Beyond the Law Firm: Paralegals in Non-Traditional Roles

Paralegals are making powerful impact on the world around them. Join Dr. Toni Marsh, the Director of the Master’s in Paralegal Studies program at the George Washington University, along with David King, and Christina Cope as they explore this topic in our upcoming webinar titled, “Beyond the Law Firm: Paralegals in Non-Traditional Roles”.

Dr. Toni Marsh is the Director of the Master’s in Paralegal Studies program at the George Washington University.
Christina Cope is the owner of Cope Litigation Support.
David King is the Director of Recruiting for Tower Legal Solutions.


[Start of recorded material 00:03:30]

Kira: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to the George Washington University’s Master’s in Paralegal Studies online webinar. And thank you for taking the time to join us for the hour. My name is Kira, and I will be your moderator for today. We are very excited as we welcome from Washington, D.C., Dr. Toni Marsh, and panellist, Christina Cope, and David king, who will be presenting the webinar titled: Paralegals Beyond the Law Firm.

Before we begin, I would like to go through a few housekeeping items. The presentation is currently being recorded. So, I would encourage for all participants to place their phone lines on “Listen Only” mode. Please place your lines on mute and communicate with me by typing in the chat box founded on the bottom right hand corner of your screen. This will ensure a smoother line of communication where all questions can be addressed directly through the chat function. Also, please feel free to forward any question you may have while the webinar is in progress via the chat box. And we, the panellist, will be going through all of your questions in the order asked at the end of the presentation during our Q and A session. If we are unable to get to your questions by the end of the hour, we will be in touch with you at a later time. Also, the enrolment advisor will be happy to follow-up with you after the webinar on any program related questions.

Now, let’s introduce you to our speakers. First, we have Professor Toni Marsh, who is the Founding Director of the George Washington University Paralegal Studies program. An Associate Sean and an Associate Professor of Paralegal Studies. She designed and launched the paralegal studies program at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. And designed the first ever formal paralegal program in the Nation of Tanzania at the University of Bagamoyo. Professor Marsh presents regularly on unauthorized practice of law, paralegal utilization, and is using paralegals to increase access to justice. She has practiced criminal and juvenile law for 19 years. And is the author of “Juvenile Law” published in 2006. She graduated with a J.D. from Cleveland Marshall College of Law and also Cleveland State University with a Bachelor of English.

Our next speaker is Christina Cope, who is the owner of Cope Litigation Support. Christina worked as a legal assistant at the Utah County Public Defender Association. And as a paralegal at Heideman & Associates before starting her own firm, and working as a freelance paralegal. And finally with us today is David King, who is the Director of Recruiting for Tower Legal Solutions. David started as a senior paralegal at Steptoe & Johnson before moving onto the corporate world. He worked as a Recruiter at Clutch Legal Services moving up until he was Assistant Vice President of Recruiting. And then moving onto becoming Director of Recruiting at Tower. And now I invite Dr. Marsh to begin our presentation.

Dr. Marsh: Hi, everybody. And thank you so much Kira for that introduction. And thank you to everyone for joining us. I am delighted to be here. And I am delighted to speak to you today about the paralegal profession, something that is very dear to my heart. As Kira mentioned, I have been in the profession, actually a little longer. I need to update that bio because I’ve actually been in the profession for 25 years, not 19 anymore. So, I don’t know how that number got out there. But anyway, it’s been a long, long, long time. And when I graduated from law school way back in 1990, I started immediately teaching paralegal studies on the side. So, it just so happened that when I graduated from law school, I looked in my local newspaper. They were advertising for a they needed an adjunct professor at a local community college.

I got that position and started teaching paralegal while I was practicing law during the day; I was teaching paralegals in the evening. And I never stopped. I love the profession. I love paralegals. I love educating. And so, I ended up just staying involved in the paralegal profession throughout my career. And eventually, even quit practicing. I barely practiced anymore. I only do a little bit of pro bono work. But, don’t even practice anymore. Now, I’m just a full time educator and really involved in the paralegal profession.

And so, all of that is to say that I’ve been around the profession for a long time. And I have seen it go through some major changes. So, in the olden days, before there even was a paralegal profession, there were secretaries. Then secretaries would work at law firms. They would get jobs at law firms and they would kind of learn the ways of the law firms. And then they would become legal secretaries. And those legal secretaries got even more savvy and sophisticated. And learned things about how rules work or even when to file things. And they came to be known as what we know call “paralegals”.

But the profession and that was about the mid 70′s, when we really got a profession that was what we now call paralegal. Although, in the 70′s, and all the way up, really, to the mid 2000′s, there wasn’t even an agreement on what to call this profession. So, some people called them paralegals. Some called them legal assistants. Some called them legal secretaries. Other people called them, whatever, docketing clerks or whatever. They made up their own names for this position. But in about the mid 2000′s, around 2005 2006, it came to be pretty universally recognized. The name “Paralegal” came to be universally used.

So, and the profession has evolved tremendously, not just in what we call them. But in the scope and the breadth and the depth of the duties that these people perform. So, in the paralegal profession, now, is highly substantive. The people who practice, the people who work in this profession are contributing members of legal teams. And it’s really interesting. I just got off of a conference call not an hour ago with the Department of Justice. And we were talking about a number of things. But one of the things we talked about was their need to begin educating their paralegals in an entirely different fashion because they want their paralegals to do much more substantive work. And that’s typical. I see that everywhere I go.

