Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Advice from a Paralegal Studies grad: How to achieve success

ALL-STAR: Peirce grad Babette Pace with Ed Miller, Assistant
Dean and Professor, Legal Studies
I’m not exaggerating when I say that Babette Pace is an all-star of the Peirce Paralegal Studies program. Not only does she know Peirce inside and out (she has two degrees from the College), but she is just about as involved as you can get on a professional level.

While she might have moved on from her academic career (at least for the time being), she has stayed connected as one of the co-founders of the Peirce Paralegal Student Association, as well as through her active role with the Philadelphia Association of Paralegals. And just last week she was announced as the recipient of the 2012 Distinguished Service Award from the Peirce College Alumni Association. The award recognizes outstanding volunteer service to the College by a graduate. Congratulations, Babette!

I invited her to share her story -- read on for a transcript of our conversation. You’ll get a first-hand account from the perspective of someone who went through our Paralegal Studies program, and learn about how you can translate your education into a thriving career in the legal field.

Babette is kind enough to offer words of advice to adults who are wondering if they can do it, if they can make the leap to go back to school and change their career. And if you’re going to take anyone’s advice, take it from someone who has traveled the path you’re considering!

Ed Miller: Well, Babette, it is an absolute pleasure to be able to sit with you today. We're doing a blog post so we can provide some perspective on the program experience, get a first-hand account from our alumni. And when we were looking at that, of course, your name surfaced. How did you come to Peirce College? What brought you here?

Babette Pace: You know, Ed, I actually am a double alum and I'm proud to say that. I graduated with my associate degree in data processing.

Ed: What did you know about being a paralegal before pursuing your Paralegal Studies degree?

Babette: Nothing.

Ed: I think that is probably pretty common for a lot of people. So your awareness of the field or the potential was ground zero?

Babette: Absolutely. At the time, I was looking for a career -- not another job. So I Googled it and Peirce came up. After investigating some more I thought, hey, I know Peirce. I went to Peirce. But when I went they didn't have a paralegal program. So I called up and we started a conversation. And that's how it all started.

Ed: So what was the transition like, coming in as a working adult? What made you feel brave enough to make that step to say I am going to go back to school?

Babette: At the time I was working and going to night school and I felt that I wanted more from the educational process without being a day student. But I got laid off, lo and behold, and I immersed myself into the education. I was still going to evening classes because I had already signed up, but I immersed myself into the classes and I treated it like a day job. So I was here all the time and I studied all the time and I got more out of it. I got to know the instructors because I wanted to have more of an experience with the school as well, you know what I mean? To take more away from it.

Ed: When you say you wanted to really push the educational experience, that is exactly what I remember about you. That's what I love about the experience of walking into a class, when I see a student like you or many of our students -- the educational venture is so important to them and they're there to make the most of it.

Babette: You get out what you put into it. And I felt that I wanted the most I could get.

Ed: Talk to us about what a typical paralegal specialty course is like in the Peirce program curriculum.

Babette: Well, I would say that a typical course would be not just the book, but the interaction with the instructor and also with you and the other students in the class. I think that's really what makes the heart of the education, the interaction between all three, because it's the back and forth, the constant questions, the constant feedback. We had older adults there and we were asking all kinds of life questions. It was informative. We kept going, wanting more. So it was really, really good.

Ed: How did you become so active in the field? Because you exemplify what we really stress to students -- to look at this as an academic experience but also a career transition preparation experience. How do you bridge the gap from being a student to being part of the professional world, and a professional association in particular?

Babette: For me, when I came back, I was looking for a career -- not just a job -- a career and all that can encompass. I was immersed in my work, but I found that something was still missing. Something was not connecting. Something was still not filling the picture up. As you know, I was also one of the people that began the Peirce Paralegal Association. And once we started that, it started to come together more. So I found that once you get into it and you learn other people's perspectives and how they see the world, then you can understand how it all meshes together and how it can work. And once I did that and I was so successful in doing that, I felt … that made me happy. That gave me a sense of, I'm doing this and I'm becoming the person that's in my head. How? Because I'm giving back, so let me continue to give back. Because when I give back, I am learning as well. So that's how it worked for me.

Ed: Can you tell us a bit about your role with Philadelphia Association of Paralegals, what your transition has been, and where you're going?

Babette: I joined a couple of committees -- Professional Development Committee, the Pro Bono Committee, and the Marketing Committee. Through that process and being on those committees, I became the co-chair of the Education Committee and I put together the 2009 Philadelphia Paralegal Association Education Conference.

Ed: And I have to say, that was a fantastic event.

Babette: That was phenomenal, wasn't it?

Ed: It was absolutely fantastic. So you can imagine how proud I am to be able to say one of our alumni is really the driving force making all of this happen because that was a tremendous turnout, the sessions were fantastic, feedback was so positive. But it doesn't stop there because I know you and I had talked not so long ago about a new role that actually extends to the national level. So talk to me about that.

Babette: I went to the National Conference and I'll tell you, Ed, it opened up the widest imagination. It just pulled it all together. I got to meet delegates from other states and in doing so I was accepted for two committees -- the Strategic Planning Committee and the Student Membership Growth Committee. So it's exciting.

Ed: Well, I can tell you, we here at Peirce College like the Student Membership Growth Committee because I do think it can be intimidating as a student to figure out how to get your foot in this door on this path. But the exciting part is just how much opportunity is there. If you put your hand out, then the opportunity will come to you.

Babette: That's why I'm very, very passionate about getting students to give back, be participative in the association, whether it be the Peirce Paralegal Association or the Philadelphia Paralegal Association and now, of course, the National Association at every level.

Ed: You have the opportunity right now to talk to people who are thinking about going back to school, thinking can I do this? What would your words be in terms of providing that plan for accomplishing it? Because you have. You've accomplished it. You have actually made it happen. So what would you say to that person who is listening and saying, how can I do this?

Babette: Give it a try. See if it's something that you can really put your teeth into. It is demanding, but it's also rewarding. And I think that if you focus, take every opportunity that's offered to you, especially from Peirce, you will become successful, you will be able to do it, and also you will harbor so many good friendships and valuable information. That's the one thing about this role. You will learn not only what it is to become a paralegal, but how the world affects your daily life because it's the law and the law affects your daily life. So that gives you more of a sense of purpose and understanding of self. So I think that if you're considering it, you should follow up with it, definitely give it a chance to see if it's something you'd really, really like. And, trust me, you’ll probably end up liking it and be like, “what took me so long?!” You will enjoy it. It's difficult, but you can do it.

Ed: Babette, you are always here and I'm always so thankful that you are.

Babette: Because this is home now.

Ed: It is. This is home. So thank you so much.

Babette: Thank you for having me.