Ebony Hicks, a mother of five young children, was working as a billing specialist and doing well in her career when her employer, a medical supply company, began to downsize. So, she decided to make a career change and take control of her future. Ebony had been fascinated by the challenge and diversity of the legal field ever since she had taken law courses in high school, so she researched paralegal degree programs in the area and was excited to find that the Roanoke Valley Campus of American National University offered an American Bar Association-approved program, one of only four in the state, and the only one in western Virginia. This was the selling point for Ebony, and she decided to pursue her passion and enroll.
During her final term, paralegal department chair Linda Slough helped Ebony get an externship with the Roanoke City Juvenile & Domestic Relations District Court, which led to a full-time job as a deputy clerk just a few months later. “With the job interview, it was more in-depth and detailed,” said Ebony. “And the clerk of court said I ‘knocked it out of the box,’” she said with a sense of pride. “It wasn’t just the fact that I had done the externship, it was the interview itself. And [ANU] gave me the skills to do that.”
Ebony loves her job with the JDR District Court, where she makes sure cases are on the morning and afternoon dockets, processes calls about court cases, and processes petitions for juvenile cases, among other duties. Ebony explained the courthouse atmosphere: “I get to see it all; it’s exciting, fast-paced, and laws continually change.” She added: “The scenarios may be similar, but they’re never the same, so there’s absolutely something to learn on a day-to-day basis.”
ANU helped prepare Ebony for her externship and, ultimately, for her new career as a deputy clerk. “I loved the fact that they tied so much into my program,” she says of the paralegal program structure. “I got a little bit of everything I needed to start out in the working world. It wasn’t just concentrated on the law; I got a little bit of how to conduct yourself in a business atmosphere, they touched bases on computer courses, and they actually gave me the skills to run a small office as a paralegal, and that is very hard to find [in a paralegal program].”
The fact that all of her paralegal instructors were also practicing attorneys was something Ebony also admired. “They were able to give insight on their expectations of what’s required of a paralegal on a daily basis,” which she says was extremely beneficial.
Looking toward the future, Ebony wants to continue learning everything she can about the legal system. She hopes to be able to earn her law degree and eventually go into either corporate or family law. “When I become an attorney, my long-term goal is to become a GAL (Guardian ad Litem), basically an attorney for children, because they’re little and don’t always have a voice,” she says. “Because I do have children, family law is my passion.”
Paralegal graduate, Ebony Hicks, is a deputy clerk with the Roanoke City Juvenile & Domestic Relations District Court