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Salute to our distinguished faculty

When the requests went out for students and graduates to nominate instructors who they wished to honor, replies came pouring in. The following profiles highlight the backgrounds of those receiving the most nominations:

Michael Dessent


Here's what his students say: Mr. Dessent’s class (Corporations) was the perfect mixture of information, conversation, visuals and stories. The material was taught in a straightforward, well thought out manner. The assignments and teachings were taught from a “paralegal perspective.” In fact, I used one of my completed assignments as a sample of my work for my interview with my current employer.

Mr. Dessent genuinely cares about his students in the USD Paralegal Program and does everything he can to prepare them and help them along the way.

— Kate MacIver, Summer Day, 2004.

Professor Dessent is an incredible teacher who was always innovative in his efforts to reach the students. Each of his classes was not just a review of assigned chapters from a textbook but always an interesting discussion filled with real examples of today’s life of large corporations and other business entities. He is truly committed to the professional and personal development of his students.

— Irina Yarovaya, Fall Day, 2004.

Education and degrees: Northwestern University, Bachelor of Science Degree, 1964; Northwestern Law School, Juris Doctorate, Cum Laude, 1967

Area of practice: Executive Vice President and General Counsel, The Price Company (now Costco); Dean & CEO, California Western School of Law

Why do you teach in the USD Paralegal Program? I enjoy the opportunity to provide a marvelous group of people practical skills and training in our profession.

Most memorable classroom moment: Hearing from former students that they’ve been able to use the knowledge they’ve gained in the “real world.”

Best thing about teaching paralegals: Their enthusiastic commitment to learn!

Advice for those entering the field: Don’t underestimate your abilities — you CAN take on the responsibilities offered and succeed!

John Kirk

Here's what his students say: His grasp of Civil Litigation is far-reaching and clear. He is able to present the material in a precise manner, and was also able to make confusing concepts interesting. His ability to convey legal concepts is nearly unparalleled in the paralegal program at USD. — Tabitha Brincat, Fall Day, 2004

Mr. Kirk made learning about the law easy and enjoyable. He was very visual in his explanations and put practical information on the board so that we knew what was important. John Kirk made it easy to grasp the knowledge that he was trying to convey to us. He is a dedicated, knowledgeable professor, not to mention very friendly. He was a great professor. — Sean Griffiths, Fall Day, 2004

Education and degrees: Wabash College, Bachelor of Arts, 1987, Major in French / International Studies Pepperdine University School of Law, Juris Doctorate, 1990

Area of practice: Deputy City Attorney since 1990. Currently advising the City's Water Department on construction, billing and conservation issues. Serves as a Judge Pro Tem in small claims court since 1995.

Why do you teach in the USD Paralegal Program? Primarily for the interaction with the students. USD's students are top caliber, and it's always exciting to shepherd them through the complex issues involved in the civil litigation process and help them to realize their capabilities. To an extent my work at USD mirrors my primary job advising the City's Water Department, where I strive to explain complex contractual or statutory requirements in plain language so that the Department can make the best possible decisions.

Most memorable classroom moment: I keep my lecture notes in an accordion file organized by the class session. In one of my first semesters of teaching I grabbed the file from home, but did not open it until I was in the classroom ready to begin class. I realized that while I had a nearly identical accordion file, my lecture notes were nowhere to be found. The file was instead filled with my children's various colors of construction paper. Although it was a bit unsettling at first, it was a great test of how well I knew my material. I made it through the class fine, but I've adopted a new file system for the kids' craft supplies.

Best thing about teaching paralegals: Watching them discover their abilities. Although students are often intimidated by the amount of information covered in a civil litigation class, almost every one reaches a point where the "light' comes on and they realize that they can excel at their chosen profession.

Advice for those entering the field: Never underestimate yourself. Apart from establishing new business and appearing in court, there are few things a good paralegal could not accomplish as competently as an attorney. If you enjoy the paralegal profession and have a competency in it, consider law school. You'd likely excel as an attorney.

David Lamb


Here's what his students say: What was most inspiring to me was Mr. Lamb's presentation of the subject matter. Criminal Law is difficult, however, Mr. Lamb made the class really fun and exciting. The passion that he felt about his field was evident. He knew his stuff which allowed him to present his material in a confident manner. He was brilliant and demonstrated such passion I could tell he really loved what he was doing. He gave me a desire to learn more and as a result I am continuing my education. — Margaret Batty, Fall Evening, 2003

Mr. Lamb was extremely knowledgeable, knew his lesson plans and was very entertaining. He taught in such a manner that made it very easy to understand, remember and apply.

