John Seegrist finds new opportunities with MLS degree

RES GESTAE | Spring 2024
A teaching opportunity at Salt Lake Community College led to a new career
by Angela Turnbow

John Seegrist, a middle-aged white man with short gray hair wearing a navy blue suit and leaning against a white brick buildingJohn Seegrist (’21 MLS) spent the majority of his career in healthcare administration—traveling all over, managing claim processing and customer service, and acquiring a solid background in legal compliance. He excelled at making money for big companies.

Seegrist began the Master of Legal Studies program (MLS) in fall 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic. At the time, he was the operations director for Willis Towers Watson and thought the knowledge would be beneficial to his career, but he never had any intention of changing directions once he graduated.

“I love going to school and have a lot of industry designations, so I’m always working on something or another,” Seegrist says. “I heard about the degree, and I figured it would benefit my career. I would learn more, and it sounded enjoyable—it’s a wonderful program. I had no intention of changing careers or doing anything different.”

However, Seegrist soon found himself wanting to help and interact more with people.

“I thought I’d really like to do something where I actually feel like I’m helping an individual rather than just managing lots of processes. For me, it was more than just a changing career. It was a change in what I wanted to work with and how I felt on things,” he says.

The ball started rolling when his MLS professor for legal ethics, Sharee Laidlaw, encouraged Seegrist to begin teaching in the legal studies department at Salt Lake Community College. It turned out to be a good fit for him.

“I’ve been teaching ever since in their paralegal studies program and really enjoy it. It’s kind of why I’ve changed direction. This was a nice fit. I really want more human connections than what I’ve had, and this really gives that. And I really like the idea of increasing access to justice,” Seegrist says.

Seegrist expanded his teaching load to include courses for the licensed paralegal practitioner (LPP) program offered through Utah Valley University and recently began teaching a legal studies course at the state prison in the women’s unit.

In addition, he volunteers at Timpanogos Legal Center, and now works at the firm Ascent Law in West Jordan, Utah, as a paralegal working toward his LPP licensure in family law.

“I want to do more in family law—it’s one of the three areas for the LPPs that are licensable—because it has the most impact. I enjoy working at Ascent Law, where I get the hands-on experience,” Seegrist says.

LPPs can also be licensed to practice in debt collection under the small claims limit and landlord/tenant law for forcible entry and detainer. Once Seegrist passes the LLP exam, he will be hired as an associate at Ascent Law.

“As an LPP, I can take the cases that don’t require a heavy involvement, and that’s a good thing for people who need that kind of service. It keeps the cost down. You don’t need to spend $300-$350 an hour to have somebody draft a petition. A lot of that work is done by paralegals anyway. Interviewing, preparing those documents, submitting them, signing them—that can easily be done by an LPP in their area of specialty,” Seegrist explains.

Seegrist has high hopes for the LPP program to grow in Utah and increase access to justice. He sits on the steering committee for the LPP program with the Supreme Court committee.

“Our role is to look at the rules and make recommendations to the Supreme Court on where the program needs to go. If we’re pushing for access to justice, the LPPs are a good way to do so and to move that forward,” Seegrist says. “We have a lot of very competent paralegals out there—a lot of wonderful ones. But they can’t practice law or meet with individuals to give them recommendations based on their individual situations. However, if they become an LPP, then that opens up more possibilities.”

While Seegrist never planned on the new opportunities available to him with an MLS degree, he certainly has found them—and with them, some valuable insight.

“All law depends on the situation, where it is, and having a better view. If you don’t understand it, you can’t interpret it,” Seegrist says. “That’s one of the bigger values of getting the MLS degree. It helps you understand that the law is flexible and is applied to every situation within parameters. Maybe that’s one of the best things—it’s very flexible and it’s accommodating. It’s not restricting unless you don’t understand it.”