By Kelly Davis
As anyone who’s been to law school will tell you: Take the application process seriously. Don’t just take the LSAT for fun. Though Sarah Douglas planned to go straight from college to law school, she had the wisdom to take a year off to pull together the most competitive application possible. As a UC San Diego student, she was familiar with Extension’s Accelerated Paralegal Certificate Program and decided to give it a go. “It taught me to think like a lawyer,” she says. “And it taught me to write like a lawyer.” She boosted her LSAT score by 18 points and was accepted to Harvard Law.
Azra Mukanovic, the student admissions and career services manager for Extension’s Paralegal Certificate Program, said roughly a quarter of the program’s students end up in law school—and Sarah’s not the first to be accepted to Harvard.
As Sarah heads to Cambridge, she said she has “no doubt” what she learned at Extension will give her an edge.
Tell us about yourself.
I’ve wanted to be an environmental attorney since I was very young. A particular quote from one of my favorite books, Dr. Seuss’ "The Lorax," resonates with me: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” I have always been determined to care a whole awful lot.
I graduated from UC San Diego in 2017 with a bachelor's degree in environmental engineering. Engineering may seem like an odd choice of major for someone interested in the law since engineers are not particularly known for their communication skills. But engineers, at their core, are problem solvers. They find solutions. Lawyers are problem solvers, too. I firmly believe that my background in engineering will make me a better lawyer.
I’ve been able to put that theory into practice as a paralegal at Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy, LLP. I’ve been with the firm for four months, and I have been able to get some amazing experience in drafting legal briefs. So what’s next? Moving to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to study environmental law at Harvard. When I was a child, Harvard was always a dream that seemed out of reach, so it’s an incredibly surreal experience getting to turn that dream into a reality.
Why did you decide to study at Extension?
I had always planned to go to law school the year I graduated from UCSD, so pursuing a paralegal certificate through UCSD Extension wasn’t something I had given much thought. After graduation, I wasn’t happy with my law school application or my LSAT score, so I decided to take a year off. UCSD Extension has a widely recognized paralegal program that would allow me to still be a part of the legal world during my year off.
Looking back, I think this program should have always been part of my plan because it has been so valuable in building my legal knowledge and strengthening my application. For one, it taught me to think like a lawyer, which helped me improve my LSAT score by 18 points. And it taught me to write like a lawyer, which made my personal statement stand out.
Is there a particular class that stands out?
My favorite classes during the program were Discovery and Evidence. I specifically want to pursue a career as a litigator for complex environmental issues using my technical background, and these classes were incredibly valuable for understanding the litigation process. At my firm, I currently draft responses to requests for evidence, and I definitely credit these classes for giving me the legal foundation to do this.
What advice would you give to someone who might be interested in Extension’s paralegal program?
The best advice I can give anyone interested in the program is to take the leap and sign up—it’s something you won’t regret. For 12 weeks, you have readings and papers and assignments and it can be overwhelming, but it really prepares you for a career in the law. Task management is key—work on prioritizing tasks that are most critical, and know when to take a break to refocus.
How has your experience at Extension changed your career path?
Enrolling in the UC San Diego Extension paralegal program may not have been my initial plan, but it has played an important part in achieving my goals. I have always been very driven, and the accelerated program, in particular, catered very well to my ambitions. I interacted with professionals in the legal field, got insight on my law school application, and learned crucial legal skills that have helped me in both my pursuit of law school and my current paralegal position. I fully expect to apply what I learned in this program to Harvard classes, and I have no doubt that this program will give me an edge.
(Updated September 2019)