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DCE Magazine

Alumni Spotlight: A 3-month journey to an exciting paralegal career

Summer 2018

Nikki Silananda needed a change.

Young and single, she was working as a real estate agent in the Los Angeles area while pursuing a career in acting and the fine arts. She had a B.A. in Studio Art from UC Irvine, but she decided to switch it up and become a paralegal, a career that could provide more stability in her life.

Silananda picked the Division of Continuing Education's popular paralegal certificate program for a number of reasons, not the least being the compressed three-month, full-time option, she said.

“I decided to pursue a career as a paralegal because I came to a point in my life where I wanted a career that I had a strong interest in, that provided stability in terms of hours and income, and was also in demand,” said the 36-year-old North Hollywood resident. “I chose the UCI DCE program because I had a great experience getting my undergraduate degree. Another major factor was the three-month option.”

Because it was a full-time program, Silananda could only afford to budget three months off of work. “All the other ABA-approved paralegal programs that I researched were either six, nine, or 18-month programs. I also got a 10% discount on some of my courses for being an alum,” she said.

Silananda completed her certificate in March 2017 and an internship two months later. She immediately applied for a paralegal position with the L.A. City Attorney's office and got the job – with a little help from her DCE mentors.

She recently took the time on a busy day to answer questions about the program and the career rewards that came quickly afterward.

I'd love to hear about your experience in the paralegal program. What was your overall impression?

I had a wonderful experience. At first, I was a bit nervous because I didn't know what to expect, having been out of school for over 10 years. The first two weeks were very intense, but the instructors made themselves available in person and via e-mail for any questions. I really got the feeling that they cared and were invested in my success as a student and as a future paralegal. I also received a lot of support and help from my fellow students. We really grouped together and helped each other in terms of understanding assignments, forming our own study groups, and for emotional support during finals.

Do you think the full-time on-campus aspect provided a camaraderie that an online program or more traditional option couldn't match?

I think it definitely provides a camaraderie that the regular program might not offer, because the students are together all day and have the time to bond. Because the program can be intense, we're all going through it together and have each other to lean on for support. The support from fellow students definitely helped me get through the program.

What part of the program did you find most appealing?

My favorite part was applying what I was learning in class to the real-world cases and scenarios in my internship and the clinics. It made everything come together so quickly, because of the compressed timeline. Of course, there was the closeness of the students and how we all helped each other get through the program. We'd study together, get together outside of class. I made a lot of great friends that I still keep in touch with.

Any favorite classes?

I enjoyed all of my classes, but I learned the most from my Torts, Legal Writing, Contracts and Internship classes. The instructors were so passionate about the subject matter and made it come to life. I left class every day feeling like they really cared and had my back. I also had a great experience at my internship in the legal department of a corporation, because I was able to assist my supervising attorney with research and the drafting of letters for real issues concerning the corporation.

So you were able to get a lot of real-world experience before applying for your job.

Yes, it was so valuable. In addition to the internship class, I was also given the opportunity to volunteer at Legal Aid in Santa Ana because our Business Law instructor was the director there. I gained experience assisting with real cases in their expungement and family law clinics while still a student going for my certificate.

How intense was the workload? Did you have time for a social life?

I would say it was very intense in the first two-three weeks, then you adjust to it and it becomes more manageable. I didn't work and budgeted in advance so I could put my full attention and focus on the paralegal program. Some of my classmates worked part-time, had kids at home, and were still able to manage the workload. As for a social life, I was able to have dinner with my family, friends and classmates about once a week. Although it can get intense, it's very manageable.

Tell me about the instructors. Are they all working professionals?

Yes, the instructors are all working professionals and were amazing! I really got the feeling that they cared. Some of them really went above and beyond to not only teach their subject matter, but to make sure we knew how to navigate the paralegal job world. They provided us with supplies, books, resources, and information out of their own pockets, to make sure we were well-equipped for our job search and job interviews. I believe that the letters of recommendation and references that they provided me really helped me land my first paralegal job.

Did the program offer networking opportunities?

Yes, I definitely found the networking opportunities to be a great advantage. While I was a student, through my Contracts instructor, I was able to attend Orange County National Contract Management Association seminars and classes that were very informative and helpful.

Tell me a bit about your job in the City Attorney's office. Congratulations, by the way!

Thank you! I work in the Civil Liability section of the L.A. City Attorney's office and help the attorneys with legal research and responding to discovery. Everything I learned in the paralegal program has been so helpful in my new job. I even bring some of my books and old assignments to work, to use as references and examples. The UCI DCE program has helped me tremendously in being well-prepared to perform my duties at my new paralegal job.

Learn more about the Paralegal Certificate Program.