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Friday, June 20, 2014 - Paralegal student launches new career at The Sam Bernstein Law Firm

While completing a paralegal certificate at Oakland University, Karen Johnston lands a job with The Sam Bernstein Law Firm.
For Karen Johnston, the decision to attend Oakland University meant a chance to “reinvent” herself and fulfill a lifelong ambition.

After spending most of her working life in the banking industry, the 60-year-old Farmington Hills resident set her sights on a career in law. She enrolled in Oakland University's paralegal certificate program and began tackling the program's core requirements, which include courses in ethics and law practice management, contracts, torts, litigation and more.

Four months into her legal training, Johnston landed an internship working for one of the most recognized names in the field – The Sam Bernstein Law Firm. The experience introduced her to the fast-paced world of litigation and helped her understand the nuances involved in legal assisting.

“I learned each legal assistant has his or her own way of performing the job and each supervising attorney has his or her own expectations,” Johnston explained. “I was able to develop my own style by adopting the practices that best suit me.”

Johnston's skills and work ethic didn't go unnoticed. When a position in the firm's pre-suit department opened up, she was hired on as a full-time employee.

As a legal assistant in pre-suit, Johnston handles a range of tasks, such as gathering information from new clients, ordering medical records and police reports, and preparing correspondence to insurance carriers. She also monitors clients’ medical treatment, provides case updates and researches applicable statutes, among a host of other duties in support of her supervising attorney.

“I enjoy the client contact the most because this is an unfamiliar process for most of my clients. As their primary contact, I explain to them each step of the process and address any fears or concerns they may have,” Johnston said. “It is very satisfying to know I am contributing to the good work our firm does and making a difference in the lives of my clients. It is truly a collaborative, supportive environment, and I feel very fortunate to work for the Bernstein family.”

While Johnston acknowledged some trepidation about making a midlife career change, the firm's leaders saw her experience as an asset.

“Karen has made a positive impact on our firm since she started. Her experience in her previous career in banking made her a natural fit,” said Mark Bernstein, the firm’s president and managing partner.

“She had experience in client service, and she was well-prepared by Oakland to meet the unique challenges that come with helping our clients. The foundation and skill set she came in with allowed her to climb up a steep learning curve very quickly.”

Housed in the Professional and Continuing Education unit, Oakland's paralegal certificate program has prepared hundreds of graduates for careers in various legal settings. The program is approved by the American Bar Association and classes are taught by qualified professionals who understand the role of the paralegal in modern legal practice.

“All of our instructors are practicing attorneys, judges and paralegals,” said Linda Wallace, program manager of OU’s paralegal certificate program. “Our program was one of the first established in Michigan and has been ABA-approved since 1976. Karen is one of our great success stories and her work exemplifies the high professional standards our program strives to uphold.”

Johnston personally attests to the program's value in preparing students for success.

“The instructors provided valuable insight into both the theoretical and practical aspects of being a paralegal by comparing and contrasting the information in our textbooks with the ‘real world,’’ Johnston said. “My Oakland University experience and the position I now have at The Sam Bernstein Law Firm have far exceeded anything I could have imagined.”

Johnston is currently completing her final course in the program and will earn a paralegal certificate with a litigation specialty.

For additional information on OU's Paralegal Certificate program, visit the website at oakland.edu/pace/paralegal.