From foster child to legal advocate


Marie Walker will tell you straight up that nothing in her life was handed to her or made easy. She grew up in foster care, often adrift in the legal system.

But her upbringing provided more than hardship, it is also what inspired her to pursue a career in the law.

As a recent UC San Diego Extension Paralegal Certificate graduate, Walker first became interested in a legal career because of the work of Nancy Lord, who served as her court appointed special advocate. It was Lord who finally gave Walker a voice about her care and her life. It also motivated Walker to get the skills she needed to help other children navigate the complex and daunting court system.

MarieWalkerInset.jpgWalker started out as a receptionist for a law firm but she knew if she ever wanted to move beyond answering phones and filling papers, she’d need a paralegal degree. Still, that was easier said than done as Walker, a single mother, didn’t have the financial wherewithal to pay for her education.

Julia Dunlap, Esq., director for legal education at Extension, immediately felt compelled to help Walker through a scholarship opportunity. Once learning her full story, Dunlap realized that Walker had the determination and the professional experience to excel in the program.

“Marie is an inspiration and a shining example of how you can rise above adversity and then have the fortitude to turn around and work to pull others up with you,” Dunlap said. “I know she will continue to excel in all her educational and professional pursuits and the judicial system will benefit from her presence.”

Following completion of UC San Diego Extension’s ABA-approved paralegal certificate program in 2014, Walker earned a spot on the other side of courtroom, where she proudly works in criminal law as a legal assistant for the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Since then, Walker has gone on to earn certification from the National Association of Legal Assistants. She says the Extension program provided her with the opportunity to not only learn the law but also to understand her true worth so she had the experience and confidence to negotiate a new position and a better salary.

“The best part of the program is that everything is seriously laid out for you and is designed to provide the knowledge, skills and power to become successful in your own career,” Walker said. “Instructors like Kate Wilkins showed me that I was smarter than I thought I was and kept pushing me to become empowered to make choices and do what I love by creating my own path.”

She continues to heed that advice and has even trained at the National Advocacy Center, where she enrolled in an intensive legal writing and research course and earned 40 mandatory continuing legal education (MCLE) hours. Additionally, she has started work as a court advocate for Voices of Children of San Diego, helping to provide judicial support to other foster children.

If she could offer any advice for prospective students, Walker said, “When they tell you to network and put yourself out there – do it and you’ll not only stand out, but you might just enjoy yourself a little more. I know I’ve had fun in the process.”

As for her future, she isn’t done climbing the legal ladder just yet.

Walker has been accepted to Penn State’s online program to earn a Bachelor of Arts in Law and Society, which accepted a large majority of credit hours that she gained from Extension’s paralegal certificate program. Walker says that she only has to finish 10 courses in order to receive her bachelor’s.

Her next step includes attending law school at City University of New York, CUNY. The program at CUNY is one of the few in the country that is specifically geared toward training attorneys who are dedicated to the public interest. According to its site, such efforts aim to “right the wrongs, stand up for the underserved and fight for social justice.”

And that’s all that Walker has ever wanted to do.

For more information on UC San Diego Extension and its ABA-approved paralegal program offering accelerated and full or part-time options, visit To learn more, email or (858) 534-8152. We also invite you to connect with alumni, instructors and students via our Twitter or Facebook pages.


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