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Alumni Spotlight: A Fast Path from Paralegal to Attorney

Luna Hernandez, Paralegal Alumni

Luna Hernandez wanted to test the waters for a legal career — and ended up acing the bar exam on her first try.

Luna Hernandez got a Bachelor of Laws degree in her native South Africa, then put aside her career pursuits for what she thought would be a short break sailing the world. She departed for the shores of the U.S. and planned to work for a year as a stewardess on a private yacht, travelling from Montenegro to Mexico and most of the Mediterranean.

She met her husband during that time and kept the job far longer than planned. Always looking for a challenge, Luna eventually decided it was time to get back on track, go back to school and focus on becoming an attorney.

After researching her best options for advancement, Luna, like many others, chose DCE’s online Paralegal certificate program to launch a career in law.

“I have always been drawn to intellectually challenging fields where the potential for growth is as large as the work you are prepared to put in,” she said. “And when the time finally came for me to leave the yachting industry, choosing to pursue a career in law seemed like a natural choice given that I already had an LLB.”

Luna wanted to get her feet wet in the legal world and work as a paralegal before committing to the expense and workload required of a graduate degree. She was drawn to the Paralegal program for its prestigious designation, as well as its compressed three-month option. It was ideal preparation for grad school and, eventually, a career as an attorney.

“Law firm life is not for everyone,” Luna said. “I needed to try it out before committing to the challenge of earning a LLM (Master of Laws) degree at USC. The DCE Paralegal program provided a way for me to test the legal waters before committing to doing another degree.”

She wanted to get to work right away and felt that the program provided her with the best chance to jump into a paralegal position after completing her certificate — and she indeed found employment immediately, as a Transactional Paralegal at Merhab Robinson and Clarkson, Law Corporation.

“I wanted to get my certificate program done quickly so that I could get to work, and the DCE option was the most highly recommended paralegal program from the research I had done,” Luna said. “Although I had no practical working legal experience, Merhab Robinson and Clarkson took a chance on me and thankfully it appears to have paid off.”

Remarkably, Luna passed her bar exam last November, on her first try, and was promoted to Associate Attorney, specializing in corporate transactional practice.

“Passing the bar is especially challenging for foreign takers as we often have different legal systems,” Luna said.

Preparing for a career in law

After completing her certificate, Luna studied at USC Gould School of Law, earning her LLM along with a Graduate Certificate in Business Law, all while working full time at her paralegal job. She credits her experience in the DCE program as a major factor in preparing her for such a challenge.

Not only did the compressed option prepare her for the rigors of a post-graduate degree program, it also provided the much-needed legal background and hands-on guidance from experienced instructors, all practicing attorneys and paralegals themselves.

“UCI’s program helped me build the capacity to function at that level,” Luna said. “Testing out the waters was essential for me because the cost of the paralegal program was just a fraction of the $100,000 I needed for my LLM. I wouldn’t have wanted to spend that amount of money if I wasn’t sure that I loved working in the legal field.”

Luna enthusiastically recommends the Paralegal certificate program for anyone seeking to jump-start their career journey.

“Absolutely, especially the compressed option. If you want to get it, get out, and start working, this is the fastest, most effective program that you can take to do that.”

Laying the foundation

The American Bar Association-approved DCE Paralegal certificate program gives students a strong background in legal knowledge spanning a range of skillsets necessary in corporate settings as well as law offices. Students receive the knowledge, career preparation, and prestigious certification that provide an edge in the job market.

Part-time students can complete the program in 12-24 months, and the full-time compressed option gets it all done in a single quarter. Aside from the standard curriculum, DCE’s Career Advancement Network (CAN) offers professional one-on-one coaching and mentoring, tech tools, webinars and workshops, as well as internship opportunities and an array of free online career resources.

Paralegal students also receive assistance with job searches, resume development and building a strong professional network, which can be an invaluable career benefit, often launching lifelong friendships along the way.

“I made friends with several of my classmates, which made it a really enjoyable experience,” Luna said. “Overall, the classes that I enjoyed the most and have helped me in my career most prevalently dealt with contracts and legal technology. My teachers were fantastic. Christie McGowan encouraged us to get our Microsoft certifications, and on day one as a paralegal I needed to use the skills that I learned in that class. And Virginia Suveiu clearly loved the subject she was teaching. It made it easy to enjoy her contracts class.”

Luna plans to continue working in corporate transactional practice, mostly assisting with mergers and acquisitions, helping employers with compliance regarding California’s stringent labor laws as well as reviewing and drafting contracts while organizing and advising companies.

“I really enjoy assisting people with entrepreneurial spirits to bring their dreams to life,” she added. “I’ve chosen to specialize in corporate law because business underpins everything we do. Without business, there are no jobs. Without any jobs, people cannot make a living.”

Learn more about the Paralegal Certificate Program.