Paralegal Program: 40 Years of ABA Approval

Director Sally Dahlquist started teaching at Inver Hills in 1995

The Paralegal program at Inver Hills Community College is celebrating 40 years of ABA Approval. Sally Dahlquist, JD, the program’s director, reported that her program was started in fall semester 1975. Initial ABA approval was granted in 1978 after the program produced its first graduates.

“ABA Reapproval takes place every seven years,” Sally said. “Our program is up for reapproval this year. The process is intensive and required more than three hundred hours of work on my part.”

The Paralegal program held a celebration Monday, November 5, 2018, at Robins Kaplan LLP, a national law firm with offices in Minneapolis. Inver Hills instructors, graduates and students gathered to hear speakers, get reacquainted and share stories.

“I first taught classes in the Paralegal program during my University of St. Thomas internship,” Sally recalled. “I was earning my Community College Teaching certificate at the time—and I discovered I loved teaching.”

General Approval Process Information

The principal objective of the American Bar Association’s program of approving paralegal education programs that meet ABA Guidelines, is to foster high quality paralegal education and training and the development of educational standards.
The Standing Committee on Paralegals and Approval Commission carry out this objective through an intensive review and on-site evaluation of such programs. The guidance and direction of the ABA through the Standing Committee and its Approval Commission has led to the development of superior paralegal education programs designed to raise the competence of those individuals who assist lawyers in the delivery of legal services.
The approval process is accomplished through extensive investigation of self-evaluation reports prepared by the paralegal programs as well as through on-site evaluations of program operations to verify that they operate in compliance with ABA Guidelines. Programs that successfully complete the evaluation process are approved for a period of seven years. Read more…
ABA Approval Process Reporting Resources

Sally Dahlquist, JD: Director Perspective

I began my career as a student intern at Inver Hills. I was invited to team teach in the Paralegal program with experienced Professor Kathleen Knutson. That was my first opportunity in a real classroom so I was nervous and lacked confidence. Kathleen was a powerhouse, extremely knowledgeable, and made it all seem so effortless. She always appeared to know the answers to students’ questions and the law to go with them. Kathleen was the one who built my confidence. Her advice was: “Find your own voice and believe in it.”

To my great fortune, Kathleen Knutson recommended that I teach the Introduction to Law and Contracts class during her sabbatical. After an interview as an adjunct teacher with Program Coordinator Helen Olson, I began what would be the first step of my career in paralegal education. Helen Olson was a wonderful person, funny, bright and unbelievably organized. She taught me the ropes of running our paralegal program, hiring me to fill in when she was off. I learned from Helen’s incredible planning and management skills that I could tackle the ABA Guidelines and reporting system, teach students, and interact with the legal community to arrange student internships.

Sally at 40 Years of ABA Approval Celebration

Sally at 40 Years of ABA Approval Celebration

Mentorships along the way

Great mentorships were the key to success for me. I did not know at the time of my interview with Helen Olson that my law school professor, Gordie Shumaker, was the Paralegal program director. His foresight to create a strong paralegal curriculum and obtain ABA Approval was a stroke of genius. Gordie would go on to become a Minnesota Court of Appeals judge, but he never forgot his commitment to Inver Hills. He was always there to teach a course, take on Inver Hills paralegal interns, and give me advice about directing the program.

After Helen Olson’s retirement, I was hired as program director. Through my transition and to this day, I have been supported by Tom Van Horn, a personal injury trial lawyer and former criminal prosecutor in the Dakota County Attorney’s Office. From the program’s inception, Tom taught classes and has provided direction and input on our Paralegal Advisory Committee. He kindly accepts my calls to engage our student interns in a great learning atmosphere. I greatly appreciate Mr. Van Horn’s years of legal experience and dedication to our Paralegal program. Partners like Tom make training to be a paralegal a solid career path for our students.

