After working as a paralegal for 22 years, Rebecca Penar (J.D. ’23) decided to finally take the leap she had been thinking about on and off for years and attend law school. What inspired her was the birth of her son and wanting to be the best version of herself she could be for him and her family. Penar started at GSU Law when he was under two years old and had another baby on the way.
While she is confident about her decision to follow through with her dream of becoming a lawyer, she credits the part-time program at Georgia State Law with the only way it would have been possible for her growing family. That, along with not wanting to leave her job as a paralegal at CARE, Penar has nearly perfected work, life, and school balance. Here, she discusses how she’s able to manage it all and how she plans to use her degree once she graduates from Georgia State Law.
Tell me a little about CARE and your position with the non-profit:
CARE was founded in 1945 and we work in 90 countries around the world, assisting people both with long-term solutions to poverty and humanitarian assistance as a result of natural disasters and political situations. I’m in the in-house legal department. It’s a team of four and I am the only paralegal. I do intellectual property and immigration work and I also manage our global ethics hotline.
What is an example of something you’ve recently assisted with?
CARE has had a presence in Afghanistan since 1961 and we have a lot of staff there. With the recent political situation in Afghanistan, our staff had a lot of questions and started reaching out to us for support as the situation became more dire. In August, the U.S. government put into place a new program for non-governmental organization workers to obtain priority status as part of the U.S. refugee resettlement program. The program requires a lot of documentation and verifications, but we had no process or resources in place.
I put together a system to process employee referrals to the program and managed dozens of staff members who volunteered to step away from their regular jobs to support our Afghan colleagues. It’s been a heavy lift on our end, but receiving emails from people you don’t know personally who need answers or resources and support, and being able to provide that level of support to them, I think has meant a lot to them and it’s meant a lot to us to make it happen.
How has attending Georgia State Law helped with your career so far?
My hope is to stay at CARE and move into an associate general counsel role, so it’s great to be able to choose electives that in are line with what I need to be focusing on. For example, I took a class about the role of in-house counsel this summer and one of the topics we covered was how to handle a crisis. There have been crises before in my 11 years at CARE, but never have I been a part of a crisis team until Afghanistan. So learning how crises are handled from a business perspective then applying that knowledge a few months later was amazing to see.
Are you happy with your decision to attend GSU Law?
Absolutely. Having the part-time program is the only way attending law school would have worked for my family and me. Even with all I have going on, I am still able to get a great student experience. For instance, I am on the executive board for Parents Attending Law School which is a great support network for parents. I am also a mentor for incoming 1L’s, which I love because I can help be a resource for students as they start their own journey here at the College of Law.
Interview by Mara Thompson