South Piedmont Paralegal Technology Diploma Student Finds Long-Awaited Satisfaction in Her New Career

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Cassandra Bain

For nearly three decades, even while graduating from college with a degree in finance, getting married, and raising her children, Cassandra Bain always dreamed of working in the legal field.

This fall, at age 50, she will receive her Paralegal Technology diploma from South Piedmont Community College.

“It’s a great feeling,” she said. “This is what I always wanted to do, and now I’m doing it.”

Bain earned her Bachelor of Business Administration with a concentration in finance from Belmont University in 1997 and went on to work in the banking industry for several years before becoming a mother.

For 10 years, she stayed home to raise her family. When the time came to once again work outside the home, she approached the workforce with new perspective. She’d always wanted to work in law, and this time, she was going to make it happen.

She started working as a legal assistant while still living in Chicago, and when she relocated to North Carolina, started looking for paralegal programs. She considered a couple options, but it was South Piedmont’s that proved the right fit.

Specifically, Bain appreciated that South Piedmont offers a degree, diploma, and a certificate in Paralegal Technology. She chose the diploma, which is designed to be completed in about a year and a half. It’s shorter than a degree, which she already holds, but still prepares students to sit for the North Carolina Paralegal Certification exam.

Bain has attending part-time while working as a legal assistant at Cox Law Firm in Waxhaw. She completes the program this fall. She plans to study for the state exam for a few more months before pursuing state certification next summer.

At Cox Law, she is finding the kind of fulfillment she always wanted in her career.

“I get to do a little bit of everything for the firm. I am able to use my finance background by managing the firm’s billing, and I get to assist the attorneys with legal work,” she said.

South Piedmont has helped her gain a broad understanding of state and federal law. Every day, she’s able to put her education to use to assist the attorneys in drafting legal memoranda or completing legal research or interacting the clients. Her meticulousness, which was so valuable during her finance career, helps her keep the firm running smoothly.

Yet, unlike attorneys, she didn’t take on the cost of attending law school, and she didn’t have to pick just one area of the law in which to specialize.

“I know a little bit about multiple areas of the law. Being a paralegal satisfies my lifelong desire to work in the legal field, but at the end of the day, when I leave the office, I don’t have to take it home with me. That’s something a lot of attorneys don’t get to do; they’re working around the clock. I still have that work-life balance that’s so important,” she said.

“It took me a while to get into law, but I found a way to do it that is just right for me.”

Learn more about South Piedmont’s Paralegal Technology programs at spcc.edu/paralegal-technology.

South Piedmont Paralegal Technology Student: ‘This Program is Setting Me Up for a Great Life’

South Piedmont Paralegal Technology student Samuel Mehlrose is aware of the misconceptions about his intended career field — and he’s happy to address them head on.

He’s heard it all since enrolling in the Paralegal Technology program: Paralegals are essentially secretaries. They don’t know anything about the law. They don’t get to help with legal cases.

“None of these are accurate statements about paralegals,” Mehlrose said. “People don’t understand what paralegals actually do. For me, it’s an exciting and challenging career path that I’m excited about entering.”

Mehlrose graduated from Sun Valley High School and enrolled at South Piedmont intending to eventually transfer to a four-year university. When he learned about the Paralegal Technology program, however, he decided to pursue the program and instead go straight to the workforce. Being a paralegal aligns perfectly with his interests and personality. 

“I was in the ROTC in high school. Those were the best years of my life. Looking back, I can see that’s because I have a deep respect for order. I also like to know how everything works, but I don’t like to be in the spotlight,” he said.

“Studying Paralegal Technology gives me that strong connection to the law, but I’ll be behind the scenes, working with the attorneys.”

The American Bar Association defines a paralegal as: A person, qualified by education, training or work experience, who is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, corporation, governmental agency or other entity and who performs specifically delegated substantive legal work.

What this means, said South Piedmont Paralegal Technology Program Lead DeAnne Coan, is that paralegals not only possess a deep understanding of the law, they perform essential functions that keep individual legal cases and entire law practices running smoothly.

“On any given day, paralegals are studying the law, speaking with clients, researching cases, doing legal writing, drafting documents,” Coan said.

“This is a profession, and paralegals are very well paid. We have a lot of work to do to begin changing the perception of paralegals and their vital work in our legal system.”

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the median pay for paralegals in 2022 was $59,200 annually.

As Mehlrose progresses in his program and learns more about his future career, he is increasingly excited to be entering the paralegal profession.

“Paralegals are very hardworking people. They’re in the background, keeping everything working smoothly,” he said.

Mehlrose is currently learning how to research legal cases and write legal memoranda.

“It is exhilarating when you find exactly the cases you need to put a current case in context. You have to research prior cases to explain how the legal precedents would apply to the current case. Being able to put all that into a memo that flows together is really exciting,” he said.

Being a paralegal also comes with other advantages, Mehlrose said. Paralegals generally work a predictable, eight-hour day, unlike attorneys who often have to put in a certain number of billable hours each week. Also, law school is extremely expensive. Mehlrose will enter the legal field without the burden of tens of thousands of dollars in student debt.

“I’ll be set up for a great life,” he said.  

South Piedmont’s Paralegal Technology program offers degree, certificate, and diploma options. Learn more at spcc.edu/paralegal.

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