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The Future of the Paralegal Profession
In this episode of The Paralegal Voice, host Vicki Voisin chats with NALA President Cassandra Oliver about the organization and the significance of paralegal certification. Cassandra opens the interview with a brief history of NALA starting with its incorporation back in 1975, and shares that they recently celebrated their 40th anniversary last year. She touches on the importance of continuing education in the profession, how it allows paralegals the opportunity to manage their careers, and lists the self-study courses and on-demand webinars that NALA offers to assist paralegals toward that aim. The bi-monthly “Facts & Findings” publication also provides educational articles written by paralegals, attorneys, and experts to help working paralegals stay abreast of trends, current events, court rules, cases, and recent developments in the field. Cassandra offers insight into her decision to continue her career development and lists values, like providing a set of distinguishing standards that create more opportunity for advanced promotions, that a paralegal certification program brings to the industry. She explains how integral participating in Toastmasters International has been for her success in the field and closes the interview with her thoughts on the biggest challenges paralegals face today and the future of the profession.
Cassandra Oliver is the president of NALA and a paralegal in the legal department at the Williams Company in Tulsa where she works with litigators and assists the environmental attorney.View transcript
The Paralegal Voice
The Future of the Paralegal Profession
Intro: Welcome to ‘The Paralegal Voice’ where you hear the latest issues and trends in the world of paralegals and legal assistants by one of the best known paralegals in the industry, Vicki Voisin, a paralegal for more than 20 years. Vicki is dedicated to helping legal professionals reach their goals. You are listening to Legal Talk Network.
Vicki Voisin: Hello everyone. Welcome to ‘The Paralegal Voice’ here on Legal Talk Network. I am Vicki Voisin, the Paralegal Mentor and host of ‘The Paralegal Voice’. I am a NALA Advanced Certified Paralegal, I publish a weekly e-newsletter titled ‘Paralegal Strategies’. I am also the coauthor of ‘The Professional Paralegal: A Guide to Finding a Job and Career Success.’ You will find more information at HYPERLINK “http://www.paralegalmentor.com” paralegalmentor.com. My guest today is Cassandra Oliver, ACP.
Cassandra is the President of NALA, The Paralegal Association. She is employed as a Senior Paralegal in the Legal Department at the Williams Companies in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Cassandra graduated with a BS Degree from Oral Roberts University and Cassandra is also a member of the Tulsa Area Paralegal Association and the Oklahoma Paralegal Association.
She has authored articles for ‘Facts & Findings’, and she is a prior NALA Affiliates Award recipient for outstanding contribution and dedication to the advancement of the legal assistant profession through volunteer services to NALA affiliated associations.
Additionally, Cassandra is a member of Leadership Tulsa, in understanding the value of service to others, she has served as a volunteer with the Tulsa Court Appointed Special Advocates, Resonance Center for Women, Junior Achievement, et cetera, and continues to serve in other local nonprofits. Also Cassandra is a Distinguished Toastmaster and a speaker at local state and national conferences.
So welcome Cassandra.
Cassandra Oliver: I am excited about being here with you today, Vicki.
Vicki Voisin: Thanks, we have known each other a long time and I’m so happy to have you as a guest, and also congratulations on taking the office of President for NALA.
Cassandra Oliver: Thank you.
Vicki Voisin: You are welcome. So before we begin our sponsors should be recognized and thanked and that would be Boston University offering an online certificate in paralegal studies. If you’re seeking a professional credential or just want to further develop your skills, Boston University provides an affordable high-quality 14-week program. Visit HYPERLINK “http://www.paralegalonline.bu.edu” paralegalonline.bu.edu for more information.
NALA, a professional association for paralegals providing continuing education and professional certification programs for paralegals at HYPERLINK “http://www.nala.org” nala.org. NALA is a force in the promotion and the advancement of the paralegal profession and has been a sponsor of ‘The Paralegal Voice’ since our very first show.
