By Jamie Shoaf, '11

With an opportunity to fill the spot vacated by a former School of Continuing Studies paralegal student, Nicole Dernelle-Ruhlow, '10, began a position with a local law firm that has grown into a learning experience in the world of law.

Dernelle-Ruhlow first found the position as a part-time receptionist for Cravens & Noll by responding to a position announcement that had been posted to the School of Continuing Studies Paralegal Studies department by a former student.

The firm’s experience with this former student had been so positive that Cravens & Noll wanted to reach out to other students in the Paralegal Studies program from Richmond, hoping for similar results.

When a full-time legal assistant position opened, Dernelle-Ruhlow jumped at the chance. In her new position at Cravens & Noll, she primarily assists the firm on bankruptcy and domestic cases, but also works on criminal and civil matters.

Following her graduation from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2006 with a bachelor’s degree in fashion merchandising, Dernelle-Ruhlow initially could not find a career path that enabled her to follow her passion for the fashion industry. She soon recognized that Richmond was not the hub of fashionistas, and she knew that retail did not best utilize her skills.

In the Richmond area, Dernelle-Ruhlow had a few friends either working in the legal field or pursuing a degree in paralegal studies from the School of Continuing Studies. She decided to investigate the possibility of continuing her education in paralegal studies at Richmond after hearing high praise for the program and good reports about legal careers that the program could open.

“In a program with a core curriculum consisting of seven courses, the Certificate in Paralegal Studies seemed like a very do-able program, especially at this point in my life,” she recalls.

Returning to “student life” three years after receiving her bachelor’s degree made adapting to the classroom a challenge. Very quickly, however, she re-adapted to college coursework and excelled in her studies.

Professors have provided encouragement to cast away any doubts she may have had about returning to school. Their validation has provided a more meaningful experience for her at Richmond.

“Professors definitely had a memorable impact on my experience with SCS,” observes Dernelle-Ruhlow. “With encouragement from Professor McFarland to pursue law school and continual validation from all my professors, I felt extremely confident that I had made the right decision to return to school.”

“Getting to see lawyers work on a case and get from ‘point A’ to ‘point B’ makes every day at [Cravens & Noll] an exciting experience,” she says. “The chance to provide others with relief, whether it be filing a bankruptcy or handling a divorce, gives me a sense of accomplishment and pride that I had not experienced before.”

For others considering the program, Dernelle-Ruhlow praises the program just as her friends had commended it to her before she decided to enter the program herself.

“In this type of program, you have a different experience every day,” she explains. “In law there is a wide range of areas to pursue, with interests to fit the desires of almost anyone. At the end of the day, you can really appreciate that ‘law isn’t boring.’”

Although she remains undecided about continuing her education to earn a Juris Doctorate, Dernelle-Ruhlow will continue to follow her passion for paralegal studies as she prepares to relocate to the Midwest with her husband this spring.