“The reason I come to work every day is because I found a wonderful career through an internship. I am driven to pass on the opportunity to our paralegal students, graduates and the attorneys in our legal community.”
Sally Dahlquist, JD, Inver Hills Paralegal Program Director

Another integral part of our strong Paralegal program is Professor Mary McLaughlin. I have learned from Mary how to take time with students, get to know them, and challenge them to be the best they can be. I gained insight from Mary into teaching paralegal students the “why” of the law and legal process. I have observed Mary’s dedication in assisting students to read legal cases, perform in-depth legal analysis, prepare legal documents, and conduct legal writing. All are necessary pieces of a strong paralegal education to assist a lawyer.

I find working with paralegal students rewarding. Each student is unique with skills, experience, culture, and background unlike anyone else. I have learned to listen, ask a few questions, and listen some more. I spend time thinking, analyzing and trying to help our students find strengths to apply for an internship and a good job. The reason I come to work every day is because I found a wonderful career through an internship. I am driven to pass on the opportunity to our paralegal students, graduates and the attorneys in our legal community.

More about Sally Dahlquist…

Sally Dahlquist, JD
Sally Dahlquist, JD, serves as the Paralegal program director and Yellow Ribbon Committee chair at Inver Hills. Sally began teaching as an adjunct in the Paralegal program nearly 24 years ago. She accepted the role as program director in 2001. She served as a paralegal and attorney at law for more than 10 years from 1989 till late 1999.

Very active as a member of the American Bar Association Standing Committee on Paralegals, Sally was honored to serve as chair of the ABA Approval Commission for Paralegal Educational Programs.

According to the ABA, the mission of the Standing Committee on Paralegals “is to improve the American system of justice by establishing ABA standards for the education of paralegals and by promoting attorneys’ professional, effective and ethical utilization of paralegals.”

She earned her law degree from William Mitchell College of Law (now Mitchell Hamline School of Law), her Community College Teaching certificate from the University of St. Thomas, and her Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in Communication Arts from the University of San Francisco.

Sally began her law career as a legal receptionist. She worked her way to paralegal in the probate and corporate areas of small and large firms and later practiced family law as an attorney. Transitioning from the legal office to the classroom, Sally followed her passion to serve people by assisting students with their educational goals and providing opportunities to all people to read, study and learn new ideas.

40 Years of ABA Approval Celebration at Robins Kaplan gallery

View more event photos by visiting:
40 Years of ABA Approval Celebration at Robins Kaplan on Flickr

Early years of the Paralegal program: Fun Facts


  • Legal Assistant program begins with 53 students
  • Gordie Shumaker, JD, served as program director
  • Helen Olson served as program coordinator
  • Lawyers, other employers, and the local and state bar associations voiced the need for highly trained legal assistants,  also known as paralegals
  • First personal computer came out


  • First two graduates: Susan Fortney-Restrom and Jane Hooper
    • Susan became a paralegal with the MN Attorney General’s Office
    • Jane worked as a paralegal for Faegre and Benson, PA
  • First long-serving Paralegal Advisory Committee members:
    • J. Timothy Bumgarner, Legal Assistant, Faegre & Benson
    • Michelle Schmidt, Legal Assistant Student
    • Susan Fortney, Legal Assistant Student
    • Tom Van Horn, Dakota County Attorney
    • Gordie Shumaker, Attorney at Law
  • First long-serving faculty members:
    • Gordie Shumaker
    • Tom Van Horn
    • John Sonsteng (taught Criminal Law in Law Enforcement program)
    • Helen Olson
  • Ratio of 25 students to 1 faculty member


  • American Bar Association Approval was granted and has continued for 40 years
  • Tuition was $11 per credit per quarter for in-state students; $39 per credit of outstate
  • The Navstar Global Positioning System (GPS) was launched
  • Top Song was “Night Fever” by the Bee Gees
  • Big movies included Grease, National Lampoon’s Animal House and Jaws 2
  • Peak year for vinyl sales with disco the top seller


  • New faculty join the Paralegal program
    • Kathleen Knutson
    • Roger Ramstad
    • Dave Meier
    • Mary McLaughlin
  • Personal computers became more accessible to the public
  • Electronic Westlaw and Lexis legal research were launched


  • Legal Assistant program changed name to the Paralegal program
  • Inver Hills went from quarters to semesters
  • Paralegal students began training on electronic Westlaw