And ServeNow, a nationwide network of trusted prescreened process servers work with the most professional process servers who have experience with high volume serves, embrace technology, and understand the litigation process. Visit HYPERLINK “http://www.serve-now.com” serve-now.com to learn more.
Now the goal of ‘The Paralegal Voice’ is to discuss a wide range of topics important to the paralegal industry and share with you leading trends, significant developments, and resources you’ll find helpful in your career and your everyday job. Guests are usually included to help explore these timely topics and for that reason I’ve invited Cassandra Oliver, ACP to be with me today and our topic is Nala: A Significant Resource.
So Cassandra, I think that it would be best to start with just a little bit of NALA history, when was NALA formed?
Cassandra Oliver: NALA was incorporated in April of 1975.
Vicki Voisin: Wow.
Cassandra Oliver: We are so excited, last year we celebrated our 40th anniversary and we are moving forward with focus. Shortly after being incorporated in 1975, members of NALA adopted NALA’s code of ethics and professional responsibility and then they transitioned to adopt the model standards and guidelines for the utilization of paralegals and we are so grateful for our pioneer leaders because our first President was Jane Terhune.
The late Jane Terhune, she passed away this past year and she and Dodd Jordan and many other leaders, early leaders of NALA established us on a sound foundation.
Vicki Voisin: Well, I am really proud of NALA and all the progress that it makes. Tell the listeners about their continuing education and professional development programs.
Cassandra Oliver: Okay. Part of what NALA does is to provide continuing education and it gives paralegals across our country an opportunity to manage their careers. Every year we have our conference which is our annual conference and expo and it provides top-notch continuing legal education. In addition to that, and that’s an in-person program, and in addition to that we have self-study courses that are online that you can take. We have live courses. If you visit our website HYPERLINK “http://www.nala.org” nala.org, you see courses, for example, we have alternative dispute courses, estate planning, and we also have on-demand webinar courses, and those courses — paralegals are those that are interested in the courses can take it at their location and we are so grateful for technology.
We have a new program that we are set to launch this fall, which is our leadership program. So be listening out for more information about that to come.
Vicki Voisin: I did hear you were doing a new leadership program and I’m really anxious to hear all about it. So I’ll be watching for that. Now I know, Cassandra, that soon after NALA was incorporated they did establish a certification program. So I’d like you to tell our listeners a little bit more about that like, 06:48, does everybody qualify to take it and why is it important to be certified?
Cassandra Oliver: Well, NALA’s certification program was established in 1976. You are correct, shortly after we were incorporated and the program is open to paralegals. I encourage everyone to go visit our website too. The qualifications are listed there and it will take a little more time to give all the exceptions too, but it is in detailed in our website, HYPERLINK “http://www.nala.org” nala.org also provides the location and the dates and times that the programs will be administered.
Our certified program is the first certification program accredited by the NCCA, the National Commission for Certifying Agency, and we are credited for five years. Certified paralegals across our nation is recognized because of the high standard that the program supports and encourages, and a test to the level of knowledge and information that each person that passes has met that standard. It is valuable, 1) as a distinguisher as we know the paralegal career is competitive in addition to being recognized by law firms in the legal community. It sets a standard for distinguishing paralegals and provides more opportunities for advanced promotion as well as potential salary increases.
Vicki Voisin: Well, I really do value certification. I think it’s so important for every paralegal to be certified and I always say that when we leave school we are usually on a leveled playing field and we may have a job and then we may be looking for another job and we are still in a leveled playing field unless we have certification to distinguish us from others who haven’t gotten that certification. So I always say that the hiring person would probably look at someone who is certified and hire that person first.
So let me ask you, Cassandra, we have talked about certification, we have talked about continuing education but I also know that NALA publishes a fantastic journal called ‘Facts & Findings.’ So tell us a little bit about ‘Facts & Findings’ and any other NALA publications that are out there?