So, paralegals are doing substantive, challenging work. They are contributing members of the legal teams that they’re in. And they are doing a lot more independent work. They always work under the supervision of attorneys, but they’re doing much more independent work within that framework. So, what’s happened, because this new profession is so much bigger, so much more prestigious, so much more exciting, so much more challenging than it ever was before, a new type of paralegal has come to be part of that profession, all right?

So, again, back in the old and olden days, these people would graduate from high school and could call themselves paralegals. Now, technically, legally, you can still do that. I mean, technically, you don’t need any kind of licensing to be a paralegal. And so, anybody who can get a job as a paralegal and can call themselves paralegals can be one. But in reality, in practice, it doesn’t work that way. In practice nowadays, because the paralegal role is so important and so challenging and so substantive. And because it requires problem solving, critical thinking, independent work skills, leadership abilities. You know, paralegals are doing real research, real writing. They’re talking to clients, they’re not advising clients, that’s only the lawyers. But they’re educating clients, they’re managing clients, they’re writing. They’re presenting orally to groups of lawyers, to groups of paralegals, to members of the public.

Because they’re doing so much more, the profession has come now to absolutely demand a much different paralegal. So, it’s a new paralegal profession and it’s really a new paralegal. So, paralegals, nowadays, are highly educated. At the very least, they’ve got a college degree. And most have a college degree plus a graduate certificate or a master’s degree of some sort. These are people who have chosen the career. So, you remember me saying a little bit earlier that, you know, you kind of became a secretary and you learned a little bit about the law. Or you got a job at the law firm. So, you kind of called yourself a legal secretary. And then you learned a little more. And then you kind of call yourself a paralegal. That’s not the way anymore. People don’t just, sort of, casually fall into the profession anymore.

Nowadays, people choose the profession. They choose it. Many people choose it right out of college. Like, they go to college because they want to be paralegals. They are you know, this is their career path. And again, I’ve been in this business a long, long, long time. Twenty five years ago, most of my student body was your mid career professionals who were changing tracks. So, they’ve been in the banking industry, or they were in the HR industry, or they were teachers. Or they were something and then they, you know, heard that the paralegal that you know, paralegal profession, that it was a good job. That there was a lot of job security. That there was a lot of work that paid well. And so, they said, “Oh, let me give that a try.” And they would, sort of, again, kind of casually choose it.

It’s not like that anymore. Nowadays, people are beginning college thinking “I want to be a paralegal.” They’re choosing the career. And they’re staying with the career. Now, we’re going to talk today about people who have chosen non traditional paths. But they’re still within this sort of realm, this paralegal realm. And even that’s limited. I mean, I should qualify that by saying that some people leave this paralegal profession and go completely out of the legal profession. But we’ll get to that in a few minutes.

But the point is, people are entering this career and they’re make prognosis a career out of it. They don’t want to be lawyers. They’re not on their way to Law School. Now, I do get a couple of people like that. But for the most part, these are people who have chosen the paralegal profession and they’re going to stay with it. And my students are getting younger. They’re coming to me right out of college. Again, when I say me, I’m talking about here at GW, where I run the program here. The students are getting younger and it’s skewing that way all over the country as well.

So, again, people are realizing what a great career it is. They’re choosing it intentionally. They’re choosing it for life, or at least for a long time. And so, they are taking whatever steps are necessary to really excel and lead in the profession. So, as I said, they’re getting post baccalaureate certificates or masters degrees because they really want the skill, knowledge and abilities that will help them to lead and to excel in that field. What’s really interesting is that a lot of the skills that go along with becoming a great paralegal are really good core transferable skills. And I’ll explain that in a little bit more detail in just a moment. But as I said in the last slide, the model, the career for paralegals is changing. We’ve got a changing paralegal model. They’ve got greatly expanded responsibilities.

There is very little, in the entire legal university, that paralegals cannot do. There are only a couple of things that they can’t do. They can’t accept the case on behalf of a client. They can’t set the fees. They can’t take a deposition. They can’t sign a legal pleading. So, they can’t actually sign a complaint that’s going to be filed in the Court. But they can certainly sign letters and other things. They can draft that pleading. They just can’t sign it. They can’t advocate in a courtroom. They can’t actually advocate in trial. So, they can’t be the person who is standing there in front of the bench, arguing to the judge or questioning the witness.

Again, they can do anything else. They can do all of the trial preparation. They can manage the documents. They can do the research, the drafting. They can attend scheduling meetings. They can manage the clients and then educate and inform the clients and the parties and the witnesses. They just can’t be the person standing up there asking questions of the witness and arguing to the judge. And again, even that’s qualified a little bit because they can do that in certain administrative hearings. And then they can’t give legal advice. And by giving legal advice, giving legal advice means: Exercising independent judgment over a set of facts and circumstances so as to alter the legal standing of a lay person. It’s a very narrow definition. And that’s what they can’t do.

But everything else that you can think of in the whole legal universe, they can do. And clients, law firms, corporations and the public are realizing that. They’re coming to really appreciate how very much paralegals can do. And they are letting paralegals do more. So, the clients are demanding it, right? They’re saying, “I want paralegals in there that are doing this work.” The law firms love having the paralegals do much more work because it makes the firm run much more efficiently. Same thing with corporate law departments. Corporate law departments don’t bill by the hour. So, it’s really in their best interest to be as efficient as possible. And paralegals help these corporations run efficiently. And the public is understanding that paralegals can really help them increase their access to justice.

