Legal Studies

Seeking Justice: Hodges Students Share Their Paths from Legal Studies to Law School

Share this:

For students entering the legal studies program at Hodges University, understanding the law and determining how the legal system works takes time. It takes professors who are experts to provide students with the knowledge and skills needed to enter law school or a law-related career. It also takes carefully designed courses to educate students of the foundations of law, as well as the growing changes connecting law and technology.

Dr. Char Wendel, program chair and professor of legal studies at Hodges, explains, “Our program is designed to develop the skills necessary to be successful in the practice of law, as either a paralegal or attorney. These skills include critical thinking and reasoning, reading and interpreting statutory law, analyzing and briefing legal decisions, and developing strong negotiation and advocating skills.”

In addition to these skills, Hodges offers its students certification opportunities in eDiscovery and eLitigation. Increased use of technology in the legal profession requires students learn ways to manage email, privacy concerns and electronically stored information. “The practice of law has historically been slow to change, as legal issues make their way through the court systems over the years. However, advancements in technology and the way in which we communicate have changed the practice of law as we know it,” said Dr. Carlos Baradat, Hodges alumnus and adjunct professor of legal studies at Hodges.

“Hodges University is on the cutting edge with this program as even law schools have been slow to get on board. Most other schools offer paralegal certificates with a mere mention of eDiscovery as a topic of discussion, but not as a specialization,” he added.

To ensure Hodges’ legal studies students are prepared upon the arrival of graduation, faculty members work closely with organizations and businesses within the community, such as banks, law firms, law schools and local government.

When describing her law school experience, Hodges alumna Mary Cosmo said, “On the first day of class, after all the students settled into their seats, the professor gave the first list of cases to brief. I could hear the class begin to rumble in panic, ‘I don’t understand?’ or ‘How do I brief a case?’ I found my own anxieties began to ease because I had already learned from my professors at Hodges how to brief a case.”

While Hodges professors work diligently to promote their programs and work collaboratively within the community to produce students who are prepared to enter the marketplace, it is also important to hear from students who experienced the program, as their voices can serve as motivation for others.

Paris SmithParis Smith

“I am an extremely driven and ambitious person, so when I say I want to be a judge, that’s what I am going to do.”

Living in Chicago, Illinois, Hodges graduate Paris Smith had a lucrative career in human resources before returning to school. Since 1992, she has worked for various companies including American Express, serving as the director of human resources consulting and director of transition/change management; and as national director of human resources for Grubb & Ellis, a national real estate service firm.

“In 2005, I was laid off from my job at Concentra Health Services, and I asked myself, ‘What am I going to do now?’ I decided to start my own online human resources company, Commerce Solutions, Inc., which produced half a million dollars each year,” she said. Unfortunately, in 2010, Smith lost a major advertiser due to no fault of her own and had to close the company.

“At this point, I thought, why not do what I always wanted to do and pursue law. I’ve always loved the law, and in my time in human resources, I could never go into open court because I was not a licensed attorney,” she explained.

Researching schools, Smith noticed Hodges’ curriculum for legal studies most similar to the curriculum law schools offered to their students. In May 2011, she enrolled at Hodges part time and began her studies online. “I have four children and work full time as the CEO of Home Finders Real Estate, Inc., so I told my clients they could contact me Monday through Thursday, but on Fridays, I devoted sun up to sun down on schoolwork,” she said.

Realizing much of the assigned work required the necessary study time, she is grateful for the explanations by her professors, including Dr. Char Wendel. Always asking detailed questions, Smith was impressed by the time Wendel took to answer her questions, saying, “One thing I still carry with me to this day is something Dr. Wendel said to me. She said, ‘A smart lawyer may not know the answer to every question, but she knows where to look and how to find it.’”

Setting her sights on becoming a judge one day, Smith admits, as a non-traditional student, she felt more motivated while at Hodges than had she pursued the same program at 18 years old. Her desire to earn a degree was so strong that she set her mind to it, and in June 2016, she graduated with her bachelor’s in legal studies.

Flying from Chicago to attend the graduation ceremony at Germain Arena on June 12, Smith was joined by her husband and four children. “Graduation was truly one of the best days of my life. To achieve something that seemed so out of reach made it all worth it. Plus, it is a lesson in accomplishment for my children,” she said.

At the age of 42, after spending hours studying for the LSAT and submitting a letter of recommendation from Wendel, Smith received a $75,000 scholarship and will begin at Chicago’s John Marshall Law School on August 22.

“It’s all about evaluating your motives and being strong enough to stay motivated. It is a lot of work, but if you have a driving factor to make it worth it, it will keep you going.”


