Paralegal Studies Raises the Bar for All Students

Elizabeth Nowakowski

Elizabeth Nowakowski, J.D. brings a global perspective and commitment to social justice at Bristol Community College. As a high school student, her family left communist Poland before relocating to the United States. “We lived in Germany for over a year before we finally made it here,” says Nowakowski. “When I reflect on that time, it was about adaptability and learning different languages.” She learned lessons of perseverance from her parents. As an infant, her mother Regina escaped Lithuania with her parents during the Nazi and Russian invasions of WWII. Her father Mieczslaw (Mike), a first-generation college graduate, saw the value of education and left his village in Poland at an early age to pursue his dream of attending college. 

Nowakowski quickly learned English and enrolled in college earning a bachelor’s in business management from Emmanuel College and then a juris doctorate from Suffolk University Law School. “Being an immigrant helps me relate to my students,” she says. “Some students are immigrants trying to assimilate and many are first-generation or adult learners juggling the responsibilities of raising a family.” 

As a professor and chair of paralegal studies at Bristol, she uses her professional connections to create a bridge for internships and job opportunities for her students. She is active on LinkedIn and with the Bristol County Bar Association raising awareness of the profession. Bristol students are required to do an internship. “This exposure in the legal setting helps students confirm that this is the career for them, and they are ready to enter the field.”   

The paralegal studies program is approved by the American Bar Association which is important because it solidifies that Bristol is credentialed and qualified to prepare students for legal careers. “A paralegal is the backbone of a law office and there are currently more job openings than students in the program,” she says. “I also work closely with the UMASS Law School to help pave the way for students to transition to UMASS Law School for those interested in pursuing law.”

In the classroom she advocates the need for social justice. As a board member for Bristol County Bar Association and the Justice Bridge Legal Center, she recognizes that access to good legal advice is paramount to achieving justice. “Over 70% of the population cannot afford a lawyer and they attend court unrepresented which creates a huge burden for the legal system and is often a financial burden for the individuals to access justice,” she says. She has created a program called Ask a Lawyer. “I work with Justice Bridge to bring a lawyer to campus and anyone from the Bristol community can make an appointment for free and ask questions and decide what the next steps should be.” The Justice Bridge also provides legal services at a discounted rate. Elizabeth also hosts a cable television show through FRC Media called “Bristol Legal” where she interviews community members on various legal issues.

As a board member of the American Association for Paralegal Education (AAfPE), she represents the North Region which includes New Hampshire all the way down to the Carolinas. The organization’s mission is to promote quality paralegal and legal studies education. “It is difficult to promote the profession and the program without having strong relationships and community connections,” she says. “That happens first, and the rest happens organically.”   

ABA approved paralegal program

Bristol Community College’s Paralegal & Legal Studies program was granted approval from the American Bar Association (ABA).