So, all of this leads to a much more highly educated paralegal who possesses, as I said, these core transferable skills. So, a good paralegal who’s gone to a good program. A good university. Again, GW’s got a great program. But there are a million other great programs out there. Okay, maybe not quite a million. But there is several hundred great programs out there that all give paralegals the same core set of good skills. Writing, crucial skill. Oral presentation, critical thinking, analysis, problem solving, strategizing, communicating with clients and lawyers. So, the set of core skills. The ability to operate ethically and professionally. Time management, the ability to prioritize and manage your own time. The ability to work in a team and to lead a team. So, to be a team member, but also to lead a team. These are all the skills that great paralegals who go to great educational institutions possess.

And that core set of skills, yes, it helps you be a great paralegal, but it also would help you be a great recruiter or a great independent business person. Or a great medical profession. So, this core set of skills that paralegals possess just by lucky coincidence, happens to be the core set of skills that you really need to succeed in many, many businesses. So, in many, many fields. So, this is how the model has changed. And this is what enables great paralegals or paralegals who have been educated at great institutions, to go on and expand into other industries and then into other fields. And succeed in those fields.

So, traditional paralegals also, again, this is just sort of expanding on what I just got done saying. You know, the traditional paralegal roles has them doing and when I say traditional, I don’t mean old fashion. I mean what you’re thinking of as a classic paralegal. When you think of a paralegal who works in a law firm as a paralegal, or works in corporate law department as a paralegal or in a government agency. You know, this is what I’m talking about. I’m talking about, you know, just the classic. When you think of a paralegal, this is what you’re thinking of. Lots of research, print and electronic, lots of drafting, lots of writing, lots of technology. So, in the firm and in the corporate law department, paralegals are really driving and leading the technology. And again, those communication skills. They tend to be paralegals tend to be great communicators, great networkers. So again, these traditional paralegal roles, these comprise that core set of skills that transfer so beautifully into other professions.

So, with that, I’m going to now segue. And I’m going to although, they’ve been introduced to you earlier, I’m going to just quickly reintroduce to you, again. We’re going to have 2 people speaking to you today: David King and Christina Cope. So, David King, he started out as a paralegal at a great law firm. A big law firm. Did beautifully and advanced through the law firm. Became a Senior Paralegal and then went on to become Director of Recruiting at Tower Legal services. So, he’s no longer working as a paralegal at all. He’s got an entirely different job, although it’s related to the paralegal world and I’ll let him expand upon that. And then after David speaks to you for a few minutes, you’re going to hear from Christina Cope. And Christina Cope is working as a paralegal. So, she’s doing that traditional paralegal role. But she’s a freelance paralegal. So, she’s not only a paralegal, but she’s also an independent business woman. She owns and runs her own business. And she’ll talk to you a little bit about how that goes. So, with that, I’m going to turn it over to David King and then David, when you’re done, if you’ll just turn it over to Christina.

David: Great. Hello, everyone. As Toni mentioned, I’m David King. I’m the Director of Recruiting for Tower Legal Solutions. We are a full service legal solutions and staffing company headquartered out of New York City with offices in Washington, D.C. where I am based. Along with Charlotte, North Carolina, Minneapolis, Dallas and Los Angeles. As Toni mentioned, I did have a very exciting career as a paralegal working for an Am Law 100 law firm by the name of Steptoe & Johnson at a very exciting time in the IP litigation world. And one of the interesting things, from my perspective, as it regards to my career and progression, is that I came to the paralegal position, somewhat in the way Toni mentioned, is no longer the way people do this. I actually was a mid career professional that decided to change tracks and pursue, what I thought was the next great opportunity for me in the legal industry without having to go to law school. So, prior to my tenure at Steptoe & Johnson, I had had a career in procurement, which was basically retail-buying for a Fortune 500 company. As well as some time that I spent in the finance and revenue department of a tech company.

I was an analyst and it was an exciting job. But it was very one dimensional. And that was through the late 90′s and early 2000′s. And I made the decision to change gears. And so, I found myself with an opportunity to become a paralegal and chose to take it. I became a litigation paralegal at Steptoe & Johnson. And I was hired by a fantastic paralegal manager that recognized how important and beneficial transferable skills are to any paralegal program. And so, at the time I joined the firm, I was included in a very large litigation matter that was the first of its kind. It was a gray market trademark case that actually went from administrative hearing at a government agency, the International Trade Commission, and went all the way to a petition at the Supreme Court, which is a very rare track for any case to actually make it.

And I had the pleasure, over the course of 4 years, of working on that case all the way to the end. Which is, I think, something I’ll never forget. In that process, I was able to move up to the senior paralegal level. I functioned as the case manager for the IP litigation practice at that time. And most of our work involved patent infringement cases. Functioning as a paralegal case manager drew upon a number of skills that most paralegals need but don’t often have the opportunity to function in because the role is more substantive than it was administrative. And so, for me, I think of it as the most exciting and dynamic position of my career. Including, as compared to what I’m doing now as a recruiter, the time that I spent in a law firm developed me in such a way that I really had the confidence to consider I could run a business unit anywhere. And understanding our topic of discussion today, the paralegal role and the skills that are developed there serve anyone in a law firm or in their career after the law firm because the discipline that you develop and the skills that you have that are transferable; really do equip you to be able to function in almost any arena. Short of anything that would require significant substantive knowledge such as a medical practice.

