If you ask Sonjie A. how to file a motion of appeals, not only can she tell you, she could help you draft it. Thanks to ed2go’s Certified Paralegal course, Sonjie works as a paralegal at an immigration law firm. Assisting in the appeals process is just one of her many responsibilities.
Starting a Second Career
Sonjie hadn’t always planned on a career in the legal field.
While she may be deep in case files these days, Sonjie had been a sales manager for almost 25 years.
Her success in the international sales and distribution industry came at a cost though. Sonjie would often travel on business for weeks at a time, which took its toll mentally and physically.
“You reach a point where you’re at the top, but the executives still demand more sales,” Sonjie said. “This requires more travel, more time away from home, more time trying to meet goals and deadlines.”
Sonjie was seriously considering a new career – one closer to home, with less travel.
Her husband, also a paralegal, recommended that she look into a paralegal studies program. He knew that the immigration law field in the New York-New Jersey metro area was in need of bilingual paralegals, legal assistants, and legal secretaries.
This piqued her interest, but she didn’t want to earn another bachelor’s degree so she put it off.
Sonjie eventually reached her limit after two grueling back-to-back business trips. She took her husband’s advice and searched for online paralegal training. She found ed2go’s Certified Paralegal course, a twelve-month certificate program offered in partnership with Rutgers University.
“After reading the course description, I just signed up,” she said.
Adapting to the Learning Curve
Sonjie had never taken an online class before.
She graduated from the University of Puerto Rico “many moons ago,” as she puts it, and wasn’t used to self-paced learning in an online environment.
“It’s different than going to a classroom and having someone teach me in person,” Sonjie said. “But I really enjoyed it.”
As it turned out, traveling for business was a great primer for learning online. Sonjie knew how to work independently and would hold herself accountable for her schedule.
“You eventually get used to the online format and find your rhythm,” she said.
A few months into the course, Sonjie had to get an extension to deal with a family crisis. But with her student advisor’s help, she set milestones and turned her final project in within the allotted time.
“I couldn’t believe I passed,” she said. “I took a picture of my final project grade and sent it to my kids, my close friends, and my kid’s godmother in Puerto Rico.”
The Busy Life of a Paralegal
Every day, Sonjie puts what she learned into practice at the law firm.
“I’m constantly gathering documentation on defendants, witnesses, hospital records, everything,” she said. “And then I translate it from Spanish to English to create a case file.”
When Sonjie first started working at the law firm, she needed to know how to prepare letters for clients, conduct interviews, and assist with legal research in addition to managing case files. Luckily, she said, online paralegal training set her up for success early on. And the certificate from a nationally-ranked university also helped establish her credentials.
As Sonjie grew into her position, she took on more responsibility with asylum cases.
“Now I help file motions to reopen cases, to substitute a lawyer, and for telephonic appeal,” she said.
The work can be challenging sometimes though, but she understands that’s part of the job. One such case involved a family with young children.
“I kept very close to the case,” she said. “It pained me to see how much these children suffered in their country.”
A few months later, the family came back to the law office to tell her the good news — asylum was granted. She said it was the greatest feeling in the world to know she could help people in need.
“Another family just hired us today” Sonjie said. “So now I’m working with the office of the chief council at the immigration court. There’s always so much to do — I love it.”
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