We recently had the chance to talk to John C. Goudie, the president of the Paralegal Association of Wisconsin. In this interview we discussed some of the activities involved in working as a litigation paralegal, the paralegal job market, and advice for getting started in the paralegal field.
Can you describe your career path to your current position?
I started my career in 1987 working for a small personal injury firm. I was hired primarily because I had a medical background and could read and interpret medical records. Prior to the days of HIPAA, you could go to a hospital and review medical charts without an authorization. My attorney would have me review the records of prospective clients to determine whether we were interested in handling the injury claim. While with that firm I began assisting the attorney who did the Workers Compensation cases. When she left, I went through the process of becoming licensed to appear before the Workers Compensation Division and then continued to represent injured workers with that firm for the next 14 years. When I left that firm, I worked for the staff counsel office in liability and injury insurance defense for approximately three years, then went back to a plaintiff’s firm and worked in the area of nursing home negligence and abuse for approximately three years. I then went to work for a health insurer in the area of Privacy and Regulatory Compliance, working as the paralegal for the group that would work with development projects for compliance with privacy and regulatory issues, as well as working on investigations dealing with foreign assets issues. My present position in health care law and corporate compliance is a composite of skills and experience obtained in all of the above. (more…)
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. (more…)
We were very fortunate to have an opportunity to interview the President of the South Florida Paralegal Association, Karen R. George, FRP. She shared some great insights into her work, interesting cases she has worked on, and advice for getting hired in the paralegal field.
Can you describe how you got started in the paralegal field?
I began working as a paralegal in approximately 1994 while working for a large medical malpractice defense firm in Miami, Florida. At the time, I was working as a word processing supervisor and the AIDS cases started coming into the firm. Kimberly Shapiro, Esq. was the attorney assigned to defend these cases against the local blood banks and PPTF (Physicians Trust Fund) which was financial/insurance end of the local public hospital – Jackson Memorial Hospital. Kim, her husband Judge Sidney Shapiro and I were friends and I was fortunate enough that Kim chose me to work with her on these new cases. After working on those cases for a while, I began a paralegal certificate class at Florida International University however, a large trial took me away to another county for an extended time and school got lost in the shuffle.
Can you give example of what a day at work might be like for you?
There is no set day for a paralegal. In my case, I can open my e-mail at the office, receive an e-mail that will send me anywhere for any amount of time. I could end up at the Court, at a hospital, at a client's office, at one of our other offices, it could be anywhere. I could have a good day and be able to address what is in my in-box, discovery, motions, orders, research, it is difficult to know what is going to show up on a given day. Sometimes I end up translating from English to Spanish and vice-a-versa at some accident site. I wear many many hats as a paralegal for my firm. I am sorry I can't be more specific.
Can you share an interesting case or project that you worked on in your career that is particularly memorable? (more…)
We recently interviewed Barbara Liss, the president of the Santa Barbara Paralegal Association. She shared some great insights into the variety of tasks that a paralegal career may involve, what it is like to work on a trial, and advice for new paralegals looking for their first position.
How did you get started in the paralegal field?
When I first moved to California in 1972, I managed the apartment building in which I lived. The owner liked me and hired me to work in his office; after reorganizing it in short order, he ran out of work to give me, so introduced me to a friend, who was an attorney, just starting up a general solo practice after having made a mid-life career change. We learned procedural work together. When he left solo practice to accept a position with a large, downtown Los Angeles firm, I accompanied him — it was the mid-1970's and my title was then “legal secretary,” although much of what I did was paralegal work. Eventually, I took my first position as a paralegal, where the title was “pseudo-paralegal” because the firm was afraid to use the actual title.
After bouncing between legal secretary and legal assistant/paralegal jobs, I took the UCSB extension legal assistant program classes at night and acquired my certificate. When I started working in complex business trial litigation, I took the title “trial paralegal.” By the mid-1980's word processing and secretarial work were more specifically the realm of legal secretaries and word processors while working with evidence, discovery and witnesses in preparation for and attending trial were more clearly defined as paralegal work assignments, the field in which I worked. After 35 years of prepping for and attending complex civil litigation trials in state and federal courts, I changed the direction of my career and transitioned into Wills, Trusts, Probate and Estate Administration work, where I currently practice and have done so for the past five years. (more…)
We were very fortunate to have the opportunity to interview Mariana Fradman who is the President of the New York City Paralegal Association Inc. and an accomplished real estate paralegal who also holds a master's in business administration. We discussed what it was like to become a paralegal after immigrating from Ukraine, what her job is like, and her advice for paralegals.
