by Kathleen Smith, J.D., Associate Professor of Law and Legal Studies
For decades, television has introduced many of us to the law and legal system. From “Law and Order” to “CSI” to the debut of “Perry Mason” more than 60 years ago, the small screen has enticed many of us to dream of addressing juries, wielding gavels, or helping underdogs win their day in court.
As fun and entertaining as our favorite programs may be, the flash and drama of broadcast legal shows belie the true power of the law to effectuate sustained change in society and serve our dear neighbors in need. And this need is greater than ever today. Every year nearly a million underprivileged people who seek legal help are turned away because of a lack of adequate resources. And the demand for legal professionals continues to flourish. The U.S. Department of Labor Statistics reports that the openings for lawyers will continue to grow at six percent per year for the foreseeable future while the future market for paralegals is predicted to grow at double that rate.
Chestnut Hill College’s new major in Law and Legal Studies marries the College’s deep belief in serving others by providing students with cutting-edge knowledge that will enable them to enter the growing legal field successfully. The major provides students with the knowledge and skills for law school and careers as paralegals, advocates, and related legal careers.
The program equips students with this cutting-edge knowledge by including legal technology and courses from the digital forensics curriculum. Through a joint venture with digital forensics, the program offers e-discovery, ensuring that graduates will be conversant in the technological evolution in law practice and well-prepared to meet the challenges of today’s complex legal practice.
As an attorney with more than two decades of experience in legal education who recently assumed the helm of the new major, I can say with confidence the College is doing something special with this new major. The program, which builds on the College’s strong critical-thinking focus and embeds a philosophy of service to others throughout the curriculum, is unique at this level.
David Trevaskis, J.D., pro bono coordinator of the Pennsylvania Bar Association, likewise expressed excitement about the major.
“I commend Chestnut Hill College’s establishment of this new major in law and legal studies,” Trevaskis said. “Students will graduate with a deep and integrated understanding of how the law can make a difference in the lives of others. I’m really looking forward to partnering with the program and involving students in pro bono legal opportunities.”
Trevaskis works across the state of Pennsylvania in providing a variety of legal services to those in need. He indicated that possibilities for collaboration include expungement clinics, name change clinics, and preparation of wills.
“Beyond those opportunities, I’m eager to see Chestnut Hill College students working with the youth courts,” he added.
Like myself, Trevaskis is part of a small team of professionals who have been advocating for youth court expansion for several years in Pennsylvania. Youth courts empower students in middle school and high school to resolve their disciplinary issues and curtail the school-to-prison pipeline. This vision involves employing college students to mentor and coach youth court members, thereby affording them the chance to mentor younger students and gain experience and confidence-building skills.
Of course, graduates do need to earn a living, and the degree provides multiple options. Graduates can work as paralegals in private law firms, in government agencies, and in corporate and nonprofit sectors. The program has a vibrant advisory board, with members from all these sectors aiding in the development of opportunities for graduates and in the creation of internships and mentorships for students. In addition to traditional paralegal positions, students may apply to law school. Beyond providing advice and counsel on the law school option, opportunities to meet law school admission professionals are planned.
For students with an interest in alternate careers in the law, the program offers the chance to explore professional paths such as becoming community organizers and advocates in child custody and domestic violence cases, and it allows graduates to secure careers in which knowledge of the law is a plus, such as human resource administration and claims adjusting.
I’m optimistic about the future for law and legal studies majors. I know there are graduates working in the law already, and I’m eager for their support as we launch this program. I’m looking forward to working with our students and seeing how they build their careers. Who knows: One of our law graduates may inspire the next hit legal show, and “Griffin Law” has a great ring to it!