Joseph BareJoseph Bare

When asked by his school’s principal, “If you were not allowed to teach, what would you be doing,” Joseph Bare knew immediately his answer would be something relating to law. Originally from North Carolina, Bare spent 20 years in the United States Army before meeting his wife while stationed in Tennessee and eventually moving to Naples.

Going to work for the Lee County School District in December 2010, Bare taught JROTC Leadership Education at Lehigh Senior High School, saying, “The program is designed to be cadet-led, but the students learn about study habits, time and stress management, and communication skills. As they advance in the program, they learn more about college and career-related topics.”

After having the question posed about pursuing a field other than teaching, Bare decided it was time to go back to school and pursue his goal of attending law school. Possessing an associate degree from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, he researched Hodges and Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU). “When I was looking at the legal studies program, I decided Hodges would better prepare me for law school,” he said.

Arriving one week before school began in the winter 2015 semester, he enrolled in the legal studies bachelor’s program. “I’ve always enjoyed studying and understanding the legal and constitutional issues behind particular things in society,” he explained.

Taking the blended approach with his degree program, Bare continued to teach full time while attending school as a full-time student. Spending late nights working on assignments, he worked hard to find the balance needed to ensure he stayed on top of his studies, but did not sacrifice time with his family.

“You have to stay on top of your assignments. If you don’t, it will be incredibly hard to catch up,” he said.

Taking classes with professors such as Dr. Char Wendel and Dr. James Hodge, Bare was appreciative of the time and dedication they took to ensure the students understood the material. Crediting Wendel for teaching him how to write a legal brief, he also shows appreciation to Hodge for inviting a representative of the Ave Maria School of Law to come and speak to his class.

“Hodges has given me a basis of understanding others may not have. During my studies, I was fortunate to attend and observe a property class at Ave Maria, and was able to understand the concepts and principals they discussed,” he said.

Completing his degree in 2016 Mini-Term A summer session, Bare is now preparing to attend Ave Maria on August 8. Equipped with a strong legal foundation, he knows his degree from Hodges will lessen the initial feeling of being overwhelmed when entering law school.

Admitting he loves the idea of working in civil law, Bare has remained diligent in knowing what he does and does not want to do with a law degree, saying, “Since the beginning, I’ve known I do not want to work in family or tort law, and I definitely do not want to be a criminal lawyer.” Instead, Bare hopes to become a lawyer focusing on a particular area that will serve him well in this region of Florida – property contracts and estate planning.


Terry CochranTerry Cochran

Graduating in December 2015, and serving as Hodges’ student commencement speaker in June 2016, Sergeant Terry Cochran reminded students to not waste time and pursue the passions that brought them to graduation day. Cochran’s passion for the law led him to earn a bachelor’s in legal studies and a certification in eDiscovery/eLitigation, which he plans to use when he enters Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School in fall 2016.

Growing up in Clearwater, Florida, Cochran is a former United States Air Force veteran who currently serves as sergeant of the major crimes unit for the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office. Working in investigations and participating in various trials throughout his 14 years on the police force, he discovered an interest in law.

Researching the part-time law program at Stetson University, Cochran said, “I knew the admissions person at Stetson, and they told me I needed a degree that would fit their curriculum. They said I should visit Hodges because of the program offered by the professors in legal studies.”

Meeting with Dr. Andrew Weyl to discuss the program, he officially enrolled in the legal studies bachelor’s program in summer 2013. “I already had some core classes that transferred over when I was at USF,” he added.

Pursuing the blended approach with online and traditional courses, Cochran appreciated the real-world experiences of his professors, including Weyl, Dr. Carlos Baradat, Dr. James Hodge and Dr. Char Wendel. “There is real value when you have professors who are experts in their field who can help you understand what certain things mean. It shows the professors take a real interest in the students and want to see the students succeed,” he said.

In his eDiscovery/eLitigation courses, Cochran remarked of the increased technological changes expected in places such as law firms and within law enforcement. In the coming year, necessary documents will be sent electronically to judges and lawyers, who will be using evidence collected through technological research, saying, “This type of information is extremely beneficial for paralegals and lawyers who are using this technology-based evidence to determine if it will help or hinder their client’s case.”

While establishing connections with professors, becoming actively involved and serving one year as the vice president of the Legal Society, Cochran managed the balancing act of attending school and helping to care for his family. Add a job that requires being readily available all hours of the day, time management is a necessity. “You have to become a master of time management,” he laughed. In fact, Cochran can recall times where he was skidding into class at the last second because of a situation at work.

Striving to become a police attorney one day, Cochran reminds others of the importance of not wasting time, but to invest your time in something you love. “You can’t waste time on something you are not interested in. You have to do what you love, get a degree, be careful not to overload yourself, spend quality time with your family and have fun.”