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?
There are many. I have worked on the McDuffy trials in Miami – this was in the late 1970's causing a riot that burned down the city. The case involved a black man shot by police officers on a dark and lonely road in Overtown Miami.
I worked on the Miami River Cops case which involved crooked police officers;
I worked on the Gold Bullion case involving two brothers who conned many people out of their money by selling them fake gold bullion;
I worked on the initial closings of all of the Art Deco hotels in South Beach;
I worked on the case involving Emil Gould v. City of Coral Gables – a few acres in a very exclusive area of Coral Gables essentially “assumed” by the City of Coral Gables even though it was titled and owned outright by Emil Gould. Mr. Gould won a 3.5 million award agains the City on that one.
I have worked on various product liability cases involving air planes, tires, motor vehicles, etc. I have worked on many toxic tort cases involving carbon monoxide and Dow Chemical fertilizer in Costa Rica.
I have worked on many interesting and varied cases throughout my many years in the legal profession as a paralegal, as a secretary, as a word processor and as a runner.
What skills or qualities do you think are the most helpful for paralegals to possess to find employment in Florida and have successful careers?
EXPERIENCE in a law office/law firm setting. The experience does not have to be AS A PARALEGAL, it can be as anything in the legal setting. It is ESSENTIAL. I had a telephone conference with Judge Farina of the 11th Circuit today regarding paralegals and we touched on this need for experience and he summed it up perfectly – it is a matter of proactive versus reactive. I think that's what he said, I told him to write it down for me and e-mail it to me because it was great. What I suggest is not just for Florida it is for new/ aspiring paralegals across the country.
Also, JOIN A PROFESSIONAL ASSOCIATION. This will give the newer paralegals / aspiring paralegals the opportunity to hear working paralegals, ask questions, get answers from those in the trenches. Can't put enough emphasis on joining an association.
What do you enjoy most about working as a paralegal?
The variety and challenges. Can't beat it with a stick. I love what I do though I sometimes complain.
What are the requirements for working as a paralegal in Florida? Do you recommend any additional paralegal certifications for new paralegals to pursue?
There are no 'REQUIREMENTS” to work as a paralegal in Florida. However, Florida does have the Florida Registered Paralegal (FRP) program which is overseen by The Florida Bar based on a Florida Supreme Court Order dated November 15, 2007, directing the Fla. Bar to accept application from and over see paralegals who qualify for FRP designation based on the conditions of Rule 20. This gets a bit complicated but if you go on the Florida Bar website and look up FRP Committee it should direct you to a full copy of the present Rule 20 (there have been changes since November 15, 2007) and the requirements/conditions of holding that designation.
Also, National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) has a Certified Paralegal (CP) designation which is not REQUIRED but sought after by employers. The National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) has a Registered Paralegal (RP) designation which is not Required but is sought after by employers. Finally, there are others including NFPA's CRP designation which is new and for recent graduates. You can go on the NFPA website for specific details on their CRP, I am not that familiar with it yet as it is very new.
What is the job market like in your area in terms of demand for paralegals?
There is definitely a demand for EXPERIENCED paralegals who are bi-lingual (sometimes). The big deal is experience and then if you have a Certified paralegal (CP) or RP or FRP designation as well that ups your chances and salary range. Bilingual is good but not as essential as it used to be. Bilingualism will also depend on what type of work you would be doing.
We thank President George for sharing her valuable insights and advice. For additional information on paralegal careers visit our paralegal career center.