We recently had the great opportunity to interview Kristine M. Custodio, the current president of the San Diego Paralegal Association. We discussed what it is like to work as a litigation paralegal, advice for getting started in the paralegal field, and the job market in San Diego for paralegals.
Can you tell us why you decided to become a paralegal?
I did not originally plan to become a paralegal. In 1998, I received a bachelor’s degree from the California State University Long Beach in Human Development with an emphasis in physical therapy and was planning to obtain my graduate degree in the field when my mother became ill. I returned to San Diego that same year where I succeeded my mother as the administrator to my family’s residential facility for adults with developmental disabilities. I am still involved with my family’s business to this day.
Upon returning to San Diego, I worked at a design firm for four years where I received marketing and design experience. At the same time, I began taking classes to obtain my paralegal certificate from the University of California at San Diego Extension’s ABA-approved paralegal program. Even as a small child, I had been obsessed with the pursuit of justice, so I thought I would do well in this field.
After I received my paralegal certificate, I was hired in 2003 at the San Diego firm Butterfield Schechter LLP as a file clerk and just a few months later, was promoted to paralegal.
Can you provide a timeline of a recent day in the office for you?
I am the sole litigation paralegal for my firm. I also manage the firm’s pension practice. The first thing I do when I come into the office is check all my e-mails and voice mails. I then check the firm’s calendar. I lead Monday morning team meetings to plan collateral resources for the week to complete our projects for that particular week. At any given time, I am drafting correspondence or a variety of case documents to progress our cases. I also assist with training our staff and meeting with our legal administrator on various projects such as business development plans and other projects we may have for our other practice areas. I am involved in many aspects of my firm.
What are your favorite activities that you spend time on at your job?
I enjoy researching the most and also case planning. I like to have a big picture of where we are going with a case, so I enjoy discussing case strategy with my attorneys as well.
What are your observations of the job market for paralegals in the San Diego area? Are there any specific types of paralegals that are in greater demand?
San Diego has small, tight-knit legal community. Attending networking events and meeting people in the field are important. If you plan to be in the legal field, do your homework. Read everything that you can to familiarize yourself with the legal community, cases, news and events. It seems that litigation paralegals are typically in demand.
What advice would you give to paralegal students or new graduates for breaking into the paralegal field?
Be prepared to start at a very entry level position. Your work ethic speaks volumes in establishing your credibility and building trust with your attorney and team. I started as a file clerk in my office and worked my way up. It was one of the best things I could have done. I learned so much about how my firm operates, our practice areas, the clients, etc. It is the reason that I am so effective at my job today.
What can paralegals do to improve their career prospects or be highly effective in this career?
A strong work ethic and conducting yourself with character, integrity and professionalism are essential in advancing in the profession. Always ask what more you can do to help.
Thanks very much to President Custodio for being so generous with her time and sharing her valuable insights. Visit our paralegal career center for additional paralegal resources and interviews.
Interview conducted by Charles Sipe.