BRYAN — Overcoming obstacles is just another part of the job for Blinn College District alumna Nicole Cloutier.
A home daycare owner for 12 years, the Madisonville native decided to make the leap to legal assistance in 2007 when a job became available at the Madison County District Attorney’s Office. Although she arrived with no formal training, the mother of two dove into the abundance of legal duties, including summarizing cases, drafting motions, and prepping for trial.
“Since I came in with no prior experience, I had to learn as I went, which is perfect for me,” Cloutier said. “I am a fast learner, and in a small office, you get a wide range of experiences.”
By 2013, Cloutier knew she wanted to advance her career and was intrigued by the potential to work with the Texas Attorney General’s Office. Knowing she would need a degree to get her foot in the door of the highly competitive agency, Cloutier enrolled in Blinn’s Legal Assistant Program in 2013.
Blinn’s Legal Assistant Program is a two-year program that prepares students to serve as legal assistants, or paralegals, in a variety of careers. Cloutier credits Blinn’s proximity, affordability, and online course offerings for her success – especially when her youngest son was diagnosed with leukemia during her last semester of the program.
Cloutier spent 200 days in the hospital at her son’s side, where she worked remotely for her job and completed her last two classes in the program.
“My professors were so accommodating of my situation,” she said. “My son and I came up with creative ways for me to complete my class assignments, and I graduated with a 4.0 grade point average.”
With traditional classroom and online tracks available, Blinn’s Legal Assistant Program equips students for a variety of law careers with an Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree or a Legal Office Certificate. Courses are taught by a faculty comprised entirely of lawyers and judges whose classes are structured to promote quality student-faculty interaction.
Students who successfully complete the AAS degree are eligible to sit for the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) certification exam.
Upon earning her degree from Blinn and passing the NALA exam, Cloutier landed her dream career working in the Texas Attorney General’s Office as a legal assistant in the Human Trafficking Unit. In October, she transferred to the Elections Fraud Unit to work alongside leading attorneys and investigators in the state.
“Ms. Cloutier passionately pursued her legal studies at Blinn, and displays the same pursuit in her current work,” Program Coordinator Robert Stanberry said. “She has become one of the state’s top legal assistants through her outstanding knowledge of the legal process, investigative skills, and caring heart.”
Although legal assistants work primarily in law offices, their role is expanding as companies look to hire employees with a broad understanding of legal matters. Job opportunities abound in private law firms, courts, government, insurance companies, administrative agencies, and corporations.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for certified legal assistants is expected to increase 15 percent between 2016 and 2026, creating more than 41,800 new jobs in the field. Legal assistants earn a median pay of $50,410 per year, or $24.24 per hour.
Cloutier currently lives with her husband and her youngest son, who has been in remission since 2016, in Kyle, Texas, approximately 20 miles southwest of Austin. Her new unit allows her to assist in investigating cases that include voter fraud, illegal voting, and vote harvesting.
“My philosophy as a legal assistant is ‘there is no job too big or too small,’” Cloutier said. “My role is to do whatever it takes to make my attorney more efficient, so he can perform at a high level. I am very fulfilled with what I am doing right now.”
For more information about Blinn’s Legal Assistant Program, visit www.blinn.edu/paralegal.