Paralegal specializes in Michigan Drain Law and real estate


By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

An undergrad business law course at Central Michigan University piqued Cheryl Nodarse’s interest in a legal career, but she wasn’t sure law school was the right move.

“An adviser suggested the burgeoning field of paralegal—a profession I’d never heard of—and I knew that would be my future,” she says.

Over the past 30-plus years as a paralegal, Nodarse has worked in a number of different specialties, ranging from several years in securities litigation to construction law to grant administration for a conservation easement program. In her current position as an advanced certified paralegal at Vlahakis Cole Law Firm in East Lansing, the focus is Michigan Drain Law and real estate.

While Michigan paralegals are not required to become certified, in the late 1980s through early ‘90s Nodarse lived in West Palm Beach, Fla., where she worked for Gunster, Yoakley, Criser, & Stewart. The market trend for large firms was to require paralegals to have a degree in the field and certification through the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA).

“I buckled down, studied for months, and successfully completed NALA’s certification exam on the first try in 1990,” she says. “To this day, the pass rate for the multi-day exam is only about 40 percent.”

NALA, which represents more than 18,000 members and affiliate members, nationwide, has been part of Nodarse’s professional development for over 29 years. When given the opportunity to serve on NALA’s Board in 2013 through an unopposed election on its Board of Directors, Nodarse jumped at the opportunity and has been serving as a NALA volunteer in various capacities since that time.

Last year, she declared for candidacy as NALA treasurer and was faced with a campaign against three other accomplished paralegals from around the country. She was elected, and this year is running unopposed for a second term.

“My time with NALA has been an amazing opportunity to be on the forefront of issues and trends affecting all paralegals,” she says. “It’s a responsibility I take seriously.”

Certified paralegals are required to take continuing legal education to maintain their credential, and Nodarse completed the Advanced Certification course in Land Use and Municipal Law, enhancing her knowledge of the firm’s practice area. Her specialized training also includes courses from the Michigan State University Institute of Watershed Training and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality in grant writing and administration.

In 2017, attorney Alexis Vlahakis Cole—now owner of the firm where Nodarse works— encouraged Nodarse to obtain her real estate license so the two could partner in real estate listings under the Vlahakis Homes company.

“Being a closet HGTV junkie, I jumped at the opportunity,” Nodarse says. “While being a realtor is not a full-time endeavor for me, it’s fun and rewarding to work on the real estate deals, helping clients to build their futures in an entirely different way than my career as a paralegal has provided.”

In the not too distant past, Nodarse served on the boards/council for the Great Lakes Paralegal Association and State Bar of Michigan Paralegal/Legal Assistant Section. She also enjoys volunteering on committees with the Michigan Association of County Drain Commissioners, an organization representing many of the Vlahakis Cole Law Firm’s clients; and is a member of the Lansing Community College Paralegal Program Advisory Committee.

“My husband says I’ve never met a volunteer opportunity I didn’t take—he has a point,” she says with a smile. “Is there such a condition as ‘chronic volunteer?’ If so, I might have it.”

Nodarse has spoken at numerous paralegal conferences and events over the years, including most recently at the State Bar Paralegal/Legal Assistant Section’s Annual Day of Education held May 31 in Dearborn. She also has authored several articles in NALA’s bi-monthly Facts & Findings magazine.

A native of St. Johns, north of Lansing, after college and five years in Florida, Nodarse and her husband Ruben returned to her hometown to start and raise a family. She has served as a member and fundraiser with the St. Johns City Park “Fantasy Forest” Playground Committee, was an active member of the St. Johns High School Band Boosters, and frequently volunteered for various school and community events.

“Now our kids are grown and living in Ann Arbor and Detroit but we remain in the little hometown—it’s an easy commute to East Lansing for me, and even closer to the school where my husband teaches high school Spanish and athletic training,” she says.

“When not working or volunteering, I love to travel, read, and hang out with my kids whenever we can see them. We’ve also just adopted a rescue dog, ‘Tank,’ a West Highland Terrier who surprisingly fits his name.”