An Interview with Vicki Voisin
How long have you been doing what you do and how did you get to be The Paralegal Mentor? To answer this question, it’s probably best that I share with you a defining moment and resulting “compelling story” that brought me to where I am today: working with paralegals and others improve their personal and professional lives.
Before I give you my compelling story, you need to know that this has been a long, remarkable journey. I have worked as a paralegal for more than twenty years. While I can honestly say that I love my job, I have always been open to new experiences that would make my professional life more exiting and fulfilling.
Early in my career I joined the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) and subsequently served that organization in many capacities, including President. There is more information about my NALA involvement in my curriculum vitae that can be accessed by clicking here.
I have been privileged to meet hundreds, perhaps thousands, of paralegals, over the years and I always enjoyed encouraging them to reach for the stars. It was so exciting to watch them set and reach goals. I loved serving as their role model and mentor!
What about your compelling story? I became interested in ethics issues for legal support staff a long time ago. Oddly enough, this did not happen on the job, but while I was watching a television show: “Family Feud,” hosted by Richard Dawson.
By the time I saw this particular episode of “Family Feud,” I had already worked as a paralegal for over a decade. My interest was piqued when Richard relayed the question given to the audience: “Which profession is considered to be the most unethical?” The team on the spot jumped up and down, hemmed and hawed, and eventually gave their five guesses: automobile salesman, real estate agent, insurance agent, lawyer, and politician.
I mulled this over as I waited for the audience’s answers to be revealed.
I was just sure the answer couldn’t be “lawyer” because I worked in a law office and we went to great lengths to be ethical.
The answer certainly wasn’t “insurance agent” because I was (and am!) married to one and knew that his policy (no pun intended) was to always be honest with the companies and his customers.
Some of my best friends are “real estate agents” and I had not observed any of them behaving unethically.
All “politicians” could not be involved in hi-jinks like Watergate.
So, it made sense to me that the only possible answer was “automobile salesman” even though I’d never had a problem with any of them, either.
You can imagine my shock and dismay when Richard Dawson revealed the number one response:LAWYER! How could that be???
After all, the American Bar Association (ABA) has had its Model Rules of Professional Conduct in place for a very long time (available at www.abanet.org). I knew the State Bar of Michigan had its own Model Rules of Professional Conduct, as well as Guidelines for the Utilization of Paralegals (available at www.michbar.org).
I had my Certified Paralegal designation by then and had been a member of the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) for several years. I knew NALA had adopted Model Standards and Guidelines for the Utilization of Paralegals, as well as a Code of Ethics and Professional Responsibility (available at www.nala.org). I knew most other associations for legal professionals had codes of ethics for their members.
I was truly puzzled. How could a profession with so many rules and guidelines be considered unethical? This bothered me so much that I set out to learn everything I could about ethics for lawyers and their staff. I read case law. I read opinions. I read newspaper articles. I devoured any books I could find. In short, if there was anything out there about law firm ethics, I was interested.
Then I took this interest one step further and began speaking and writing about ethics issues. My reputation spread to the point where I was even hired to give expert opinion in a civil case where the attorney was sued when his paralegal allegedly acted outside the scope of her authority.
As I have learned more and more about ethics over the years, I have come to the conclusion that, for the most part, lawyers and their staff do their utmost to be ethical. However, mistakes are made because everyone in the office does not always understand the lawyer’s ethical obligations.
I made it my goal to do whatever I could to educate legal support staff so that fewer ethics issues would arise.
But do you only focus on ethics? No… I’m afraid a steady diet of ethics would be terribly tedious. I also focus on issues of time and space organization, reaching billable hour quotas, delegation, leadership training, goal setting and much more. I have had so many experiences over the years and I try to share those whenever I have an opportunity.
I must say, though, that I am very proud of my ethics programs. I have developed a method of offering ethics education so that it is not B-O-R-I-N-G! Attendees always have a good laugh and they do not fall asleep!
But what about the mentoring? About the time my term as NALA President ended, I had an epiphany! The thing that I enjoyed MOST was actually mentoring paralegals. I loved guiding them and watching them grow professionally. I loved speaking with them and giving them ideas they could utilize in their work. This is a demanding profession. Anyone who succeeds as a Paralegal must have discipline, fortitude and many other qualities. I made a commitment to dedicate the rest of my professional life to helping paralegals reach their professional goals while striking balance in their personal lives.
How do you intend to do this? I already take my presentations into law firms and corporate legal departments across the country. I am also a frequent speaker at paralegal meetings from Florida to California, and in between. In addition, I write articles for various publications that reach thousands of paralegals, attorneys and educators. I will continue to do this, as well as publish a bi-weekly ezine ‘Strategies for Paralegals Seeking Excellence.’ My tagline for the ezine istransform your career… transform your life. This ezine is for paralegals and others who want to create lasting success in their personal and professional lives. My long-term goal is to offer teleseminars and, perhaps, an e-book that will offer systems paralegals can utilize.
Who, exactly, do you work with? Primarily paralegals, of course! But with paralegals come law firms and corporate legal departments, as well as other members of the legal team. I work with people who are really good at what they do but who want to strengthen and improve the course of their careers. They would probably answer the following questions with a resounding “YES!”
- Do you love what you do but wish your job were more fulfilling? YES!
- Do you wish you could slow down the pace and find balance in your life? YES!
- Do you feel like you’re working harder than ever but never get caught up? YES!
- Do you sometimes feel as though your workload is so overwhelming you don’t know where to start? YES, YES, YES!!!
I must add that I enjoy working with lawyers with vision who value and appreciate their staff and who make every effort to see that their employees the benefit of continuing education.
What type of personality do you work best with and what do you expect of the people you work with? Being a high achieving go-getter myself, I work best with other high achieving go-getters who are super-ready to make progress and just want to know exactly what steps to take to improve their careers. I am interested only in working with people who are seeking to make many small changes that will add up to huge improvements in their jobs, their careers and their lives. I am very focused on anything and everything that works for paralegals and other members of the legal staff. Because my focus is very narrow, I have a no-nonsense approach to these improvements. Of course, I believe in a healthy dose of compassion, humor and encouragement. Believe me, I know what lawyers and paralegals go through day in and day out.
I am selective, though, and I will not tolerate gripe sessions, whiners and chronic skeptics. I have no patience with people who make excuses for not reaching their goals. People who learn with me will be expected to be serious and to take consistent action to make things better.
If I have additional questions or ideas for you, how do I contact you? Please send any questions, as well as issues you might like covered in the ezine or a teleseminar, to firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to hearing from you!