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Paralegals Field Is Recession-Proof, Growing : Education: There is a boom in the profession, and Kensington College is among schools preparing people--and thriving.

Depending on what kind of student you were in school, walking into Barbara Quigley’s office can be intimidating. Her desktop is clear but for three teacher’s score sheets--the students’ names listed on the left, with their test grades reading across in rows.

On a recent morning, Quigley, who is president of Kensington College for legal secretaries and paralegals in Santa Ana, put on her reading glasses and moved down the list of names with a plastic ruler.

“Here’s Joe, he’s got a 95 average,” she said. “It’s tough to get an A in a law class.

“I once heard a (high school) science teacher say he loved giving Ds and Fs. That’s amazing to me. A student who gets a D or an F is not ready to go out and work. If I was happy giving Ds and Fs, I would have long since left teaching.”

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Quigley, 52, opened Kensington College in September with $30,000 in savings. The state-licensed school has just three teachers--Quigley for law, an English professor and a computer expert--and 10 students. Quigley hopes to soon increase the student body to 50.

She is a former dean of the paralegal/legal secretary program at Balin College in Tustin. She opened her own school, she said, to teach the subjects as she saw fit.

The curriculum, for example, teaches only one subject a month. Quigley believes it is easier for adults to learn by focusing on one topic, instead of four or five courses as in the typical college semester. And Quigley, who graduated from law school with the goal of teaching law, said she has hired only talented, experienced educators.

“Just because you’re a practicing attorney does not mean you have the ability to teach law,” she said. Nor can you teach something if you don’t have a background in it. “I’ve seen schools give an accounting teacher a law book and say, ‘For your third class, you will teach law.’ ”

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For her sake, Quigley’s formula had better work because she has lots of competition. Jeffrey Valentine, executive director of the National Paralegal Assn. in Solebury, Pa., said the number of paralegal training schools has zoomed from 200 in 1986 to more than 875 today.

The schools are responding to a demand by law firms, which view paralegals to be cost-effective complements to highly paid attorneys. According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, the paralegal field will be the fastest-growing profession in the 1990s.

“There is no recession in this field,” Valentine said.

Five years ago, he said, women held about 99% of the jobs in the field, and many moved up the ranks of legal secretary. Now 12% of paralegals are men, said Valentine, who attributes the change to rising salaries.

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In Orange County, paralegals earn an average of $31,435 after three years’ experience, and about $42,416 after 10 years, according to the local paralegal association.

There is also a growing market for paralegals who go into business for themselves.

At Kensington College, most students are changing careers. One woman works as a checker in a grocery store; two are home raising children during the day, and others are seeking less strenuous professions after on-the-job injuries.

Quigley said she understands life transitions from experience.

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She grew up in Santa Ana and graduated from Santa Ana High School.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in business the same year that Santa Ana Valley College opened in 1957, and Quigley took a job as a teacher at the new community college.

Within a couple of years, wanting to see more of the world, she applied to the U.S. Army to work overseas teaching the children of American military personnel. She taught for five years at Karlsruhe American High School in Germany.

In 1970, she returned to the U.S. with her husband to begin a family. For eight years, Quigley stayed home to raise two daughters. But she remained active raising money for the March of Dimes, Children’s Home Society and other Orange County groups.

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In 1978, she and a friend opened a tennis-equipment franchise in Tustin, 40-love. They sold it in 1983, and that same year Quigley and her husband divorced.

Quigley decided she would return to teaching. But she decided to study law first so she could teach it. She enrolled at Western State University College of Law in Fullerton while teaching full time at a local vocational school and working part time at a law firm. And she made sure that she was home in the evenings to spend time with her daughters.

“I saw no movies, I did nothing else for 3 1/2 years,” Quigley said.

Today, when many of her friends are finding their children grown and no work experience behind them, Quigley doesn’t think she was so crazy, after all.

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“I guess I just have a lot of things I think need to be done,” she said with a laugh.


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