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Paralegal Studies—a Pathway to Success

It was happenstance that brought Oscar Arce into the legal profession, but it was Irvine Valley College that gave him the credentials he needed to excel in his career.

Arce’s introduction to the law began in 2005. “A member of my family had a legal matter to discuss with a lawyer, and I went along as an interpreter,” Arce recalls. “This was a firm of eight lawyers and none of them spoke Spanish, yet many of their clients spoke no English. They asked me several times to come back as an interpreter, and pretty soon I was working there on a part-time basis.”

When the firm disbanded, Arce joined one of the lawyers as an administrator. He loved the work from the very beginning.

“I had been in sales, so I have no fear of talking to people,” he says. “I’d be the one contacting clients, visiting them in prison, or even going on radio to do a marketing spot for the law firm.” The firm handled criminal, immigration, and family matters, and Arce’s bilingual skills were still very much in demand.

“I was like a kid in a candy store! I loved what I did, and I was getting paid to do it,” he says.

Going Back to School

But as much as he learned firsthand, Arce knew he could only go so far without some credentials behind him, since only paralegals can work on legal matters. The lawyer he worked for encouraged him to return to school and get his associate degree, so Arce researched colleges in the area and found Irvine Valley College. It was one of the few that had a program in paralegal studies.

“The program taught me the intricacies of working in a law office, like the process of starting and finishing a case, and how to conduct yourself with sensitive information. Before, I could get sloppy, but my professors taught me discipline, and the process and manner in which the court expects you to follow up. We learned how to protect a client’s electronic information, like files and emails, and safeguarding information if you need an outside consultant to come in to fix your computer.”

Arce earned his Associate in Science degree in Paralegal Studies in 2017. “I loved the fact that my professors came from all different areas of the law,” he says. “One was a district attorney, another a public defender, and another in law enforcement. A couple of them had their own firms. A lot of their advice was practical and came from their own personal experience.”

An ABA-Approved Program

Irvine Valley College’s Paralegal Studies program has gone through the rigorous approval process by the American Bar Association (ABA), which ensures that the paralegals it graduates have received the highest standard of training. Students take courses in legal writing, contracts and torts, and legal research that give them skills that are not only applicable to a career in a law firm, but are transferrable to insurance, business, or a government agency that has a compliance department.

That’s good news for graduates, as well-paying paralegal jobs are expected to grow by 15 percent within the next few years.

Arce, of course, had many years of firsthand experience under his belt before he enrolled in Irvine Valley College. But for those who haven’t had that experience, the college strives to find them college-credit internships. They may assist with research, for example, or collect information to support an investigation, all under the supervision of attorneys. Many of these internship opportunities come from faculty, all of whom are deeply connected within the community. 

Looking Ahead

“Most people at some point in their lives have a need to talk to an attorney, so I realized there was great opportunity for my services out there,” Arce says. Several years ago, he opened his own business, Legal Process Center, in Orange, providing legal services for attorneys — like research, interpreting, transcribing, and marketing.

“I’ve found a niche. This is my place,” Arce says of his career. “There are risks and responsibilities I take every day. I love the thrill of it, and I love working with attorneys. At one point I thought about going to law school, but then I would have to look for an Oscar, and there’s not a lot like me out there!”

So how much does this paralegal professional love Irvine Valley College? “I’ve probably driven at least five people up to the registrar’s office and helped them get started,” he says. “It’s a great campus, a beautiful school, and it offers wonderful support.”