After a 10 year career as a Systems Analyst/Data Base Designer and Project Manager in IT, followed by 15 years as a stay-at-home mom, Judy Janney decided it was time to consider a new and challenging career. It was then that Ms. Janney decided to enroll in the Paralegal Program at JFKU. Since completing the program in 2010, she has been successfully employed as a litigation paralegal.
Q: Why did you choose the Paralegal Program at JFKU?
A: Going back to IT was not a possibility as technology had changed so drastically over the years. I was also inspired to challenge myself by learning something new and different. The results of the Myers Briggs test showed I had the strongest interest in law. Law seemed to be a good fit, offering the best and most accessible job opportunities and job security.
At the time I was exploring career possibilities, I was recently divorced, in my early fifties, with two high-school aged daughters still living at home. It was important for me to begin an employable career as quickly as possible. The JFK Paralegal Certificate and Legal Studies program offered a manageable 18-month ABA-approved certificate program, with an opportunity to learn from experienced legal professionals, teaching intensive real world legal processes, while exposing us to the peripheries of various legal specialties. The program provided me with the opportunity to develop an understanding of the legal system, to learn practical and applicable skills, which allowed me to jump quickly into the field; therefore, providing the best option.
After researching programs offered by multiple institutions, I found myself sitting across from Lisa Hutton, the Director of the Legal Studies Program. Her enthusiasm, passion, and love for the legal field inspired me. She explained the role, responsibilities, importance and reliance attorneys had on their paralegals and it simply clicked for me.
Q: What helped you successfully complete the program?
A: It was the enthusiasm and camaraderie of my fellow classmates; many of us formed study groups to help prepare assignments and exams. Encouragement from my instructors also helped and, honestly, a lot of coffee.
Q: What tips would you give students that are starting the Paralegal Program?
A: Research paralegal fields by looking at various job descriptions on job sites. Review job responsibilities and salaries to make sure being a paralegal is in line with what you really want. Make sure to speak to paralegals out in the field to understand from their perspective the pros and cons of what a paralegal does. Understand, for the most part, you are not going to have an “Erin Brokovich” experience, but you may have the opportunity to be on a big exciting case that you will not be able to discuss with anyone. Intern in a few different legal fields. Spend time in a courtroom. Join paralegal associations/organizations and attend meetings. Read up on the local bar websites and legal journals. MOST IMPORTANTLY, maintain or improve your basic accounting and office tech skills. Lastly, understand that being a paralegal requires maintaining strong unshakable ethics along with tremendous grace under pressure.
Q: After you successfully completed the program, how ready were you in terms of meeting your employer’s expectations?
A: 110% ready.
Q: What are the typical weekly projects that Litigation Paralegals, in your field, are assigned?
A: A large part of my job is managing and organizing documents. We receive large volumes of documents that need to be organized for the attorneys handling the case. The documents are used to build a case and, later, as discovery in litigation. We are constantly tracking, organizing, and summarizing documents provided by all the parties in the case.
As the case develops, it is important to pay close attention to calendaring deadlines and assisting the attorney with providing various extrapolations of information pertinent to the case, including document summaries, deposition summaries, fees and cost summaries, etc.
Additionally, I assist the attorney with the on-site investigative process. This includes coordinating site inspections, destructive testing and investigation with our construction/engineering consultants & experts, HOA homeowners, my attorney, opposing counsel, etc. I attend many of the site inspections and/or destructive tests or general repairs. There is some travel involved, but it’s nice to get out of the office now and then.
Q: Of all the previously mentioned aspects of your job, what aspects do you enjoy the most?
A: I enjoy the variety of tasks, learning about construction, interacting with legal peers, attorneys, experts, and homeowners. I enjoy being able to really dig in deep and understand the cases I am assigned to.
Q: What do you enjoy the least?
A: There are literally thousands upon thousands of documents to be reviewed and managed. Sometimes it can be daunting. It requires perseverance and focus.
Q: Having worked as a Litigation Paralegal for some time, what skills would you say are the most important skills for a new paralegal to have?
A: 1 ) Maintain Strong Office Tech Skills:
Learn the tips, tricks and shortcuts to the tech programs. Many tasks need to be accomplished quickly and accurately. Therefore, not just having the tools, but knowing how best to utilize these tools is essential to your success. Know how to fix a paper jam and know how to operate a multi-line telephone system.
2) Excellent Writing and Speaking Skills:
Keep a grammar book handy or use the Grammarly app. Learn to write and speak succinctly. Strong communication skills are essential.
3) Be Open to Criticism and Dare to Fail:
Be open to learning and expect a few “bumps” along the way but take them in stride because all “bumps” lead to experience. Don’t take criticism personally; use it as a learning tool.
4) Maintain Grace Under Pressure:
Grace under pressure is another key attribute. In my early days as a family law paralegal, I made an error on an important pleading. I immediately told my attorney, who could not hide her dismay. I swallowed my embarrassment and raced to the courthouse to correct the mistake. I managed to work through my self-disappointment and endeavored never to let a pleading slip through my hands without extensive proofing.
5) PROOF PROOF PROOF:
Since that terrible experience, I triple (quadruple) check and proof any and all pleadings. It might take a bit longer but not longer than that trip back to the courthouse. As a paralegal it is crucial to be exact and accurate.
6) Take Pride in Your Good Work:
Note to yourself when you have done a good job.
Q: You have mentioned maintaining strong technical skills a few times. Are there any specific programs you use on a daily basis that you recommend knowing?
Q: Anything else you can share with us about your education at JFKU or your current job?
A: You are entering an amazing profession. Get out there, apply for the job that will challenge and reward you. Suck it up when all things go haywire. Enjoy those moments of success. Keep your skills and CLE updated. That bears repeating. Make sure to keep your skills and CLE updated. Network, network, network with other paralegals and legal professionals. Be a team player. Search out strong mentors, then return the favor and become a mentor. Be proud of what you do. Don’t stay with a boss who doesn’t appreciate your time and talents. Stay with the good boss who provides challenges and recognizes and rewards your contributions.