  • Post-Graduate Paralegal certificate was created and approved by the ABA for students already possessing a bachelor’s or associate degrees
  • Paralegal program helped many unemployed students find new, rewarding careers during the economic downturn
  • Technology training became part of Paralegal program

More about the Paralegal program at Inver Hills…

Approved by the American Bar Association since 1978, the Paralegal program provides a highly challenging curriculum designed for new, career-changing and diverse students. The program is well respected in the legal community and delivers in-depth training in law and legal procedures with a practical internship experience in a legal environment. This program is for you if you wish to:

  • Become a paralegal
  • Continue your legal studies
  • Pursue a career related to litigation, contracts, business organizations, real estate and/or probate
  • Enroll in law school

The Paralegal program offers an Associate of Science (A.S.) degree and a Post-Graduate Paralegal certificate. The program’s mission is focused on:

  • Developing graduates who are prepared to assume the general and ethical responsibilities of paralegals or legal support professionals
  • Offering quality, practical coursework (traditionally or partly online) that includes a paralegal internship
Learn more by reading About the Program.

Please note: Paralegals and graduates do not practice law or give legal advice unless permitted by law.

Student Spotlight: Margeurite Pettus

Margeurite Pettus
Margeurite Pettus

Originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota, Margeurite Pettus, 32, graduated from Minneapolis South High School in 2004. Margeurite attended the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, earning a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Water Land Management, Water Resources, in 2008. That same year, she started working for the Hennepin County Department of Environmental Services as a environmental protection specialist.

“I went to work for Hennepin County straight out of college,” Margeurite said. “My job involved inspecting small-business sites to make sure used oil, paint thinner, fluorescent light bulbs and other hazardous waste were being handled correctly.”

In 2014, Margeurite began a new job with the Minnesota Geological Survey. She traveled the state in all weather conditions gathering case, screen and pump data on water wells—more than 533,000 water wells have been drilled across Minnesota’s 87 counties. Working outdoors on location could be grueling, and Margeurite felt inspired to further her education.

“I was looking for a career change,” she said. “The legal profession sounded interesting, and I decided to take the Introduction to the Law and Contracts class at Inver Hills Community College to learn more. I loved the class and learning about legal principals. I’ve always excelled at writing, and I enjoy legal analysis and thinking critically. I felt the legal industry was a natural fit and one I would excel at.”

Margeurite set her sights on earning the Post-Graduate Paralegal certificate. She continued working full-time with the Minnesota Geological Survey while taking classes at night. She will graduate with her certificate in December 2018.

On top of that, she has already landed a full-time job as a triage call specialist at Robins Kaplan LLP. She completed her 180-hour paralegal internship at the law firm’s Minneapolis location and turned that opportunity into a doorway to the legal profession.

“In my job as a triage call specialist, I meet with potential personal injury or medical malpractice clients over the phone, ” she said. “I take down the facts and the timeline of what happened. I then discuss the caller’s information with an attorney. If necessary, I will also consult with one of the firm’s medical analysts. My goal is to continue learning on the job and become a paralegal.”

More about Margeurite…

Margeurite belongs to the Minnesota Paralegal Association. She has a 45-minute commute by light rail to Robins Kaplan from her home in St. Paul. When she’s not working, she enjoys doing volunteer work for the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans.

“I have a small family that is close and loving,” Margeurite said. “When I have free time, I enjoy getting together with friends and family. I’m also looking forward to fixing up my home, starting with a kitchen remodel.”

Paralegals and Legal Assistants

Assist lawyers by investigating legal facts or preparing legal documents.

