November 14, 2007

Paralegal studies director to head association

by Andrea Hahn


Caption follows story

CARBONDALE, Ill. — Carolyn B. Smoot, director of paralegal studies at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, is president-elect of the American Association for Paralegal Education, the only national organization serving paralegal educators and institutions that offer paralegal programs.

AAfPE membership elected Smoot to the three-year commitment at its recent national conference in Baltimore, Md. Smoot will serve one year as president-elect, one as president and one year as immediate past-president, an advisory position.

Smoot graduated with a juris doctor degree from the SIU School of Law in 1983. She served as an assistant state's attorney in Williamson County for one year before joining a private law firm and then opening her own practice in 1986. She joined the SIUC faculty in 1990 and became director of the paralegal studies program in 1998.

As director, Smoot created the pre-law specialization, established an honors program within the paralegal studies program and doubled the number of available courses in the program.

Another point of pride, she said, is that SIUC offers the only four-year paralegal degree in Illinois approved by the American Bar Association. The U.S. Department of Labor states that the paralegal profession is growing faster than average. Requirements are becoming more competitive as employers seek out the best. Smoot noted that SIUC is at the forefront of a growing trend in requiring a bachelor's degree.

Graduates from the paralegal studies program have options besides entering the paralegal profession, Smoot said. Graduates have gone on to a myriad of other careers, such as trust officers, legal arbitrators and CIA agents, while many have entered law school.

"I think one of the strengths of our program is that we really support our students," she said. "They feel engaged with the program. That's not to say other programs don't do the same thing, but we hear from our students that they value the camaraderie they get in this program."

Besides directing the program, Smoot teaches courses on estates and trusts, torts and technology in the law office, as well as an advanced course that includes intern placement.

Smoot said her leadership role with AAfPE will help bring recognition to the SIUC paralegal studies program. In addition, she said, her involvement with a national association brings her in contact with leaders of paralegal programs from all over the country.

"I hear from program directors and faculty from all across the United States," she said. "That kind of feedback lets me know we are on the right track with our program. It is a most valuable resource."

As president-elect, Smoot said she will emphasize the importance of teaching skills in paralegal programs, including maintaining familiarity with any recent technology changes that affect the way paralegals function. "An important goal of the leaders in the paralegal profession is access to justice," Smoot said. She noted it is a goal she will promote at the national level, locally and here at SIUC.

The AAfPE works with the American Bar Association to establish core competencies for paralegal certification, and to promote high educational standards for the institutions offering paralegal coursework. The AAfPE claims more than 450 universities and colleges in its institutional membership.