Can you tell us what inspired you to go into the legal field and how you got your first job as a paralegal?
I would disappoint many people, but I wasn’t inspired by anything or anyone to go into the legal field. The legal field “found” me. After I finished English Second Language (ESL) course at New York Association for New Americans (NYANA), I was at a crosswalk: majority of immigrants from the former U.S.S.R. entered the computer science field or medical field. None of those appealed to me. I don’t like to deal with blood, bones and muscles and anatomy was never my favorite subject (although I was an A student :-)). I also was skeptical of how many programmers the country needed (had a good vision – remember dot.com?). So, I went to Long Island University (LIU) for another semester of English. In one of the classes I met a former psychiatrist from Kiev who gave me an advise: “Buy any newspaper, open “help wanted” section, close your eyes and put your finger on the page. Open your eyes and see what you picked. Go and learn the skill for one year. In a year, you will know if the choice was right or not, but for a year, you will be busy doing something and it would give you a piece of mind.” I didn’t follow his advise step by step, but went to a college’s admission office, walked to a display with brochures of different majors that were offered at that time and, with my eyes closed, picked one. It had information about the Paralegal Studies Program. (more…)
Jamie Collins generously agreed to participate in a paralegal career interview with us to share her experiences working as a paralegal at a personal injury law firm and her advice for being successful in this field. Jamie Collins is a litigation paralegal in Indiana with 14 years of experience and writes a column for the paralegal magazine KNOW. She is also the founder of The Paralegal Society, a mentorship and community site for paralegals.
Can you tell us why you chose to become a paralegal?
It was luck or fate, I’m not sure which. I interviewed at a small law firm on my birthday 14 years ago and landed my first legal job working as a part-time receptionist. They eventually offered to pay for a portion of my paralegal degree, so I took classes at a local college and worked three days per week. I continued to hone my paralegal skills and eventually, I was hired on full-time. I worked at that firm for 6 years and learned so much from the attorneys for whom I worked. It was an ideal fit for me.
I really enjoyed working in the paralegal realm and offering my expertise and skills to help people in their time of need. I really love what I do! I’m now fourteen years into my career and I still find it to be a challenging and extremely rewarding on a daily basis. Although luck or fate brought me into the legal profession, it is my passion for the paralegal field that keeps me here. I absolutely love it.
What was your experience like when attending college as a paralegal student?
I put the cart before the horse in the work/educational realm. I worked in a law firm for nearly two years prior to attending college to obtain my paralegal degree, so for me, it was a unique experience. I already knew much of what was being taught. It definitely made me a lot more confident as a paralegal student to already have a legal job and daily access to the “smart” attorneys I worked around if I had a question or needed to learn something new. I was more interested in learning all of the nuances of law because I knew the paralegal field was where I wanted to be. I enjoyed learning additional areas of law during my paralegal studies, but ultimately, realized I was already working in the area of law best suited for me: personal injury and wrongful death law. (more…)
Paralegal Career Advice from 17 Leaders in the Paralegal Community
We asked leaders in the paralegal profession to share the best career advice that they have ever received. Here are their responses:
I have been thinking back on all of my years as a paralegal, over 15, and the best piece of advice I have received came early in my career when I was told to “speak up”. Meaning that if the attorney you are working for is incorrect in any aspects, from procedures to laws, speak up. Our duties are not only to assist attorneys, but to keep them on the right track. This is especially true when you are a veteran paralegal and you are working for a green attorney.
-Donna C. Alderman ACP, President of the Mississippi Paralegal Association
I would say by far the best advice I have received is take five minutes in the midst of a hectic day and remember that things are not always as stressful as they seem. Maintaining perspective is important. When we paralegals are in our “work bubble” it can seem as though we will never be able to come up for air.
-LawSchoolDreamer, author of the blog A Paralegal's Journey to Lawyerhood
Don't ever hide a mistake; the sooner you admit it the better; never make excuses, and take responsibility.
-Maryanne Ebner, First Vice President of The Philadelphia Association of Paralegals
The best career advice I could give is to go the extra mile when it comes to your education. Obtain a certification, earn a diploma or degree. There are so many options now and convenient ways to do it. Your education will benefit you throughout your career.
-Nikki L. Campos, owner of TruE-Paralegal and Treasurer of the Central Nebraska Legal Professionals.