Cassandra Oliver: Vicki, the ‘Facts & Findings’ of NALA is a premiere magazine. It’s published bi-monthly. It’s a journal for paralegals and the magazine offers the best in educational articles that are written by paralegals, attorneys, and other experts. In addition to those articles, there are featured articles and each column includes ethics, technology, software, a breaking news around our country and it’s an opportunity for paralegals to continue their education, and I believe that NALA is a significant source in a lot of different venues and our magazine is one of them. It gives the paralegals an opportunity to read and continue to be informed about trends, current events, court rules and cases and recent developments in our career field.
Vicki Voisin: Right, and I don’t think you have to be a NALA member to get that journal, do you? Isn’t there a way to subscribe at the website?
Cassandra Oliver: Yes, there is. As a member, that’s part of your member benefits, but if you are not a member, you can go to that website and subscribe.
Vicki Voisin: Okay, perfect. Now before we take a break, I want to ask you just a little bit about your participation in Toastmasters, which I think is wonderful. I think every paralegal should do that. I wish I would have had the opportunity to do that. But tell us just a little bit about getting involved with that and what it has done for you?
Cassandra Oliver: Vicki, Toastmasters empower individuals to become better and more effective communicators and leaders, and I have gained in both platforms. I joined when I was a CASA worker because I wanted to be able to communicate better when I spoke on behalf of children. And little did I know how valuable it would be not just for my volunteer service for that particular organization, but for NALA, for my service in NALA, for my work, Toastmasters give members an opportunity to come together in a supportive environment where you are practicing, preparing speeches, preparing impromptu speaking, preparing to be leaders, because in addition to the communication side you are operating or you voluntarily choose to be officers of the club level and district officers.
I have gained significantly because I have made a decision to make the time to attend and to continue my development. That’s the one thing I want to note about becoming a certified paralegal. I had to make that decision to improve myself to manage my career, and adding Toastmasters to my plate was another managing my career decision.
Vicki Voisin: That’s a really good way to put it. Okay, so it’s time to take a short break for a word from our sponsors, Boston University, NALA, The Paralegal Association and ServeNow, a nationwide network of trusted prescreened process servers. And when we come back, we will continue our discussion with my guest, NALA President, Cassandra Oliver, ACP.
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Are you looking to advance your career? Do you know someone who wants to enter the paralegal profession? Boston University’s fully online certificate in Paralegal Studies is a fantastic option. It’s affordable, takes just 14 weeks to complete, and is led by accomplished faculty who teach employer focused skills like legal research, writing, technology and more. Visit HYPERLINK “http://www.paralegalonline.bu.edu” paralegalonline.bu.edu. For more information and to download a free brochure, that’s HYPERLINK “http://www.paralegalonline.bu.edu” paralegalonline.bu.edu.
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Vicki Voisin: Welcome back to ‘The Paralegal Voice’, I am Vicki Voisin and my guest today is Cassandra Oliver, ACP, President of NALA, The Paralegal Association.
Now Cassandra, before the commercial break we learned a lot about NALA, its history, its mission, education, certification programs, and we are going to talk more about NALA in a minute, but before we do that, I would like to know what you think are the latest trends in the paralegal industry?
Cassandra Oliver: Some of the trends that I recognized, Vicki, are eLearning where paralegals or anyone has an opportunity to take courses online, anywhere, any location they can set their time, and that’s part of NALA’s program also is to offer webinars where someone can come in and at the time that’s convenient for them to continue their development.
Another thing is soft skills, we know that paralegals must be a competent regarding our technical skills, but more and more now soft skills. Employers are looking to see, is this person a team player, do they have the soft skill to support quality work regarding the technical skills?
And another trend is the new development with e-Discovery and predictive coding is constantly changing and I would encourage paralegals to read up more about, particularly the electronic, the e-Discovery and all the changes that are happening, because now you’re transitioning, there’s law firms and back in the day when I started, every law firm had a physical location. Now you have virtual law offices, and those are just a few of the ones that I want to mention.
Vicki Voisin: Okay. Well, do you see as the greatest challenge for paralegals today?