I really do have the belief that paralegals can do anything. And I also know to believe that once a paralegal, always a paralegal. So, although I am no longer functioning as a paralegal, I still wear that hat and consider myself as such. So, after my time at the law firm, I was looking for an opportunity to make a change. If any of you have worked in litigation practices at a firm, I think you all would understand that the billable hours that are required in support of the client’s needs can be exhausting and life changing and draining. Annualized I had a couple of years where I billed out 27 hundred hours in that year physically. And that’s pretty much at the high end of what most paralegal would work. That recognizes weeks where we were at trial. We were working 80 hours a week. There were weeks where we worked overnight, 36 hour stretches, just to get the work done and prepare for the next hearing day. So, for me, that was a very robust and exciting time. But something that, for me, was not stainable with where I wanted to take my career.

So, I actually was recruited to become a recruiting paralegal. Or a paralegal that recruited other paralegals for a small boutique agency here in Washington, D.C. And the president of that agency contacted me and caught me at a really interesting moment and said, you know, “I’d like to know if you’d ever think about something different connected to the law, connected to legal practice but something different.” And we had a conversation. And the short end of that story is that I did make the decision to leave the firm and become a recruiter. And in that transition, I was able to demonstrate and prove the transferable skills that I had, both going into my paralegal role and coming out of it. So, that I was able to be assistant managing director of the organization as well as the assistant vice president of recruiting during my tenure there. I did make a transition and came to Tower Legal Solutions and helped build our offices. At the time, we had an office in New York and in Washington. And now we’ve grown and we’ve got a nationwide presence.

In this role, I think I had the opportunity to, perhaps, share a broader scope of paralegal opportunities, both at law firms and after the law firm. Because my agency staffs both. We have job requests from law firms constantly for paralegals across the country. Most interesting to me is that, in a southern region of our country, in the Carolinas, in Georgia, corporations and law firms rely upon paralegals much more significantly and in more substantive ways than I think in anywhere else in the country. Out West in California, there are registered paralegals that work at law firms. And they’re doing very similar jobs and similar work.

To the other paralegals going on elsewhere in the country, however, not all that work becomes as substantive as we’ve seen with positions that are in corporations, you know, based in the South. So, we’ve had the pleasure of providing paralegal candidates to corporations nationwide. But, of course, in our Charlotte office, for opportunities that are substantive, perhaps here in corporate legal departments. Perhaps they are at law firms in a variety of practice areas not just litigation. And also, we’re providing candidates for corporations that are looking to build out compliant practices.

And if there’s any takeaway that I can offer from our session today, it’s to have everyone keep in mind, and keep their eye upon compliance offerings that are going to be coming up in the corporate world as we go forward. Much of what we’re seeing from our side of this industry is that corporations are very actively looking to build out robust compliance programs. And most of those programs have components that are absolutely syllable. Absolutely able to be serviced well by paralegals. I think that one of the things that paralegals do well is that we’re organized. I often kept in mind that paralegals have the opportunity to prove that we can organize anything. You know, give me a mess, give me an hour, I’ll make magic happen. At least, that’s what I think I’m doing in my mind. But the skill set that you develop as a paralegal is something that can create that mindset where it does give you the confidence to function anywhere.

But most of the corporate compliance program request that we’re starting to see and again, this is something that’s mushrooming is based out of the fact that most companies do need compliance programs in place. For those of you not familiar, compliance programs are designed to detect and prevent violations of the law by agents, employees and officers and the directors of businesses. And although we use the general term “Corporate compliant”, the need for effective compliance programs is not limited to just corporations. Any form of business entity really does need to have some form of effective corporate compliance. We’re starting to see requests for paralegals to be part of the advance team. The forward activity for companies that are looking to develop a robust compliance program. And they’re looking to have paralegals work for them, either in temporary roles initially or permanently as they develop their compliance programs and identify their permanent compliance agents. It’s an exciting time for us because we’re seeing more paralegal opportunities open up then we’ve had in previous years. And I think that trend will continue.

So, in a nutshell, for me, this has been the long and winding road that got me to the legal practice and being a paralegal. But it’s continued after the law firm for me. And the wonderful thing about it, in my experience and in my career path, is that all of the skills that I’ve developed, practiced, honed, have really had a beautiful tie in the business world so that I come in daily feeling as though I’m still organizing. I’m still drafting. I’m still utilizing technologies in ways that support, in many instances, legal entities, law firms and law firm clients. But in a way, that’s slightly different but still connected to my paralegal roots. Again, any paralegal that has developed the skills to succeed as a paralegal, have the qualifications to be core members of a management team running a business unit. And that’s something that I’d like to, kind of leave with you as just a parting thought that, the skills that you’re developing now as a paralegal are skills that will follow you through your career. At this time, what I’m going to do is quickly turn it over to Christina, who was also introduced at the beginning of our program. So, that she can carry the conversation forward. And we look forward to your questions at the end.

Christina: Thank you, David. As I was introduced, I am a freelance paralegal. I have worked for about 11 or 12 years with various law firms. I started out with the Utah County Public Defender’s Office in criminal law, which I absolutely loved. I worked in our Juvenile Court division. And my main focus has been civil litigation. A lot of people ask me, “Why did you decide to be a freelance paralegal? And what is that? And what do you do? And what can you and cannot do?” And what I tell people is that the first thing that came to my mind when I chose to do this was the flexibility. I have teenagers at home. And for anyone who have teenagers at home, you understand that they need just as much supervision as the little kids do. So, my being able to be home when my family has things going on, we had family vacations or adventures planned. I would be able to go ahead and do that with them rather than having to worry about, “Did I schedule this time off? Do I have to cover someone else?” Things look that.

