Pima program provides a great foundation
By: Anne T. Denogean
When you watch television programs like “Bull,” “Law & Order” and “How to Get Away with Murder,” do you imagine yourself being part of the legal world? … On the right side of the law, of course.
Pima Community College’s Paralegal program prepares you to enter the legal field in just two years if you have a high school degree or equivalent, or in about a year if you already have a degree. If you are detail-oriented, enjoy helping others and are looking for a challenging job with loads of job satisfaction, then this could be the program and career for you.
“Paralegals are indispensable to attorneys and often are considered the attorney’s ‘right hand,’” said Gwen Gorbette, head of Pima’s Paralegal program and herself a lawyer. “It is fast-paced, interesting work.”
Pima’s program teaches future paralegals how to investigate legal cases, draft legal documents and perform legal research.* The program offers a Post-degree Certificate and an Associate of Applied Science Degree in Paralegal Studies. Both the certificate and degree may include an internship and are approved by the American Bar Association (ABA).
ABA-approved programs are held to higher standards than non-ABA programs, which means students can expect a top-notch course of study. And employers increasingly are seeking candidates from ABA-approved programs, meaning Pima program graduates have better job prospects.
“If you are really interested in being a paralegal and being effective, you should go through the program at Pima,” said Adrianne Gutierrez, who graduated with both a degree and certificate from the program in 2016 and now is a senior paralegal with the Arizona Attorney General’s Office in the Southern Arizona White Collar Crime and Enterprises Section.
Gutierrez first attended Pima in 1999 right out of high school but, by her own telling, wasn’t very focused. She would work for legal firms in various capacities over the next decade, first in Arizona, then California, where she moved with her husband in 2003, and discovered both a love and a strong aptitude for the law field. She also took college classes off-and-on.
Gutierrez and her family returned to Tucson in late 2012 and she re-enrolled at Pima in early 2013.
“I’ve always been comfortable at Pima, so I started there. And I was 100% more focused as an adult student. Just knowing what I wanted to do as a career, it had more purpose,” Gutierrez said. “To get in (to a government job as she desired), you had to have your paralegal degree.”
Gutierrez then took 48 credits in just one year at Pima and Northern Arizona University, completing her bachelor’s degree in Justice Studies with an emphasis in Public Administration from NAU in 2017 (and “accidentally finished’’ her liberal arts degree at Pima). She earned her master’s degree in Organizational Leadership with an emphasis in Justice Studies from NAU in 2019. In addition to working as a paralegal, she hopes to use her education and experience to train future paralegals, possibly at Pima.
Gutierrez said she’s worked with paralegals who have gone through Pima’s program and they come in well-equipped to handle the demands of the job: “They know how to research, look up and analyze information.”
“Pima’s paralegal program is just incredible. A lot of the instructors are active paralegals or attorneys who recognize the value of paralegals,” she said. “They provide hands-on training and real-world information. You get a very solid foundation as a paralegal.”
*A paralegal must work under the supervision of a licensed attorney. Paralegals may not provide legal services directly to the public, except as permitted by law.