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DIVERSE: Issues in Higher Education covers new certificate programs offered through Superior Court partnership

20 May 2019

PCCD, Superior Court of Alameda County Partner for New Certificate Programs
May 16, 2019

by Tiffany Pennamon

When officials from the Superior Court of Alameda County in California began to notice growing vacancies in its courtroom clerk and legal processing assistant (LPA) roles, they believed it would be an ideal situation to look to the area’s community colleges to address gaps in public service employees.

Now, a strategic partnership between the court and the Peralta Community College District (PCCD) – the first of its kind with the support from the local court union – will provide students in the district with an opportunity to earn certifications as LPAs or courtroom clerks. The online structure of the stackable certificates aim to attract learners interested in attaining a job while in school, and also those who are already working in low-wage jobs but looking to earn higher wages and advance their careers, PCCD leaders said.

“The new partnership will make training for legal processing assistant and courtroom clerk positions more accessible to the local community and equip graduates to participate in the workforce and earn a living wage,” said Marie Amboy, strong workforce director for PCCD. “In turn, the court will have access to a more diverse local talent pool with the skills needed to be competitive in today’s marketplace.”

PCCD’s LPA and courtroom clerk certificate programs will be open to students starting this fall – applications will be due by July 31. The programs fall under the district’s Paralegal Studies Program at Merritt College and include a series of courses for students to successfully enter the workforce in a court or legal setting.

Students on the LPA track take Introduction to Law and the Legal Profession, Law Office Management, Legal Research and Seminar in Paralegal Studies Internship. Because the LPA position is a “stepping stone” to a courtroom clerk position, Amboy said, students on the courtroom clerk track take the same courses as LPAs as well as four additional units – the course Intro to Civil Procedure and Litigation Practice.

A one-unit externship or internship component for students to gain work-based learning experience is embedded in the certificate programs.

“We heard this from the Superior Court and from the actual employees that do the job that that piece is oh so critical with their success,” Amboy said. “We wanted to give the students who will be going through this program as much confidence going into the interview in terms of understanding the job as much as possible.”

In the initial stages of the partnership, Amboy and other paralegal program leaders worked with the court to assess its application and hiring process.

“The hiring process for them, because they’re a public entity, has an exam,” she said. “All prospective employees or applicants are required to take an exam first. That sort of whittles the pool down.”

From there, selected applicants move on to an interview phase and then the court creates an eligibility list.

“What we noticed was that the diversity and sheer numbers gets whittled away at the exam piece,” Amboy said. “We in education were well aware of the drawbacks of looking at placement exams or tests of being the only factor to determine placement or completion because we know that there are certain groups that are really at a disadvantage when it comes to test-taking.”

For this reason, PCCD leaders worked with the executive directors and union officials at the court to revise and update its curriculum in the existing paralegal program.

“They actually reviewed our course content and made recommendations, made edits and requested that additional information be updated,” Amboy said, adding, “What we’re really saying is, when [students] complete the certification, they’re actually guaranteeing an interview. The union has actually said that they would give a certificate from Peralta a little bit of a higher weight in terms of points over somebody who is coming in that has passed the exam and has not had a certificate from Peralta.

“That’s part of what makes this sort of unprecedented. There are many partnerships with different public agencies [but] this is the first time the union has sort of left an alternative route to an employment placement test,” Amboy said.

“The Court appreciates being a part of this unprecedented partnership with Peralta,” said Chad Finke, court executive officer at the Superior Court of Alameda County. “We view this as a ‘win-win-win’ situation for our employees, job seekers and, most importantly, the public.”

When establishing the partnership, Amboy said the court acknowledged existing sentiments that they may be “out of touch” with the community.

“Partnering with Peralta, with a community college, really shows that they acknowledge that that may be the message and that they’re looking to shift that message,” she said.

And because Peralta Community College District serves a diverse pool of students, leaders hope that underrepresented groups entering the legal system will have a significant impact.

“What’s particularly important is that this is with the court, so it’s the justice system that many of our students or many of the people in our community might not have the best experience with,” Amboy said. “It sort of opens the doors to saying here’s an opportunity for you to work in the legal system to understand it, and even make inroads and make a difference inside it. People that look like the community now serving in that system, we hope will make positive inroads within the system itself in terms of being able to actively serve the community.”

Tiffany Pennamon can be reached at tpennamon@diverseeducation.com. You can follow her on Twitter @tiffanypennamon.

