From dairy farm to paralegal practice, it’s all about community for Janet Heeringa

Janet Heeringa at her home office

Raised on a dairy farm, Agriculture degree in hand, and a share in Karlina Farms Ltd., it’s hard to believe Janet Heeringa owns a paralegal practice. But after renovating the front of her barn for an office space, Janet Heeringa Paralegal Service is open for business!

“My hubby and I completely renovated the office space,” said Janet. “This also is convenient for my brother because, if he requires help, I am here to help him… small jobs, of course.”

Janet chose to open her own practice to continue the flexible work hours and freedom to set her own work pace that she enjoyed for 15 years at Karlina Farms Ltd., where Janet was her own boss.

“I love agriculture, as it is a family business and lifestyle,” said Janet, who earned her Agriculture degree in 2003 from Kemptville College (University of Guelph) and, alongside her brother Richard, took over daily operations of Karlina Farms Ltd. in exchange for a share.

But in 2016, Janet and her family made the difficult decision to sell their milking herd. The need for updated, expensive equipment and their uncertainty of the Canadian quota system drove them to this decision.

And the dream to one day help the agriculture community as a paralegal is what drove Janet back to school.

“I have always wanted to help and educate people. I have found that, through agriculture, I have been able to educate people on our Canadian dairy industry and why we are lucky to have a closed system here in Canada,” said Janet. “With Law and Justice, I can now help people with their problems and also educate them on various issues.”

Janet took the Law Clerk and Paralegal programs at Fleming College. Since these programs share three semesters, Janet was able to earn a second diploma with one additional semester of study.

“Honestly, I was very nervous coming into Fleming as a mature student. I felt I would be the oldest student in the class!” said Janet, who is a wife and mother of three daughters. “On the very first day, my fears were eased seeing the range of students in my program. I made a friend, Emily, right away in the parking lot. We stuck together for three semesters and are still friends today!”

There are advantages to attending college as a mature student, as well. Janet explains that she was more dedicated to her studies, had better time management and workload management at Fleming College compared to her first post-secondary school experience.  

“I also found, having done college at 19 and again in my mid-30s, that I could concentrate better—even with children as a distraction,” she said. “If I had the time, I would do most assignments at school during my free time and avoid doing these things at home with the family distractions.”

Janet graduated from the Paralegal program in May 2018 and the Law Clerk program in August 2018.

“My experience at Fleming was wonderful. I made lifelong friends, expanded my network of professionals and absolutely loved the teaching staff,” said Janet, crediting faculty members Diana Collis, Barb Moyle and Amy Maycock for their help throughout her studies and for setting Janet up to be a strong, independent and successful paralegal.

“I would highly recommend the Paralegal and Law Clerk programs,” she said. “These programs engage your mind and teach you to look at situations from a neutral and objective view. It teaches you to be a better person, and how to become involved in your community and help the people of your community you want to work in.”

10 years after high school, Jessica Polley took the “huge, scary step” to attend college

jessica-polleyJessica Polley was very nervous to attend college as a mature student. Among concerns like tuition, being older than her peers and whether she chose the right program for her, Jessica was concerned about her ability to learn something new 10 years after graduating high school.

“Choosing to attend college 10 years after graduating high school was a huge, scary step. It is a big risk to take when you have a family at home to worry about,” said Jessica. “At the time it was terrifying, but now looking back it was one of the best decisions I have ever made.”

Jessica chose Fleming College because of the dual diploma option. She decided to take the Paralegal and Law Clerk programs at the same time.

“The amazing faculty made learning something new a lot less scary. They truly want to see you succeed and are happy to help when you have questions,” said Jessica, who finished her courses in 2017. She graduated from the Paralegal program in 2017 and officially graduates from the Law Clerk program this year.

Before graduating from Fleming College, Jessica was hired at MacDonald, Charette & Associates in Cobourg, Ont. They worked around her school schedule so that she was able to finish classes and in September 2017 hired her full-time as Paralegal and Legal Assistant.

“I was able to find and obtain a position in my chosen field of study before I had completed both of my programs and I would not have been able to do that without the education I received,” said  Jessica, who now has her Paralegal License and credits her dual diplomas for having a wider range of employment opportunity.

“The field placement preparation course really helps you know how to handle difficult questions in interviews. During my interview I was asked ‘why would you apply for a position that required three to five years’ experience?’ I learned in class to answer this in a positive way, by saying that I considered my in-class learning some of my experience, my field placement gave me further experience, and that I would like to gain the remainder of my experience at this firm.”

Jessica’s responsibilities at the firm include interacting with clients and opposing legal representation, conducting client intake meetings, drafting pleadings and other materials, draft correspondence, and attending to court filings, among other tasks. She currently works as a legal assistant to the family law and litigation lawyer, and assists the firm’s small claims court clients as a paralegal working under the direction of two lawyers.

Jessica said that the skills she developed at Fleming are applicable to her job. “We drafted the majority of the documents and materials that I draft on a daily basis. We also would have to file our completed documents with the ‘Court Clerk’ as part of our assignments,” she explained.

Her advice to prospective mature students is to be social and speak with your peers and faculty.

“When I started school, I had a negative attitude about meeting new people. I felt I was not there to meet friends and that I had no time to have new friends. I was there to learn, not to have fun,” she shared. “I very quickly learned that meeting new friends was a great part of school and I honestly don’t know if I could have made it through the stresses of school without their encouragement and support! If you find the right people, you can still learn while having fun.”