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Bilijana's Paralegal Studies Story

Newsroom | Articles Sept. 30, 2022
Bilijana Marjonovic is a 1997 alumni of the LSU Paralegal Studies Certificate program.

Bilijana Marjonovic Shares Her Inspiring Story

Louisiana State University’s Paralegal Studies Certificate Program is a college-level, non-credit program that can result in a Certificate in Paralegal Studies. The program is unique because it combines the resources of a large university with the personal attention of a more intimate, student-centered program. Students receive instruction from experienced attorneys, judges, and paralegals. They work closely with faculty advisors and mentors throughout their academic careers.

The LSU Paralegal Studies Certificate Program was established in 1982 to provide a pathway for students to become paralegals while maintaining their everyday schedules. Today, the program is the only non-credit paralegal studies program in Louisiana to be approved by the American Bar Association.

In celebration of the 40th anniversary of LSU’s Paralegal Studies Certificate Program, we interviewed Bilijana Marjonovic, an alumnus of the program and an immigrant from former Yugoslavia. She has extensive experience in law and loves LSU’s program because of the dedicated and caring faculty. Her interview highlights why she chose LSU and how the paralegal studies certificate program has impacted her life.

Describe the time in your life after leaving former Yugoslavia.

“I emigrated from Sarajevo, a city in former Yugoslavia (now known as Bosnia). I first lived in Italy as an immigrant, sponsored by the Catholic Life Diocese. I spent some time in Italy with my son, waiting to be approved and get all the required documents so I could legally immigrate to the United States. The whole process took about two years.

We officially immigrated to the United States sometime in June 1994. Upon arrival, I only spoke my native language and Italian. I was able to speak a little English through songs, but other than that, I couldn’t speak it well.

Immigrating to the United States without knowing English was very scary. I thought to myself, ‘Am I going to be able to start everything from scratch being 40 years old?’ I graduated from law school and gained success early on, being one of the youngest judges in Sarajevo for about 6 years before the war started.

The law is something that was completely embedded in my heart. However, being a woman in the legal field, at that time, was not easy. You had to be strong-minded and you had to have a strong personality. Being afraid was not an option and you had to stand your ground behind your beliefs. And my belief was serving justice.”

Why did you choose LSU to get your Paralegal Studies Certificate?

“I was very blessed to have mentors at LSU who wanted to help me early on. In my first few months on campus, I was introduced to Margaret Borland, a professor in an international language program at LSU. That was the luckiest day of my life because she decided she would support and help me. Being a teacher in that international language program, Margaret was used to having students who could barely speak English. She was so patient in helping me land on my feet. She was my first step, and I appreciate her help.

After meeting Margaret I enrolled in ELOP [English Language & Orientation Program]. That was the first step. But I have to say, in my mind, my only desire was to go back to law -- that’s the field that I feel in my veins. I had studied law since I was 19 years old and had a deep desire to get back into the field. The professors in ELOP would do everything to help me meet this goal. That was the best part. They were concerned about my well-being all the time.

Most of the students in the program were international students from all over the world. Many of them didn’t know about real life, much less about life in the university. The teachers were the first to expose us to information about how to live within the LSU student community. They made me feel very protected.

I was in the ELOP program for about 6 months before I enrolled in the LSU Paralegal Studies Certificate program. When my English improved, Margaret encouraged me to take the next step. My first approach was to go to law school and get an equivalent diploma [to the one earned in Sarajevo]. I was introduced to John Delvin, a professor at the LSU law school. He wanted me to go to law school, but it was too expensive for my family at the time.

I wanted to be part of the legal field, and I had fallen in love with LSU. So, Margaret introduced me to the Paralegal Program Manager, Charlotte DesHotels. Charlotte, who helped me enroll in LSU’s Paralegal Studies Certificate program. Ann Mccory, the head of the Paralegal Studies program at the time, was another instrumental figure. Applying to the program was the best decision in my life.”

What would you say to someone debating on entering the paralegal program?

“I was very happy to become an LSU paralegal student. The teachers were knowledgeable and caring. I had a professor who would walk into class every day and say ‘Paralegal jobs are most important for us attorneys. You are our extended right arm.’ It was exciting because I realized that the attorneys would appreciate my help, which meant I could immediately start contributing.

After I graduated, I’d be seen as an extremely important assistant. There’s no situation in an attorney’s life where paralegals will not be present and necessary. That’s what I learned as part of my experience.”

What was your biggest motivator while earning this certificate?

[Credibility] was one of the reasons I decided to go to LSU. There were so many small schools I considered, but I wondered ‘If I go there, would my diploma be valid?’ With LSU, [the education] was excellent and I knew it would help me stand out to potential employers.”

Do you have any advice for LSU paralegal students?

“You need to be strong-minded and enthusiastic. Also, be curious and persistent. Make a plan and be organized. If that’s the way you live, you will be well-positioned for success in the legal field. Be dedicated and have a passion for justice in your heart and mind. Most importantly, be willing to accept help from the ‘nobodies’. They will help you and save your life. Do not underestimate anyone, ever.”

What does Forever LSU mean to you?

“I love LSU. The first things that come to mind are my sweet, beautiful memories of how much my professors helped me, and how much they welcomed me. They made me feel safe and appreciated. They really cared for me and my son.

When I drive back to LSU, I am happy to see how much the beautiful campus has grown. I love Louisiana and its beautiful sense of welcoming you, cooking for you. I will never stop loving LSU because it changed my life.”

LSU Paralegal Studies Certificate Program: 40 Years of Success

If you’re interested in a meaningful career as a paralegal, consider earning a paralegal studies certificate with LSU. Learn more about our paralegal studies program and apply today.

Explore the LSU Paralegals Studies Certificare Program and submit your application today.

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