The other portion with that is that my husband opens his own company. And for years, he’s tried to have me come on and run the business with him. And it got to a point where he really needed me there. So, I put in my notice. And at that time, I had been the lead civil litigation paralegal. I was in charge of all the trials, all the trial prep. I attended motion hearings, pre-trial hearings, worked with witnesses. I did everything. And when David talks about his marathon hours in preparation, I can totally relate to that the differences. I thrived on that. I love it. I worked on a three week jury trial that was out of town. And the preparation we put into that was long and hard. But I got so much out of it. And I got so much satisfaction that I decided that I want to continue doing this.

So, I put in my notice. And what I did was submit a proposition to the firm. And I said, I know that you value my services and you value my skills, so, how about rather than me staying on as an employee, you contract with me. I had researched you have to keep in mind the prongs for an independent contractor. Because that is very important. I want to make it very clear that I am a business woman. I own my own business now. I work for more than one attorney. And I wanted to make sure that I met those independent contractor standards, including having an independent contractor agreement.

So, that is what I proposed. And they liked that. They thought I was valuable enough to keep me on. They negotiated a new wage with me. And I had that freedom that I really wanted to have. I not only had more freedom with my time, which is definitely a double edge sword being a business owner. I have freedom with my finances and with my income. I had researched the market. I am in Utah. I am a member of the Paralegal Division of the Utah State Firm. We do a salary survey every few years. So, I had researched paralegal wages and salaries and determined what I felt I needed to be making with commensurate with my skills and my abilities.

So, I not only had freedom with my time, I had freedom to set, basically, my own wage. Finances was definitely another reason. I had felt like I was inhibited. I was only able to progress so far. So, in order for me to progress in a manner that I wanted to, I knew that I was going to have to break away and become a freelance paralegal. Now, my husband, for several years, tried to get me to do this. And I thought I wouldn’t even know where to begin. But the longer I thought about it, I realized that I had developed the skill. I had developed a good work ethic. I had developed a relationship with attorneys and a reputation where I knew that they would be able to come to me and say, “Can I hire you for this trial or this specific case?” It made my work much more valuable. All of my time is billable, which is good for the attorney because he’s actually utilizing me in a way that’s going to make his time more effective and put the client’s money to better use to be much more cost effective for that client.

You know, I had been told when I was younger that every few years I needed a new challenge. And I think that that was stirring up in me again. I was ready for a challenge. I just wasn’t being challenged hard enough. And sometimes I think that that was a pretty big challenge. And was I really ready for that? But I’ve been doing this for a year and a half now. And I’ve actually been pretty successful at it and I’m very happy with what I’m doing.

How did I make that transition? My path to becoming a freelance paralegal started long before I turned in my notice. Like I said, I developed a very strong work ethic. I prided myself on knowing every case. Knowing the deadlines and being the go to person. If anything had to be done, I was the one who was raising my hand and volunteering for that. A lot of times, in a smaller firm, paralegals I have found had to sometimes train the attorneys on utilization of the paralegal. And I feel like I was fortunate enough to be in that position where I could train the attorneys and say in a team meeting, “Give me that assignment, give me this assignment. You have to do this one because you are the attorney and I cannot do it. But you give me everything else and I will simply make it happen.” So, when the time came for me to turn in my notice, I had already created that path. I had already been on my way.

Toni had asked me once, “What is your typical day like? What is your week like?” And I thought, “It’s crazy.” It’s really crazy. A lot of people say to me, “Oh, you freelance. You can work whenever you want. You can take off time whenever you want.” I find myself choosing to work a lot of nights. I usually work 2 to 3 Saturdays a month. I had to develop a schedule for myself. And it took several weeks for me to figure out what that schedule was going to look like for me. Right now, I have 3 law firms that I’m working for, which I had to adapt to the fact that I did not have an attorney who was prioritizing my work for me. When I worked for one firm, I had certain attorneys that I would work with on the team. And if they came to me and said, “Chris here’s a job, I need it done immediately.” And then the next morning they’d say, “Never mind. We need to switch gears.” They were prioritizing that.

Now, where I have 3 different law firms with their own they decide which cases are the most important. And every firm has their most important cases. So, I’m the one who has to decide, if I have a discovery deadline on one case and next week on another case and then something else comes up, I manage that time. I make sure that all the balls are in the air. And to me, that challenge is exhilarating. I understand that my hours are going to be horrible some days. But then, I’m going to have the flexibility to make my own choices. So, the schedule that I have worked out, as I work most my days from home, I have one firm where I go two days a week. They like me onsite. So, those days are flexible. And then I have 2 days from me to my husband’s office, where I work also. And I’m very flexible.

The things that I have learned the most, about what kind of a person would excel at being a freelance paralegal. You have got to have open lines of communication. And you’ve got to be the proactive person in that. When an attorney gives me an assignment, I have to make sure there is a constant flow of communication. And that I am being proactive about providing updates to the attorney. The other thing is that you’ve got to be adaptable because you’re not working for one or two attorneys anymore. You’re working for several different law firms. And you need to learn their nuances, their likes, their dislikes, how they like their files. How they like their discovery to be organized. So, you’ve got to be adaptable and be able to work with a lot of different people. At the same time, you have to be very confident. You have to be able to go in there and tell the attorneys, “This is what needs to happen next, and I will take care of this and you take care of this.”