Above the statewide median of $20.07/hour
Median: $26.32/hour
High: $33.50/hour
Seven-county Twin Cities metro area

Median: $27.08/hour
High: $34.35/hour


This career is currently seeing very high growth compared to other careers. Growth rate is 13.2 percent, or well above the statewide average.
There will be a need for about 5,885 new Paralegals and Legal Assistants to meet market demand between 2014–2024. This includes the demand due to replacement (workers leaving the occupation or retiring) as well as growth.
— Minnesota State CAREERwise Education

Margeurite Pettus | Q & A

Margeurite Pettus
Margeurite Pettus

How did the Inver Hills Paralegal program help you enter the law field?
I was lucky enough to land a great internship at Robins Kaplan LLP when I took the Paralegal Internship component of the program. During my internship, a position opened up in the medical malpractice/personal injury area of the firm. I applied and landed the triage call specialist position I currently hold. I love my new position. The Inver Hills Paralegal program played a huge part in helping me get my foot in the door at a great company.

What do you like best about the program?
I enjoyed the legal research and legal writing classes the most. These classes were among the most difficult of the program, but also the most interesting. The instruction for these topics was excellent and I learned a lot. The skills I took away have provided me with a great foundation to start my career in the legal field.

What advice would you give someone thinking about a career in the legal profession?
As someone who is on a second career path, I would advise students considering the legal profession to reflect on the types of job duties they would find enjoyable. I found my first career in environmental science interesting and challenging, but I did not enjoy traveling for the job or being outside in all weather conditions. While I attended the Inver Hills Paralegal program, I volunteered with the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans. This gave me some real world experience. I would say to get out there and see what kinds of jobs exist and start thinking early on if those jobs would be interesting and rewarding to you.

Three words that describe you as a professional in your field:

Why should Inver Hills alumni stay engaged with the college?
I am just finishing up the Paralegal Program. I have made connections with alumni and other legal professionals through networking. I have found it helpful to hear about the types of jobs and experiences alumni of the college have had when they come back and present to our class about their current position and what is relevant to do well in their jobs. Opportunities for career growth and development can come from many sources and keeping strong network is something I value.

What has been your toughest challenge in life?
I am a first-generation college student. While both of my parents did attend college, neither of them obtained a degree. When I got to college for my undergraduate degree, it was a culture shock in that a lot of my classmates came from different backgrounds than me. College opened my eyes to how much bigger the world is and how much opportunity exists.

What is your greatest accomplishment so far?
Becoming financially stable and independent in my adult life.

What person has influenced you the most in life?
My older sister, Misha, has had a huge influence in my life. She attended and graduated from college first. She helped me navigate college, and I look to her for advice on any large life decisions.

Margeurite Pettus | 21 Answers


  1. Favorite season: Fall
  2. aaa_peacockFavorite natural feature (e.g., waterfalls, oceans, mountains, etc.): Oceans—I enjoyed my visit to the Atlantic off Florida
  3. Favorite sport or physical activity: Riding my bike on urban bike paths
  4. Your national bird if you could have one: Peacock
  5. Place you would most like to visit: Europe
  6. Favorite holiday: Thanksgiving
  7. Your national mammal if you could have one: Boston terrier
  8. Favorite actor or actress: Christopher Walken
  9. Favorite band or performing artist: I don’t have a favorite—there are a lot of good bands. Lately, I’ve been in the mood for The Postal Service.
  10. Your personal motto if you had to have one: “Showing up is half the battle.” It’s a well-known saying. I heard it somewhere along the way and it really stuck with me. I often tell myself this if I don’t feel up to something.
  11. aaa_grandCoolest thing in the world: Grand Canyon (I haven’t traveled a lot, so my worldview is pretty limited).
  12. Scariest thing in the world: Being stranded in the ocean
  13. Favorite all-time TV show: I liked House a lot.
  14. Favorite all-time movie: Love Actually
  15. One thing you most want to accomplish in life: A well-balanced work and social life with the financial ability to have a little extra for fun in my free time.
  16. Most valuable material possession: My house
  17. What you would do if you won the $1.5 billion Powerball: Buy a big house near the river; buy every person in my family property and have a lot of fun.
  18. aaa_sethDream occupation: Paralegal
  19. Person you would most like to meet: Seth Myers
  20. Skill you would most like to learn and master: I’d like to take up acrylic painting.
  21. Humankind’s greatest challenge: Managing resources sustainably
Learn more about the ABA-Approved Paralegal program at Inver Hills by contacting:

Sally Dahlquist, JD
Paralegal Program Director

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *