1. Where do you work and what is your job title? I am a Senior Corporate and Securities Paralegal working in the Silicon Valley for Infoblox Inc., a tech company based in Santa Clara, California, that provides Automated Network Control solutions, and that became a publicly traded company in early 2012 (NYSE: BLOX).
I have been in the legal profession for nearly 25 years, having served in the Corporate Legal departments of several leading public companies such as Starbucks Coffee Company, Expedia.com, Infospace.com, Clearwire Corporation and Franklin Templeton Investments.
I was previously employed as a paralegal with the law firms of Lane Powell PC and Williams Kastner PLLC in Seattle, and also at the firms of Irell and Manella and Jones Day in Los Angeles.
2. What prompted you to choose a paralegal career? While finishing my Bachelor’s degree at California State University, Northridge, I was hired by a law firm in Southern California where I was part of their legal support staff, opening case files and performing general office services duties.
I next joined a second law firm as part of their law library team where I honed my skills as an online researcher, cite checker, patent prior art investigator and more. Those research skills opened the door to an in-house corporate and law library position at a public company corporate headquarters where I performed competitor intelligence gathering and monitored our peer companies for possible merger or acquisition candidates, soon being promoted to Assistant Corporate and Law Librarian. The Corporate Secretary took notice of my range of skills and offered me a position up in the executive wing as a Corporate Paralegal. I then obtained my paralegal certificate, with a Corporations specialization, in an ABA approved paralegal studies program from the University of West Los Angeles.
When speaking to paralegal students trying to transition from one career and into the paralegal profession, I always call out the need to highlight your transferable job skills so that you aren’t seen as being inexperienced in trying to find your first paralegal job. Using myself as an example, my transition from an assistant librarian to corporate paralegal was in large part due to my being able to show I had transferable research skills and good general business knowledge. Too many people belittle their own prior experience, when they really need to connect the dots for a prospective employer to show their “hidden” strengths.
3. What is your favorite part of your job? Like many experienced paralegals, I think that the combination of having a high degree of responsibility along with a good amount of independence (after demonstrating your competency to your supervising attorney), provides some real gratification. Being able to help my attorneys and co-workers quickly resolve issues is especially satisfying.
I have long enjoyed Corporate and Securities work as it is a very high profile practice area for most companies where you get to deal directly with the senior management and boards of directors. Additionally, many corporate paralegals are among the first people in their organizations to learn about major company events (possible acquisitions and divestitures, management changes, financial reporting and other material news) that may need to be reported publicly to the SEC on an 8-K, 10-K, or 10-Q, but such information must be kept strictly confidential (even from your fellow law department members) until it is publicly reported.
One prior supervisor of mine described the rest legal department as being a “three ring circus”, but reminded his team that because of the scrutiny given to SEC filings, that the Corporate Secretary’s office was the real “high wire act that people come to see, working under a bright spotlight, with a drum roll, and without a net!” (No room for mistakes!)
4. What professional associations do you belong to? I am a 17 year member of the Washington State Paralegal Association (WSPA). I previously served as WSPA’s Vice President, Professional Development, and as WSPA President.
I am also a member of the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA), and the National Association of Stock Plan Professionals (NASPP). I have also served as a Community Advisory Board Member of the Edmonds Community College and University of Washington paralegal programs.
5. How has your membership benefited you? I have been blessed to have met paralegals from all across the country. I have spoken before paralegal student audiences at several local paralegal schools. Several supervising attorneys have called on me for my input on continuing education and career development opportunities for my fellow paralegals.
6. Do you have any professional certifications? I passed the NFPA Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam and became a PACE Registered Paralegal (an “RP”) in March, 2009.
7. What has been the highlight of your career? It is hard to pick out a single highlight so I will let your readers decide from a few milestones that are top of mind to me.
- In 2007 I was selected to be an Advisor to the Association of Corporate Counsel’s inaugural Paralegal Education track at “Corporate Counsel University” and help design some of the suggested courses. I was then invited to speak on two panels at CCU held in St. Louis, and invited back as a panelist at the 2008 conference held in San Francisco.
- I was honored to present the morning Keynote address at one of Chere Estrin’s Paralegal Super Conferences held in Atlanta in 2008 before a large audience.
- I was also humbled by being also profiled in Delmar/Cengage Learning’s Paralegal textbook “The Law of Corporations, and Other Business Organizations”, 6th ed., published in March 2012.
- I served three consecutive terms as President of the Washington State Paralegal Association and 8 years as a Board member, helping organize and promote semi-annual day long Continuing Legal Education Conferences, Annual Student Dinners, and more.
- As WSPA President, I was proud to testify and write letters in support of the groundbreaking new Limited License Legal Technician Rule that went into effect in September 2012, which for the first time anywhere in the U.S., will allow non-attorneys who meet certain educational and experience requirements to directly advise clients on specific areas of law. WSPA’s current President, Brenda Cothary, was recently appointed by the Washington State Supreme Court to serve on the Limited License Legal Technician inaugural Board which will establish the requirements and procedures for paralegals who wish to work in this capacity, and all WSPA members are very proud of Brenda!