Cassandra Oliver: One of the greatest challenge is the ever-changing technology. I mentioned e-Discovery earlier. It is something that we know is here and I think even though it’s a trend in the sense that it’s new and developing, I believe it’s going to be a trend that will fit in place. Technology is constantly changing and it behooves each paralegal that wants a career that will thrive to be tech savvy. Some of those that might be a little more years in the field like me, I’ve had to pick up other skills to learn new applications and be prepared to assist attorneys with the skill set that I bring to the table.
Vicki Voisin: Right, I think that’s the most important thing to remember, I mean, you can’t say I don’t want to learn to do that, I’m not doing it. Your job depends on it and I think your job also depends on — look, I think it’s important for paralegals to bring back information to the firm about new technology. I mean, attorneys don’t always have time to seek that out, so we can be an important source of that kind of information.
Cassandra Oliver: I agree.
Vicki Voisin: Yeah. Well, what do you see is the future for the paralegal profession?
Cassandra Oliver: For the future, I see, when I think about the economy and we have had even recently some challenges in our economy and I think that our profession will continue to grow. And looking at the cost effectiveness, I believe that paralegals still bring leverage where we can serve the law firm, our employers and allow them to serve more clients at a less cost. And so I believe that I in line with the changing technology that our future holds, that paralegals will continue all development and add value on a greater level.
When I first started, I started and it was like a quasi paralegal secretary and I was willing to get my foot in the door and to learn more. I see the future for paralegals is increasing our technical skills that paralegals that are well-trained which we are having more people graduating from bachelor programs and attorneys are expecting the higher education levels and with that will come more responsibility regarding the substantive area.
I think that attorneys are valuing paralegals more. We still have a way to go with educating them, but paralegals have an opportunity now to show attorneys that we can work under the supervision of attorneys and do more substantive work and I think that will come along with, they will expect more soft skills, they will look for people that can work in teams, who can collaborate on efforts because cost is such a factor. The economy of late has been challenging, and that factors in because paralegals bring leverage and that more and more attorneys are realizing that they can cut costs to their clients, which they can serve more clients if they’re utilizing effectively the paralegals who are working for them.
Vicki Voisin: Now, tell me how does NALA help prepare paralegals to meet their future goals? Once you decide that this is your career and you want to move forward as much as you can, what does NALA do for that?
Cassandra Oliver: Part of what NALA does is from the beginning doing surveys. I didn’t mention this early but NALA has a survey that it conducts every two years which provides information about the utilization of paralegals and compensation. So that gives paralegals an opportunity to look and see in different regions what on average across the board where they are working, the type of work they are doing, and the salaries that they are – at least they have 19:56 on the survey.
In addition to that NALA starts from the beginning with providing online programs, courses where if you have particular area that you need assistance with, whether it’s soft skills, we have ethics programs. We have courses that are in line with the substantive contracts, litigation, bankruptcy courses and as a part of the certified paralegal program, you will be well-trained, but in addition to that once you become certified, those that want to transition to another level is the advanced certification program which one requirement is that you have your certified paralegal certificate, and with that program I took it under e-Discovery and e-Discovery gave me more skills to support my employer.
With those programs that NALA has, I encourage you to go to the website, it has a lot of programs listed and some of them are short as 30 minutes and some might be an hour and some are hour and-a-half, but there are various areas of course study as well as those that will have soft skills and technical skills.
For the last several years we were doing the soft skills, a free webinar, NALA has recordings of that. Those they are interested in hearing that, you go to the website or contact NALA Headquarters and they will give you more information on how to view that free webinar.
Vicki Voisin: Okay, now does NALA — I know you have a good website, do you have other social media presence; Facebook, anything like that?
Cassandra Oliver: Yes, we do. NALA is on Facebook as well as Twitter, and we have a LinkedIn page. So HYPERLINK “mailto:email@example.com” firstname.lastname@example.org, that’s our Facebook page. Please join us; and Twitter; it’s @nala_paralegals.
Vicki Voisin: Perfect. I need to get back on Twitter. I kind of took a vacation, so I need to work on that.