So, there’s a lot of direction that I provide under the umbrella of working under the direct supervision of an attorney. But they rely on me a lot to keep them on track on the case and to make sure deadlines are calendared, etc. Some of the logistics of this would be, like I said before, having an independent contractor agreement. That is a must. Having access to firm’s file. Many firms are paperless. And a lot of the attorneys work remotely. So, I meet with them. I say, “How do you want me to access your files? What kind of access do you want to provide to me?” E mail. I find out if the firm would like to provide me with an e mail so that the continuity to the client stays in place. So, that they can see, okay, this is an e mail that’s coming from this law firm, not from some third person Cope litigation support that they don’t know who I am or whether or not I’m actually working for the firm. So, those are some of the logistics that I usually line up with the attorneys.

Challenges. Keeping a regular sleep pattern is really, really difficult. I’m kind of a night owl so I find myself at the computer at 1 a.m. The work gets done but I don’t get a lot of sleep. That doesn’t mean that all freelance paralegal have to go on very little sleep, but I find myself doing that quite a bit. At times I wonder, “Am I taking on more work than I can possibly do?” And that’s when I sit down and I prioritize everything. I have status meetings with each attorney. And I have to refocus. Another challenge I found is being able to immerse myself in a case that I walk into and I know nothing about. So, that takes a lot of critical thinking skills, which I have developed over the years.

Another thing that I’ve learned is the kind of person who would be successful at this. You have to be somebody who’s honest with yourself, about your skills, your limitations. And you have to be willing to take your lumps. If you do something wrong, you need to own it. I’ve worked with many paralegals who are afraid to say, “Yes, I made that mistake, let me fix it.” But I have found that being responsible for my work, being the person who is answering to the attorney, increases my credibility. And in turn, they give me more responsibility and more work. You need to be a lifelong learner. The landscape of paralegal work is changing constantly. Especially with the introduction even more in discovery and technology. And you have to be somebody who really embraces the challenges. So, even though it’s difficult, I love litigation work. I would not choose to be anything but a paralegal. And I’m very happy with where I am.

Kira: Thank you so much, Christina. Your passion really rings through the material that you presented here. I also wanted it bring our attendees to the attention of our school’s upcoming start dates. The next start is in the fall. So, really turn your passion forwardly, you know, the legal field, into a profession and upgrade your skills. Christina has mentioned that it’s very important to be a lifelong learner, so definitely education would be part of your ammunition. So, the upcoming start date is August 31st. And our enrolment advisor is Shiromi Praba. She’s very helpful. So, if you have any questions, I will provide you with her contact information. You can find out more about the program and also get in touch with the enrolment advisor. And she will assist you with deadlines and admission requirements.

We are going to be, now, moving onto the Q and A session for our panellists, Dr. Marsh, as well as David and Christina. So, I do have one question coming in. And it’s directed for David as well as Christina. You mentioned that the key one of the key challenges to running your own firm or enterprise, you know, is dealing with multitudes of resources and working with different attorneys and being adaptable. Can you tell us how you equipped yourself in dealing with those challenges. And what kind of resources you’re tapping into to prepare yourself for those challenges.

Christina: David, do you want to go ahead and go first on that?

David King: Sure. I’ll go first. Can you hear me okay?

Christina: Yes.

Kira: David, can you David, can you hear us?

David King: Yes, I think I can hear you now.

Kira: Okay. Perfect. Perfect.

David King: Okay. So, I believe the question was, the challenge of multiple I guess priorities or multiple requests and how do you keep organized?

Kira: Yes. Basically, what kind of resources or, you know, that you would draw to prepare yourself to deal with these challenges.

David King: Okay. I think my first answer is going to be that technology is your friend. And that in addition to just personally being organized, you need to utilize the tools that are available to you to stay organized. And I think Christina touched on that a little bit. I live by my Outlook calendar. My Outlook calendar is tied to my e mail. It helps me prioritize. It gives me reminders. It helps me with the planning so that if I know I’ve got multiple events happening on one particular day, or multiple clients to provide an answer to, I can plan based on what is visible on my calendar and I refer to it constantly. I think the other thing that helps in addition to technology is just have a passion about what you’re doing. If you don’t have the feel for the business as it goes, it can be challenging. You know, you could hear Christina’s passion for her life as a paralegal and I know that that’s something that drives her. And you want to do well when you enjoy the job that you’re doing. And so, you’re constantly thinking about ways to be more efficient. But I would definitely say, the simple answer for me is that technology is definitely what helps stay on track.

Christina also mentioned communication. You’ve got to stay in contact with those whom you are supporting. And, you know, if you have challenges and road blocks, bring people along and make them a partner in that process so that there are no surprises, good or bad, at the end that could have some form of impact to the work that you’re trying to do.

Kira: Thank you, David.

Christina: Yes, I agree definitely. Technology is absolutely your friend. It can help you stay organized. It can help you present good evidence. Especially where the work I do in Court, I can stay organized. I can produce documents very quickly when the Court asks for them. The other thing that I found very helpful with being, the adaptable portion of that is, I like people. I like meeting new people. You love working with clients. So, when I am at Court and I need to work with the witnesses and the schedules and meet with people outside the courtroom, I enjoy that. Working with different attorneys. I enjoy meeting people with different personalities. I kind of feel like, for me, I can easily adapt to any situation. And I’ve had to kind of train myself when to let things roll off my back and when to address things head on.