8. What do you see as hot trends in the paralegal industry? Being a Generalist is the quickest way to be seen as surplus headcount if a company or law firm is struggling. In the current economy, being a Specialist of a narrower niche that is hard to replace will help you survive any downsizing events. If you work in-house within a corporation, it is key to acquire both skills and contacts that stretch beyond your legal department role.
As the U.S. economy continues to improve, both General Business and Merger and Acquisition work will heat up. Bankruptcy work will continue to be strong for the near future, but not growing nearly so fast as it did the last two or three years. Intellectual Property law is still very strong on the West Coast.
Implementation of the Dodd-Frank financial reforms means Governance professionals will also benefit. And besides insuring 30 million more Americans, the Affordable Care Act will help the paralegal profession, as Health Care and Tax specialists will be in increasing demand, especially as we get closer to full implementation in 2014. Privacy and Ethics specialists will also see their paychecks rise faster than other legal specialties due to increased demand for experienced paralegals with these skills.
On the West Coast at least, Intellectual Property work has remained relatively strong even through the economic downturn. Both e Discovery and Litigation Readiness remain areas of steady growth as more and more routine communications being done by email, instant messaging, and social media, and litigation holds become more challenging. Continued growth in Cloud computing, Software as a Service (SaaS), Tablets and smart phone applications replacing both desktops and laptops, and the challenges of companies embracing “BYOD” (Bring Your Own Device) to Work, Social Media Marketing, all add up to mean that paralegals that are technology savvy can show their value to an organization and will earn top dollar.
9. Have you dipped your toes in the social media waters? Love it or hate it, Social Media is here to stay, and becoming increasingly important for both prospective employers and employees. I have long been a proponent of having a strong “Personal Brand” on the professional networking site, LinkedIn which now has over 200 million users and is the first tool of Legal Recruiters. You are only holding yourself back from future opportunities if you have a limited (or perhaps no) presence on the web. I have helped several paralegals improve their Personal Brand so that they are seen as subject matter experts and I am a LinkedIn Open Networker (“LION”) and happy to connect with anyone that asks. Feel free to send me an invitation using my firstname.lastname@example.org address.
10. If someone contemplating a paralegal career asked you for career advice, what would your answer be? Join your local paralegal association and take an active role in making it a success! Volunteer to serve on a Committee or run for an elective office. Recognize that your first paralegal position is not likely going to be your “dream job” and that you can learn something from every position that you hold, even if doesn’t seem like it at the time.
Give some serious thought as to what specialty area you already have strengths or an interest in, and don’t just accept any job because it is a paycheck. You will find that after working 3 -5 years in one specialty area will pretty much lock you into always working in that same area, as a shift to a new specialty would mean taking a step backwards. Have a good skill set so that if your present work situation changes unexpectedly, you can “Kayak” to a new position quickly.
10. What book are you reading? I was recently introduced to Jeff Olson’s inspiring book, “The Slight Edge”. He points out that what makes someone successful usually isn’t a single, dramatic decision. Rather, it simple small disciplines that, done consistently over time, will add up to the biggest accomplishments. He notes that “Success is the progressive realization of a worthy ideal”, and that small actions become habits, and eventually shape what you will become as a person.
11. You’ve enjoyed a successful paralegal career. To what do you attribute that success? I’ve worked with some extremely bright and energetic attorneys and paralegals. It is hard to point to a single one as the source of my success.
I think that continually being challenged to do better, setting high standards, and being recognized for your contributions has been personally satisfying for me. Helping lift others up is very important to me personally. Good managers understand the concept of Servant Leadership as espoused by Robert Greenleaf, and know that in order for them to be successful, they must first make sure that other people’s needs are being served. That is, while being served, do those served grow as persons? Do they become healthier, wiser, more free, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?
12. What is the most important step a paralegal can take to keep his or her career interesting? Keep an inquisitive mind. Don’t be afraid to try new things even if that means occasionally being willing to fail in order to learn from your own mistakes. Accept responsibility for mistakes and learn from them, don’t just run from them. Remember that the difference between a .200 hitter playing in Double AA minor league baseball and a .300 hitter that is playing in the Major Leagues is that in ten at bats, the .300 hitter strikes out only one less time!
13. What is your favorite “secret” job searching tip? Well, I have a few! Use job searching sites like simplyhired.com or indeed.com to speed your search. Use LinkedIn to find the names of recruiters or attorneys at the firm or company you are seeking to work for, and send a targeted letter to them by name, not just to an anonymous mailbox. Have an open profile and a professionally taken photo for use on LinkedIn so that people will want to connect with you. Google yourself to see if your name comes up in the first page or two of search results. If not, then you need to improve your online presence so prospective employers can find you!
Bonus Question/Just for Fun Fact: Soccer has been a central focus for my family for many years. I’m a huge Seattle Sounders soccer team fan and have been a season ticket holder. All three of my children play or played Premier (year-around) Club soccer and High School soccer too. Youth tournaments have taken us to Sweden, Finland, France and Spain and made lifelong friends for kids and parents alike. While soccer was not a part of my own youth sports experience (I was on track and cross country teams), through my children’s many experiences, the sport has led to their increased self-confidence and many friendships that would never have happened had we not traveled down that road. So too, participation in professional associations like NFPA and WSPA had led to many great friendships that I would not otherwise have had the pleasure to make!