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Paralegal Studies Program introduces Legal Processing Asst. and Courtroom Clerk certificates due to partnership with Supreme Court of Alameda County and PCCD

3 May 2019

The first partnership of its kind helps students compete for livable wage jobs and provides the court a larger, more diverse collection of local talent to fill positions

OAKLAND, Calif. (May 3, 2019) – In a powerful pairing of academia and the judiciary, the Peralta Community College District (PCCD) and the Superior Court of California, County of Alameda announced today a partnership to offer a pathway into employment as a Legal Processing Assistant (LPA) or Courtroom Clerk.

A new program offered through the Paralegal Studies Program at Merritt College in Oakland, Calif. beginning this coming fall semester will prepare students for successful careers in public service. Programs for both tracks (LPA and Courtroom Clerk) can be completed within one-to-two semesters and will include work-based learning opportunities, application support, and interview preparation. Internships with the Superior Court are also being developed.

“The new partnership will make training for Legal Processing Assistant and Courtroom Clerk positions more accessible to the local community and equip graduates to participate in the workforce and earn a living wage,” said Marie Amboy, strong workforce director, Peralta Community College District. “In turn, the Court will have access to a more diverse local talent pool with the skills needed to be competitive in today’s marketplace.”

According to Amboy, this is the first time a community college district has partnered with a local court and received support from their local union to address existing barriers to employment and to develop certificates and a clear pathway to livable wage jobs.

“The Court appreciates being a part of this unprecedented partnership with Peralta,” said Chad Finke, court executive officer, Superior Court of Alameda County. “We view this as a ‘win-win-win’ situation for our employees, job seekers and, most importantly, the public.”

Because these are online courses, Amboy said they are ideal for working students who are seeking a job with a living wage, great benefits, and inroads into additional roles and long-term careers in the justice system.

“Another key benefit is that the course program eliminates the requirement to take an exam, something when used as the primary criterion for placement can create a barrier to candidates who might otherwise excel at their job,” added Amboy.

The Court will be working hand-in-hand with PCCD to develop the content of the courses.
LtoR Hon. Tara Desautels (asst. presiding judge), Chad Finke (court executive officer), President Burns, Linnea Willis (program director, Paralegal Studies)

The Legal Processing Assistant Certificate will include these Merritt College Paralegal Studies courses:

  • Parlg 1: Introduction to Law and the Legal Profession
  • Parlg 4: Law Office Management
  • Parlg 6: Legal Research
  • Parlg 16: Seminar in Paralegal Studies Internship
  • COPED 474A: Occupational Work Experience in Paralegal Studies

The Courtroom Clerk Certificate will include these Merritt College Paralegal Studies courses:

  • Parlg 1: Introduction to Law and the Legal Profession
  • Parlg 4: Law Office Management
  • Parlg 6: Legal Research
  • Parlg 8: Intro to Civil Procedure and Litigation Practice
  • Parlg 16: Seminar in Paralegal Studies Internship
  • COPED 474A: Occupational Work Experience in Paralegal Studies

To apply to the Fall 2019 program, students must complete and submit an application by Wednesday, July 31, 2019. For more information or to request an application form, please email: strongworkforce@peralta.edu.  View flier here.

The courtroom clerks are responsible for clerical courtroom activities, interacting with the attorneys and the public, administering oaths, assisting with the impaneling juries, and are responsible for the inventory and safekeeping of the exhibits. A Courtroom Clerk currently makes between $26 and $31 per hour.

Legal processing assistants receive, examine, prepare, file, process and maintain a variety of legal documents; assist the public in person and over the telephone; and, verify, enter and retrieve information from automated and manual record keeping systems. LPAs are distinguished from Courtroom Clerks in that the latter perform clerical activities within a courtroom setting. An LPA currently makes between $22 and $26 an hour.

While the program’s benefits to job seekers and the courts are clear, the program is also blessed by the union, who see it as an excellent opportunity to up-train its members.

“SEIU couldn’t be more excited about the opportunities this program will bring to our community, as well as increase the Superior Court’s accessibility to additional qualified candidates,” said Kasha Clarke, chapter president, SEIU Local 1021.

“Our Merritt College Paralegal Studies Program is experienced in training future paralegals, law clerks, attorneys, legal secretaries and various other positions within the legal industry, and this partnership will create job opportunities for our existing and future students,” said Linnea N. Willis, program director, Paralegal Studies Department, Merritt College. “Court clerks are the backbone of the court system and we look forward not only to educating students to become legal processing assistants, but also to educating existing legal processing assistants so they can obtain advancement and promotion within the Alameda County Superior Court system.”

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