Kira: Thank you, David and Christina. The next question is directed to Ms. Cope and Dr. Marsh. And the question is: What can I not do or what’s unauthorized law practice as immigration independent paralegal surveying the public in Georgia without an attorney supervision. So, what advice do you have for our panelists? Sorry our attendee.

Dr. Marsh: Okay. So, the question is, what can they not do as an immigration attorney in Georgia?

Kira: Right.

Dr. Marsh: Right, okay. So, I really couldn’t touch that question beyond what I already said. I can give you the generalities of what non lawyers cannot do anywhere. So, I can give you the general, like, accepting a case. Setting the fee. Giving legal advice. Beyond that, I am not an expert in immigration law and I’m not an expert in Georgia law. And I couldn’t give you specifics. But I can tell you that if you’ve got and I don’t know anything about Georgia in particular, but, if you’ve got a specific question, if somebody’s asking if your lawyer’s asking you to do a certain thing. Or, if you want to do something and you’re considering you’re wondering whether this specific action will be allowed. You probably have, in your state and in your county, some sort of a bar association that will give opinions. That will give ethical opinions.

So, what you’re asking for is an ethical opinion. And in most states, have a body that will issue those kinds of opinions. And you’ll ask those specific questions. So, you would say something like, am I allowed to create this form for this client? You have form blah, blah, blah. I may realize to tell a client when he needs to be in Court. Whatever it is, whatever the question is, you ask the specific questions and that body will give you an answer. Sometimes it’s your state attorney general’s office. Sometimes it’s your state bar association. But there’s probably a body in your state that will give you that specific answer.

Kira: Christina, did you want to add to that?

Christina: I agree with Toni. I’m going to go along with her there. Also, I do document preparation for the general public sometimes. And even as a freelance paralegal, you make it extremely clear that I am not an attorney. I do not give legal advice, and my work is done under the direct supervision of an attorney. I don’t portray clients that I can apply the law to the specific facts of their case. And I don’t do anything with immigration law. So, like Toni said, that’s a very, very particular area. So, basically, it’s just being very careful about that line with UPL.

Kira: Okay. Thank you very much. And the next question is for Toni. In stating in the field of paralegal has evolved essentially and recently, is there a need for paralegal professionals to be escalated? And how has the paralegal curriculum at GW responded to that?

Dr. Marsh: So, there’s a little bit of static. But, did you ask, how’s the need for paralegal escalated? And how is the paralegal education field responded to that? Was that the question?

Kira: Or, specifically to the GW curriculum.

Dr. Marsh: Oh, okay. All right. So, yes, absolutely. The need has escalated. There are the job market for paralegals is very good. There are many law firms, government agencies, corporations that I know of personally who are either hiring more paralegals than they did before. And are even replacing some lawyer positions with paralegals. So, a lawyer leaves and they replace that lawyer with a paralegal. And so, all over, there is an increased need for paralegals, yes. Now, how does the GW curriculum address that? What we do is we work to create, really, the finest pairs of paralegals. And we our program is very rigorous. It’s very scholarly. And, you know, those core skills that I outlined earlier. Those are the skills that we emphasize.

So, our students do a lot of writing. A lot of oral presentation. They use technology in every class. They learn a lot about ethics and professionalism and the practice. We have them do lots of research. We have them do projects where they’re required to manage lots of projects at once so that they prioritize and manage their time. We have them work in groups so they know how to lead groups and be in groups. So, we know what those core skills are. We’ve done a lot of research onto those core skills. And we make sure that our students get those so that our students, when they leave GW, are ready, really, to step into a very challenging traditional or nontraditional paralegal position.

Kira: Thank you. Can you speak more on how the contract administrator or compliance paralegal can seek more COE’s and continuing education? One of our attendee’s has about 12 years of experience within transactions. And the paralegal role is limited. So, please speak more about in house business paralegals. And this is in regards to advanced certs within the contract that help, you know, a student grow.

Dr. Marsh: Was that question for me? For Toni?

Kira: Yes, please. Yes.

Dr. Marsh: And the question was in house paralegal?

Kira: Yes.

Dr. Marsh: Right. So, again, just as with law firm paralegals, the need for in house paralegals have grown. And I didn’t hear the second part of that question. You asked, has the need for in house paralegals grown what was the other part of the question?

Kira: Basically, just, how one can seek more COE’s and continuing education.

Dr. Marsh: Oh, as them with their roles.

Kira: Yes. And in the contract administrator compliance paralegal realm.

Dr. Marsh: Okay, right. So, that’s a problem because in house paralegals, most paralegal associations are geared towards law firm paralegals. And it’s really hard for in house paralegals to find CLE’s or any kind of professional development that is geared specifically to them. And as you know, those of you who practice as corporate paralegals are in house paralegals. The job is very different. You do an entirely different it’s an entirely different. You know, there’s the core skill set. But the specifics are different. You’re much more of a business person. You’re doing a lot more corporate stuff, like minutes and by laws and record keeping, filings and things like that. And so, corporate paralegals have special needs that are not necessarily addressed in traditional paralegal associations.

