Graduate Spotlight - Paralegal

GTC start leads to big things

Erica L. Hawthorne, Senior Paralegal, Fluor Corporation, was recently featured in the South Carolina Upstate Paralegal Association Member Spotlight (excerpted below):SCUPA  

Erica Hawthorne resides in Simpsonville along with her husband and three daughters ages: 16, 14, and 10. Erica, a Greenville native, did not have your typical childhood as she grew up in foster care and became a mother at the young age of 16. Through determination and faith, Erica has taken what most people would see as a negative and turned it into a positive.

In 2005, Erica decided to pursue a career as a paralegal. She enrolled into the program at Greenville Technical College and graduated in 2007 with honors and a 4.0 GPA. During this time, Erica started working for Maggi Fields Bailey, Attorney at Law wherein she gives credit for much of her success as a paralegal. Erica continued her education by enrolling at Lander University to study in Political Science. In 2012, Erica graduated from Lander University, Summa Cum Laude. Making the tough decision to leave Maggi Fields Bailey, Erica went to work for a larger firm, Kenison Dudley & Crawford, LLC in order to grow as a paralegal and gain experience in other types of law.

In January 2013, Erica joined Fluor as a Senior Paralegal supporting the Fluor Government Group (FGG) Law Department wherein she manages and maintains the FGG Law Department’s intranet site, outside counsel invoices, internal orders, document requests, Non-Disclosure and Teaming Agreements, legal research, and other litigation support. Erica is currently pursuing her MBA at Clemson University. Erica also participates in the Emerging Leaders Group within Fluor and volunteers with Meals on Wheels.

Paralegal program jump-starts passion

SarahWhiteSarah White wanted to follow her dreams, but first she needed to be sure the reality would live up to her expectations.

The start of White's career as an attorney came not as a law student just out of college, but as a career change facilitated by a more feasible start as a student in Greenville Technical College's Paralegal program.

"Part of the reason I enrolled in the program was to see if I was interested in a career in law," she said. "I knew it would give me exposure to the material. I wanted to meet the teachers, who I knew would be lawyers. I didn't expect that two of my teachers would be judges."

White soon discovered that her studies were providing more than a promising career. The Paralegal program jump-started her passion for the law and spurred her to take the next step.

"It confirmed that I wanted to qualify as an attorney, not only a paralegal."

Whites teachers at Greenville Technical College helped make that dream possible by providing letters of recommendation that helped her secure a spot at a competitive law school.

"I took the LSAT and applied to law school while also completing the Paralegal program," she said. "I was able to get into a highly respected school. Having already gone through the Paralegal program, I was exposed to the material. It wasn't all new to me."

But without the flexibility and affordability of Greenville Technical College, White would not have been able to pursue her dream.

"Part of what was so attractive was that I could do it around my full-time work schedule," she said. "That was essential. I was an adult supporting myself. I don't think I would have been willing to take the risk to transition to a new career otherwise."

The rigors of the program helped White be well prepared for law school.

"I was very impressed by the program," White said. "My high regard for it continues after having been to an excellent law school. I really appreciated how some of the concepts and the basic principles, such as tort law, were covered so well."

Elizabeth Mann, assistant dean at Greenville Technical College and department head for the Paralegal program, said the program has helped several aspiring lawyers fine-tune their career interests. It also allows students who plan to transfer and earn a political science degree to earn credits that transfer. "We have seen a number of students who go on to four-year colleges taking their Paralegal credits with them. We work closely with Lander University on transferring credits and hope to have an agreement with another neighboring university in place soon," she said.

"I went to law school out of state and came back to South Carolina," Mann said. "Now that I work in South Carolina, It is extremely helpful that I have that background. That strong foundation continues to be helpful."

From The Greenville News Guide to Higher Education, October 2012

Third time around, first choice career

para-SullivanDorothy Sullivan initially worked as a sales representative with a food company and later as a pharmaceutical rep. Both jobs eventually went away due to layoffs. When she decided to enter the legal profession, a career that wouldn't be subject to cutbacks, the idea of spending three years in law school wasn't appealing. So Sullivan, who already had a bachelor's degree, entered the one-year Paralegal track at Greenville Technical College, and she's been pleased with the result.

Working for one of the shareholders of Roe Cassidy Coates & Price, who specializes in medical malpractice defense, Sullivan likes the fact that every day is different. In the Paralegal program, anatomy was a required course, an obligation Sullivan didn't understand at the time. Today, she said, it's one of the best courses she could have taken for her position. Several other courses - discovery, litigation, and Abacus Law - have also helped tremendously.

Sullivan said an internship she completed her last semester gave her the real-world experience to hit the ground running her first day at Roe Cassidy. She's a self-starter, and says anyone who's not should find a different field.

"If you are not self-motivating, you will not survive," she said. "If you don't like to do a lot of reading, if you're not very detail oriented, it's not going to be for you."

Though there are some people who say that paralegal skills can be acquired on the job, Sullivan said it would take years to get up to speed.

"In today's climate, it would be a very difficult thing to do," she said. "You would start at the very bottom and by the time you worked up to a certain level, you would have been there if you had the education."

Losing job and finding career

para-ThackerSean Thacker left Florida after Hurricane Andrew, came to Greenville, and found work in manufacturing. It wasn't the career he really wanted, but the money was good, and it paid the bills.

After 12 years, the career he had fallen into fell away. The Hitachi plant where Thacker worked began laying people off. Losing his job turned out to be a blessing.

Thacker had met a paralegal through his work and thought what she did for a living sounded interesting. He enrolled in Greenville Technical College's Paralegal program full time, and two years later, had marketable skills, finding a position just before he graduated. Now he's continuing his education at USC Upstate to earn a bachelor's degree.

At the Dobson Law Firm, where the specialty is estate planning, business organization, and taxation, he assists with drafting wills and trusts, powers of attorney and living wills. He also assists with negotiations with the Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Revenue.

Thacker enjoys the variety his career affords. "I think when you work in a law firm, you do the same type of thing every day, but it's never the same thing," he said. "I might be doing wills all the time, but every will is different, and that keeps it interesting."
Thacker also finds that being a paralegal is the role he was meant to play in the legal field.

"As a paralegal, you get to do a lot of work that attorneys used to do before paralegals came along. The work you do is very important, but the attorney is ultimately responsible for it. You do your best work for the attorney, but you're not on the front lines," he said.