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The Life and Career of M. Amera Alhanday, Dean, Universtity of West Los Angeles School of Paralegal Studies

published June 27, 2005

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( 34 votes, average: 4.4 out of 5)
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<<Two older brothers inspired M. Amera Alhandy to become a law professor. One brother was an attorney; the other, a teacher; and Ms. Alhandy knew from an early age that she wanted to follow in their footsteps—particularly the attorney.

She said she knew from age 11 that she would go to law school. But after two years of law school, she wasn't so sure. She earned her paralegal certificate and worked as a paralegal for almost two years before deciding to finish law school. Her experience as a paralegal has served her well: she is now dean of the University of West Los Angeles School of Paralegal Studies.

Although Alhandy worked briefly a sole practitioner, mainly in real estate law, her heart was in academia; and she soon pursued teaching positions.

"I knew that I enjoyed the academics, and I knew that I enjoyed the theory of law," she told LawCrossing. "I wasn't sold on the practice of law. I had a small practice in estate planning and real estate negotiations" in Los Angeles.

Alhandy, who is from Orange County, CA, has taught both attorneys and paralegals at various universities. The history and theory of law both inspire Alhandy.

"I love the process; I love the theory of law," she said. "I like seeing the lights go on with the students when they finally understand a concept. I think there's beauty in the law. It's just I can't really explain it, but it's a real wonder to think some of the laws are the same laws that we've had since William the Conqueror in 1066."

Alhandy said she finds it thrilling to teach students about English Common Law and Napoleonic law, especially when students can relate the history to modern laws.

Since becoming dean of UWLA, Alhandy has been too busy to teach full time in the classroom, but she still works with students every day. She had been teaching as an adjunct professor at UWLA since 1996. When her predecessor left the job, the Paralegal Studies program asked her to be interim dean while it conducted a formal search for a replacement. Alhandy jumped at the chance and clearly did a good job. She was named full-time dean more than two years ago.

Alhandy said no two days as dean are the same and she is so passionate about legal education that she urges all professionals, not just attorneys and paralegals, to take courses in the law.

"The theory of law is very exciting and it relates—it affects every aspect of your life," she said. "As a layperson, or any other professional, you still need some legal background in anything you do. And I think if you work at a corporation and you need some background in contract law, take in a contracts class."

Doctors should take law courses in torts or medical malpractice. People involved in an everyday fender bender would be better off if they had a class in insurance law or tort law liability under their belts, she said.

"Everything you do, everything that we hear on the media, we hear about celebrity cases—all that becomes a little bit more understandable when you've taken a class or two," she said.

Alhandy said her background as a paralegal, an attorney, a businesswoman running her own firm, and as a law professor all combined to make her uniquely qualified to become UWLA dean. She said being dean is similar to running a business—"I put out a lot of fires"—and that she acts as a liaison between the faculty and administration.

"You have to understand the academics as well as the business portion, and it's a balancing act," she said. "Without the business experience, you really wouldn't understand the budget and those types of things."

While Alhandy said she always wanted to work in law at the university level, becoming dean was not her ultimate goal.

"It was an opportunity," she said. "I can't say that I said, 'Gee, I want to be dean someday.' But I always liked academics and academia, and I had hoped to aspire to some type of position within" a university.

For attorneys interested in a career in academics, Alhandy implores them to get into a classroom. Full-time university positions are difficult to find, but it's easier to get started as an adjunct professor or lecturer, she said.

Although law schools are changing, Alhandy said teaching attorneys and paralegals is very different because law schools are almost all theory and paralegal programs, like UWLA's, are about 60 percent theory and 40 percent practical knowledge. She urges graduating paralegals to be patient with new attorneys because the attorneys may not know what certain forms mean and their practical knowledge generally comes on the job.

Alhandy, who studied law at Western Sierra Law School and San Diego Western State University College of Law, said most of the UWLA faculty is attorneys.

"Some of them only want to teach paralegals because they feel that's a very worthwhile market right now and they want to teach paralegals what they need to know in a law office," she said.

When she hires professors, Alhandy said she focuses on experience more than academic track record.

"If they're a real estate attorney and I need a real estate law class to be taught, usually I interview them and experience—that's the quality I look for—because what happened before they took the bar is really not relevant," she said. "In paralegal school, they learn how to fill out the documents; they learn timelines, deadlines—all of the things that make a law office run. It's a good marriage between a paralegal and an attorney, and I think that's what excites people."

published June 27, 2005

( 34 votes, average: 4.4 out of 5)
What do you think about this article? Rate it using the stars above and let us know what you think in the comments below.