Incidentally, coincidentally, I guess, by coincidence, GW actually does offer a 2 day program called the Corporate Paralegal Education program. We offer that annually. And we haven’t planned our next one yet, so, I can’t give you a date. But anyone’s who’s interested can e mail me and I’ll give you the dates when we set them. But it’s 2 days of just corporate paralegal continuing ed. And I get paralegals from all over the country who come in. So, not only do they get the knowledge, but they get the opportunity to network that they really don’t get in the traditional paralegal association setting. Having said all that, there are other opportunities for in house paralegals to get continuing education. You just have to be a little bit more creative and look at some of those CLE offerings and try to get ones that are, you know, at least close to what you need in your own profession.

Kira: Right. Now, there’s a very good question from one of our attendees who’s considering becoming a paralegal as a second career. Can our panelist suggest the best ways to transition into the field? In terms of, you know, education, or how to gain experience, etc.

Christina: Would you like me to go ahead and address that?

Kira: Yes, please.

Christina: Definitely finding a good paralegal program. I think that’s going to be key. Like Toni said previously, It used to be that you could start out as a file clerk or a secretary and get the knowledge as you go. And although, in the paralegal field, that’s going to be true anyway, through CLE’s and just ongoing knowledge. Getting that basis and really understanding the ins and outs of being a paralegal. Writing, research, communication things like that. That’s going to be the most important thing to do. And at least the program that I went to had an internship program. And that’s how I started. I was actually assigned to the Public Defender’s Office. And they helped me get going there and start getting that work, kind of, under my belt when my internship was up, they offered me a job. So, that’s what I would suggest.

David King: That’s great advice, Christina. This is David. And I would also add onto that there are opportunities to learn more about paralegal opportunities if you contact and search for E discovery companies that tend to offer opportunities in either E discovery technology or they’ve got direct information about some entry level types of opportunities that might give you a great window into certain kinds of paralegal work while you’re doing your certificate program or at least searching to get a good start. I would definitely do some research about those types of opportunities in your area that may be available to you so that you can get, kind of your feet wet. And also, kind of get a front row seat to, perhaps, one or two areas of paralegal work that might be available to you.

Kira: Thank you. Toni, did you want to add to that?

Dr. Marsh: No. I think that the panelists covered that very well. Yes.

Kira: Perfect. Thank you. Now, this question’s for all panelists. So, someone is entering the paralegal profession as a career change and she’s currently enrolled in a paralegal certificate program. But most firms require individuals to have some experience, so how can she as a newcomer to the profession position herself to finding opportunities that will catapult her into the profession? Basically, how would you prepare, you know, yourself for advancement opportunities within the field?

Dr. Marsh: You know, I’m going to let David answer that because David has so much experience with placing people into positions. That is the classic question. I know, you know, you need experience to get a job. You need the job to get experience. I can tell you well, I will tell you very quickly that we get a lot of calls for entry level paralegals at GW. If you’ve got a great education, that is something that employers will look at. But beyond that, I’m going to let David address that a little bit more deeply.

David: Thanks, Toni. This type of placement is something we’ve had experience in our company. And I have to say, you know, Corporate America is very open to entry level paralegals. I think when you talk about the law firm world; you do run into, perhaps, requests for experienced candidates before you’ll see entry level positions. But experience is experience. And I think that in the corporate world, there are definitely opportunities in corporate legal departments where you can get your first opportunity and move up. One of my favorite stories to tell is that we had a corporation that contacted us and they needed someone to help them in their corporate legal department. And they were looking for a brand new paralegal fresh out of a paralegal program. And they were basically in Northern Virginia. And we were able to offer them a couple of candidates. And they selected one. And she did extremely well. Her only other experience had been working in, I believe it was a small office. Working on something that was not legally related at all. But the fact that she had her certificate, she had good academic credentials. And she had some work experience that kind of proved that she was kind of familiar with working in an office and had good organizational skills. That’s exactly what they were looking for. And she had a really great long tenure with them. And it’s just one of those opportunities that was better than the candidate thought it would be. The company was thrilled that we found this candidate because she actually was everything that they had hoped for and more.

And then for us, we got a window into a certain kind of corporate legal department that we did not have experience with yet. And the fact that someone very entry level could be supporting two assistant general counsels and do it very well on the strength of her education, her paralegal certificate and her very brief exposure into the business world. Those opportunities have bound. And, again, you want to find your first opportunity. So, cast a wide net and look for them. You can also find temporary opportunities that will give you experience as a paralegal, albeit it short term, that will help you build upon your case for stating that you’re a qualified, educated and ready candidate.

Kira: Wonderful. And we just past the hour mark now. Thank you, everyone, to our panelist: Dr. Toni Marsh, David King and Christina Cope for, you know, reserving the time to present to us today. We have a wonderful crowd in the room. Thank you for your attendance. And I’m going to be sending out the link to this recording at a later time when it becomes available. And we do have your e mail addresses on file. And do feel free to get in touch with Shiromi Praba, the enrollment team lead at (888) 989 7069 ext. 3251. And her e mail address is also available. And she’ll be happy to assist you with any program related question. Once again, thank you very much Dr. Marsh, Christina, David. Everyone have a wonderful afternoon.

Dr. Marsh: Thank you, Kira. Thank you everybody for attending. And I really want to thank to my colleagues, David and Christina, for joining me today and taking time out of your very busy schedules to present. So, bye-bye, everybody.

Kira: Bye now.

[End of recorded material 01:07:46]

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