Paralegal Alumna: Debbie Nelson
Building Opportunities for Paralegals
The Minnesota Paralegal Association (MPA) brings paralegals together to foster professional development, to share ideas and information, and to network. Debbie Nelson, the nonprofit organization’s past president, knows about the networking part. “I found my first paralegal job through my contacts at MPA,” says Nelson, who serves now as the MPA finance director and continues to be very involved as a contact for paralegal students.
Nelson, a paralegal at Genmar Holdings, Inc., the world’s largest boat manufacturer, graduated from the Inver Hills paralegal program. She chose Inver Hills because it was convenient, highly recommended, and it had a “friendly, hometown feeling,” she says.
At Inver Hills, she learned from instructors like Kathleen Knutson, who have high expectations for students. “She was an awesome instructor, and I took every class I could from her. I remember my first paper came back, and it was so marked up, she must have gone through a whole red pencil. She pushes you to figure out the pieces and develop your skills. You’ll work hard but you really learn from Kathleen,” Nelson says.
Nelson started at Inver Hills, like many adult students attending part time because she worked and had a family; she excelled, earning mostly A grades. She says the student support at the college was excellent. “There wasn’t a place where I didn’t get the help or the answers I needed. And I loved every class except accounting,” she laughs.
Nelson expects to complete a bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies from the University of Maryland within the next year. The program is delivered online, with internet-based lectures and chat lines for participants, but she still comes over to Inver Hills to take her exams, proctored by library staff. The program is a good one, she says, but she still values most her education at Inver Hills, symbolized by the only school ring she has or wants, she says, a gift from her husband when she graduated.
Career development is important to Nelson, who worked at law firms for several years before and during her time at Inver Hills. “I wanted to go beyond being a legal secretary. I was fascinated with the whole investigation and discovery process in litigation.”
Encouraged by her employers, she completed the associate degree and went on to jobs in corporate law offices at Northwest Airlines, Regis Corporation, and Norwest Bank (now Wells Fargo). She also spent three years at the Attorney General’s office. Most of her experience was in employment law until going to Genmar, where she is a litigation manager/paralegal in warranty and product liability.
Nelson also oversees paralegal interns. “I hope that by showing them the things that I have learned throughout my tenure as a paralegal that they will walk away more knowledgeable and ready to begin their careers.”