This story was written for WRAL TechWire Innovator partner Wilson Community College.

WILSON – Carrie Wilson Morris, a student in the paralegal program at Wilson Community College, was in Raleigh three counties away watching on her office computer as a Wilson attorney discussed his work.

As an online student, Marris was accustomed to not being in a classroom. What was new this time is that the action was taking place in real time, at that very moment.

She raised her hand, virtually speaking. She typed into the chat box, “Have you ever dealt with a case where the victim was unwilling to give testimony?”

“Yes,” the attorney replied, “in a domestic abuse case.”

WCC paralegal instructor and attorney Wendy L. Grode led that live stream discussion and all those that followed in the past three semesters. She has several upcoming live stream presentations in which she will be interviewing attorneys, paralegals, and others about a variety of legal subjects.

Recently she interviewed former student Jennifer Cottle, now a North Carolina Certified Paralegal and Item Writer for the Paralegal Certification Exam. Over two hours, they discuss a range of topics about the job and work-life balance.

Cottle said more than once, “A paralegal can do almost anything because the law affects almost everything.” Opportunities for paralegals can be found in private practice and government.

“Paralegals are the right hand of an attorney,” Grode said. “Like a nurse is to a doctor.”

Specific tasks differ from one organization to another, but consist of document production and research supervised by an attorney. While no formal degree is required for a person to become a paralegal, most employers prefer to hire paralegals who have been through a specialized program.


Most WCC paralegal graduates go a step further and take the Paralegal Certification Exam offered by the N.C. State Bar Board of Paralegal Certification. The exam is offered only to graduates of a program that has been designated by the Board as a “qualified paralegal studies program,” which both the A.A.S. degree and certificate program at WCC are.

WCC created the paralegal certificate program for the adult who already has a degree. Like Morris and Cottle, most of the students in the paralegal program work and have a family. Both women mentioned the importance of support from an employer and from family. An online education becomes a critical option.

“It’s been very well received,” said Wes Hill, WCC dean of Business and Applied Technologies. “We were looking for a way to increase enrollment, so we created the 18-hour certification program for the post-graduate.”

Enrollment in the certificate-level courses has nearly tripled over the last year. Additionally, since implementing the certificate in fall 2016, enrollment in the paralegal degree has risen more than 24 percent.

Online learning was a key to that success. And the live stream discussions, the first offered by a WCC online course, have been particularly appreciated. Hill expects other WCC online offerings will begin using the format as well. Grode hopes to upgrade the technology with an additional camera soon.

WCC paralegal instructor and attorney Wendy L. Grode (left) works with student Carrie Wilson Morris.

Morris observed what paralegals do as part of her job with the N.C. Industrial Commission. She asked questions and decided she wanted to become a paralegal, though she already had a bachelor’s degree in human resources.

She researched all the online paralegal programs offered in the region and found the WCC program to be by far the most affordable and the most accessible. She got her certificate last year, but enjoyed it so much, she decided to go for her associate degree.

In October she took and passed the Paralegal Certification Exam. She graduates in May and, if all goes according to plan, will give birth to twins a month later.

Nothing will stop her from walking across that stage to get her diploma, she said, even if she has to choose between a stroll or a roll.

This story was written for WRAL TechWire Innovator partner Wilson Community College.