Well, Cassandra, if anyone wants to get in touch with you or with NALA, what’s the best way to do that?
Cassandra Oliver: My e-mail address is HYPERLINK “mailto:email@example.com”firstname.lastname@example.org. Also the website is the easiest way. If you go to the website you can contact our headquarters’ office, our office is here in Tulsa, Oklahoma. So the website provides information about our staff as well as our Board members.
Vicki Voisin: Terrific, terrific. Well, Cassandra, thank you for joining me today. I don’t think I have been able to talk to you since you took office and I wish you well with that. It’s quite an experience, so enjoy.
Cassandra Oliver: Well, I sure will. Thank you Vicki, I appreciate this opportunity. It’s been fun and I appreciate the listeners, and again, HYPERLINK “http://www.nala.org” nala.org is our website, please contact us there.
Vicki Voisin: Okay. We are going to take another short break now, but don’t go away, because when I come back I’ll have news and career tips for you.
Advertiser: We are glad you are listening to Legal Talk Network. Check us out on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn too.
Vicki Voisin: Welcome back to ‘The Paralegal Voice’. This is the time in the program when I tell you the latest news about any conferences that are going on and the one thing is, is that NALA does have a conference coming up, that’s going to be in Memphis, Tennessee. You can go to their website to get more information about that, which is HYPERLINK “http://www.nals.org” nals.org.
My tip for you today though has to do with stress, because working as a paralegal is definitely stressful. There are always going to be deadlines. Paralegals generally are self-starters, so have their own projects that they’re working on, but then they may have those plans just blown out of the water by other people’s real or imagined, you can make up your line about that, emergencies that come up.
So to help with this, what I suggest is that when someone walks into your office with a project, asks them when it has to be completed, because not everything has to be done right at the same time. Make a few notes and for that I honestly like to keep a shorthand notebook on my desk, not for taking shorthand, but it’s just the perfect size for taking notes and I always write on one side as who I am talking to and on the other side of the line, if you know anything about shorthand notebooks, they are divided, each page is divided, and then I make notes about what has to be done, so I can go back and find that. Oh, and a little hint is that when you have to enter your billable hours, when you might be just a little late, it really helps with that too.
But anyway, after you do that, mark calendar with the deadline and put the file away, because if you don’t, you’re going to be working in layers and that’s how things get lost. And what I would like for you to do then is to take this a step further, because there are always three stages of a project. We have preparation, productivity and then closure and you can reduce stress by scheduling enough time for each of the three stages of the project. Know how much time each thing is going to take you and allocate enough time to get that done. Not what you think it should take but what it’s really going to take. And when you allow extra time for preparing and putting away and doing all of these stages, you’re going to not only reduce your stress but you are going to be a happier and more relaxed paralegal.
So that’s it for today, that’s all the time we have for ‘The Paralegal Voice’. If you have questions about today’s show, e-mail them to Vicki, HYPERLINK “mailto:email@example.com”firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also, don’t forget to check my website for my blog, that’s where you can reach the blog, that is also at HYPERLINK “http://www.paralegalmentorblog.com” paralegalmentorblog.com.
I do have resources available at the website. They have been designed to help you move your career in the right direction and I have to tell you that’s always forward.
So this is Vicki Voisin, thanking you for listening to ‘The Paralegal Voice’, and reminding you, make your paralegal voice heard.
Outro: The views expressed by the participants of this program are their own and do not represent the views of, nor are they endorsed by Legal Talk Network, its officers, directors, employees, agents, representatives, shareholders and subsidiaries. None of the content should be considered legal advice. As always, consult a lawyer.
Thanks for listening to ‘The Paralegal Voice’, produced by the broadcast professionals at Legal Talk Network. Join Vicki Voisin for her next podcast on issues and trends affecting paralegals and legal assistants. Subscribe to the RSS feed on HYPERLINK “http://www.legaltalknetwork.com/”legaltalknetwork.com or in iTunes.