By David Washburn
Janna Ferraro has always been a good advocate. Growing up in Ventura County, she mainly advocated for herself against her little brother.
“I became very good at pushing boundaries and then laying out my case once I got caught, that I was somehow less culpable than my co-conspirator, usually my brother,” Ferraro remembers.
Now 33, Ferraro is still doing advocacy work. But she’s doing it as a paralegal for Briggs Law Corporation – San Diego’s preeminent public interest law firm – and advocating on behalf of the environment and people fighting for greater government accountability.
“This is the work that I’ve long envisioned myself doing,” said Ferraro, who is currently working toward her law degree at San Diego’s California Western School of Law. “I have a lofty ideal of what law should be – that it is a good thing and it can help people.”
Ferraro took a somewhat circuitous route to her calling, and said she wouldn’t be where she is now without UC San Diego Extension’s paralegal program.
Throughout high school Ferraro had thought seriously about studying law. She worked for about a year as a file clerk for a personal injury firm in Oxnard and then at a corporate law firm in San Diego. But corporate law bored her and she ended up going into commercial real estate after graduating with a sociology degree from UC San Diego.
But even in the commercial real estate world, Ferraro found herself gravitating toward the legal side of the business. She ended up being the in-house point person with the lawyers on cases involving the firm’s properties.
By 2010, Ferraro had decided once and for all that she wanted a legal career. So, she and her husband made plans to move to the Boston area -- where he is from and where she would apply to law schools. But those plans were scrapped when she became pregnant with their first child.
Ferraro didn’t give up on perusing a legal career. “But being a new mom, I didn’t know if I could handle going back to law school,” she said. “Then I came across [Extension’s] paralegal program.”
What really caught Ferraro’s eye was that in addition to a part-time program that takes about one to two years to complete, Extension offers an accelerated program that can be completed in 12 weeks. That was the program for her.
She applied and was accepted into the program in 2013. Then came another twist – around the same time she got her acceptance letter, she found out she was pregnant again. But Ferraro decided to go ahead with the program and finished four weeks before her second son was born.
“It’s a very supportive program,” Ferraro said. “They are with you every step of the way, making sure you have what you need. I still have all my materials from the program on my shelf at work and I reference them regularly.”
While Ferraro has enjoyed her work as a paralegal, her desire to be a lawyer never left her. And she touts her training and experience as a paralegal as a big reason why she was accepted to Cal Western and is thriving as a second-year student.
“One advantage is I know how to manage my time,” she said. “Being a paralegal you are juggling cases all the time…also, I don’t get tripped up when a professor starts talking about something in legal jargon, because I know the legal jargon.”
Here are some words of wisdom from Ferraro for anyone who’s interested in becoming a paralegal:
If you are on the fence about law school at all, take a paralegal program. You’ll find out quickly whether it’s the right field for you. And it will only cost you a few thousand dollars to find out rather than a couple hundred thousand.
Once you have your certificate, either get a job in the field of law you are interested in, or take continuing education classes through UC San Diego Extension and elsewhere in the areas that interest you.
Join the San Diego Paralegal Association. They are a great resource – it’s how I found the job I have now.
Don’t feel bad if you never make it to law school. Even if you never become a lawyer, you’ll still have an interesting job and be involved in the law.
Make friends. The legal community in San Diego is fairly small. Knowing who to turn to for help is invaluable. When I started this fall term, I got buried in work [at the Briggs firm]. So, I hired a friend who just finished the [UC San Diego Extension] program to help out.
Curious about becoming a paralegal? Learn more at extension.ucsd.edu/paralegal or contact the department at firstname.lastname@example.org or 858-534-8164.