my now home state of Arkansas, the local community college here accepts seasoned paralegals to teach in their program.


Sandra Leigh King, J.D., LL.M. is a licensed attorney in the State of Texas, a member of the Texas Bar College, and is licensed to practice before the United States Supreme Court. She has been in the legal field since 1994, starting her career as a paralegal before graduating with her law degree in 2002. While in law school, she worked as a federal clerk, a state appellate court clerk, and a senior editor on the law review. She also holds a Master of Laws from Southern Methodist University with an emphasis in intellectual property. She has published multiple articles and been a presenter for both IPE and NPI. She has taught at multiple colleges and Universities in Texas and Kentucky and is currently on the faculty at Lyon College in Batesville, Arkansas, where she is head of the pre-law and moot court programs. She lives with her husband, daughter, and a beloved standard poodle.

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