Always be organized – even when the unexpected happens. Keeping your composure in difficult and stressful situations is beneficial to you, your attorney, and your client. Let people know that you can be professional in any situation by the way you represent yourself at all times. Don't gossip about attorneys, staff, or other paralegals. It makes you look bad. “What is told in the ear of a man is often heard 100 miles away.” ~Chinese Proverb Keep learning! Things change — keep up with technology! Keep up with software (even if it is just knowing what is out there and being used). And finally, get involved! If you are making a career of being a paralegal – get involved in a local association, a local bar association, or a national organization. By being involved you can help shape the paralegal profession in your community and it creates great networking opportunities.
-Barbara A. Miller, 2nd Vice President of the Smoky Mountain Paralegal Association
The best advice I received was probably to be assertive in making sure expectations of your attorneys are clear. As a new paralegal, I was intimidated at the thought of asking follow up questions after an assignment had been made and I'd gone back to my office and begun my work only to realize I wasn't sure what I was supposed to do. Going right back to the attorney to clarify the instructions and expectations is the only thing to do to accomplish the task in a timely and efficient manner. The attorney will appreciate you for doing that rather than wasting time trying to figure out what he or she meant on your own and guessing wrong requiring work to be re-done.
-Tammie Pope, Board Member of the Palmetto Paralegal Association
The very best advice I received early on in my career was triple fold: 1) Own your files. From the very beginning get to know all the details of the case and build from there. 2) Dig in, dig deep and stay organized; and 3 (and what I think is the most important) keep the lines of communication open with your attorney.
-Vickie Baker, Board Member of the Palmetto Paralegal Association
I was told to find an area of the law that I enjoyed and stick with it. Do not try and be a jack of all trades and master of none. Find something, do it, get great at it.
-Shawn Hartman, Chair of Probates/Estate at the Massachusetts Paralegal Association
Learn everything you can and try different things.
-Mario Kiefer, President of the San Francisco Paralegal Association (more…)
We had the great opportunity to interview Lynda Cmara, a paralegal at the law firm Johnson, Dowe, Brown & Barbarotta in Windsor, Connecticut and President of the New Haven County Association of Paralegals. Lynda shared career advice for new paralegals and the most important thing that she learned in college.
Why did you decide to become a paralegal?
I was working in real estate department of a major New England bank when I started looking into becoming a paralegal. It was during a time when banks were either failing or merging and I wanted a career path that would provide more stable employment opportunities. I was also considering relocation to Oregon and I thought being a paralegal would be a great choice. The skills possessed by a paralegal could be easily transferred no matter what part of the country I worked in.
Are there any specific education requirements for becoming a paralegal in the State of Connecticut?
Although Connecticut has no specific educational requirements at this time, most employers look for the following criteria: (more…)
We recently had the great privilege of discussing the paralegal profession with Rachel Nesbit, a paralegal at Heilman Law Group in Jackson, Mississippi and Vice President of the Mississippi Paralegal Association. In the following interview, Rachel shares valuable insights on what it is like to be a paralegal at a law firm and great career advice for new paralegals.
1. Can you summarize for our audience what the main requirements are for becoming a paralegal in the state of Mississippi?
The requirements for becoming a paralegal in Mississippi can vary greatly depending on the type of work you will be doing. Larger firms and government positions may require formal educational training, while smaller firms may not be as stringent and would consider in-house training. The most common ways to become a paralegal are:
– BS Degree in Paralegal Studies from a 4-year college or university;
– AAS Degree in Paralegal Technology from a 2-year community college;
– Paralegal Certificate from a 4-year college or university for those who have a BS or BA Degree in another subject. The Certificate program is typically 30-hours of Paralegal classes; or
– In-house training. (more…)
We recently interviewed Stacey G. Hunt, the president of the Central Coast Paralegal Association in California to learn about how to become a paralegal in California and advice on having a successful career in the paralegal field.
Can you summarize the requirements for becoming a paralegal in California?
California law provides three paths to become a paralegal: (1) a certificate of completion from an ABA-approved paralegal program; (2) a certificate of completion of a paralegal program or degree from an accredited postsecondary institution that requires the successful completion of at least 24 semester units in law-related courses; or (3) a baccalaureate degree or an advanced degree on any subject plus a minimum of one year of law related experience under the supervision on a California lawyer who has been practicing at least three years. California paralegals must complete four hours of general law CLE and four hours of ethics CLE every two years. (more…)