— Tasha Eichman, Summer Evening, 2003

Education and degrees:

Chico State University , Bachelor of Science Degree 1995, Major in Political Science, Minor in Business Administration; obtained paralegal certificate while attending

McGeorge School of Law, Juris Doctorate with distinction, 1998

Area of practice: Criminal Defense

Why do you teach in the USD Paralegal Program? I love teaching. I am specifically proud of USD's ABA Approval and find that the students at our program are more willing to learn than in other programs. Likewise, it appears that more students are interested in continuing on with their education and use our program as a transition.

Most memorable classroom moment Recommending law school to a student who is a single mother with no formal education. She had always wanted to go to law school but did not think she had the talent. I thought otherwise, made the suggestion and she is currently trying to get her undergraduate degree as a prerequisite to law school. If successful, she should be taking the 2011 bar exam. She writes consistently to update me on her progress.

Best thing about teaching paralegals: Paralegal students seem to want to learn. Either they are on their way to law school and want to make sure that it is a good match or they have an interest in law and want to participate somehow. It is so rewarding to learn that one of my students has decided that law school is appropriate for him/her or that another student got the paralegal job they had wanted and they tell me I had something to do with that decision.

Advice for those entering the field: Recognize the importance of your field of work and apply yourself with virtue, ethics and passion. Such work is worthy of these traits.

Richard Valdez


Here's what his students say: Richard took the time to breakdown Legal Research into manageable and meaningful tasks. His willingness to help us succeed, and his availability to us after hours and during times of the week that we normally wouldn't see him, went above and beyond anything that I have ever experienced. I gained better organization skills, confidence, and patience with myself and owe a lot of that to Richard.

— Judy Miller, Fall Evening, 2002

Mr. Valdez was a true inspiration, had complete dedication and passion for what he was doing, and seemed genuinely interested in his students and community.

— Deanne Shearn, Fall Evening, 1998

Education and degrees:

University of California, San Diego, Bachelor of Arts Degree 1985, Major in Political Science, Minor in History

University of San Diego Paralegal Program - Certificate 1985

University of San Diego, School of Law, Juris Doctorate 1991

Area of practice: General Civil Litigation - Complex business and commercial disputes, product liability, disability access defense

Why do you teach in the USD Paralegal Program? I teach at the USD Paralegal Program because I believe in the program. As a graduate of the program, I have first hand knowledge of exactly what students can accomplish as a result of the skills and knowledge they will obtain through their courses. The skills I developed through the program enabled me to receive valuable paralegal experience. I believe by going through the program and having been a paralegal, I was better equipped as a law student, as a law clerk, and as an associate attorney with a well respected law firm. Therefore, I feel the Paralegal Program laid a solid foundation for my entire legal career and was that all-important first step toward having a satisfying career as an attorney. With knowledge of the value of the program and all the possibilities it creates, I am always energized by the teaching experience at this institution.

Most memorable classroom moment I cannot think of a single "most memorable moment," but have had many great moments in the classroom. I enjoy the moments when the students and I are able to exhibit our senses of humor with each other. My course is entitled "Legal Research and Writing," and, usually, isn't thought of as a subject that would lend itself to any sort of levity. So, keeping our senses of humor and having some fun together allows for a better classroom experience all around. Also, a very favorite moment is always when I can see students developing - asking solid questions, striving to understand and sincerely working toward improvement.

Best thing about teaching paralegals: The best thing about teaching paralegals is most definitely the relationships that I develop with my students. I find that the paralegal students are a group that is ready and excited to learn. They come into the program wanting to obtain the skills necessary to succeed. And, they are willing to put in the time and effort necessary to succeed. I am there to help them obtain the working knowledge to go into the workplace and be a valuable paralegal. I think that really allows us to develop a connection where they view me as a conduit to their learning and they energize me as I watch their incredible development.

Advice for those entering the field: I always tell my students that the most important factors in succeeding as a paralegal are professionalism and flexibility. I expect from my students what their employers will expect of them - to show up on time, work hard, and create a work product that is reflective of professional commitment. They must also learn to be flexible because the duties of a good paralegal are so varied. Learning to adapt to different types of cases and different expectations, with a constant professional commitment, will take any paralegal very far in their career.

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