The transition from a law firm into a corporate or federal legal position can seem like a big leap but it may not be as intimidating as it seems on the outside. In this episode of the Paralegal Voice, host Carl Morrison talks to Andrea Grabow about her experience as a government employee, what law firm knowledge has prepared her for her current position, and what was challenging about the transition from law firm to government. Andrea also shares advice for paralegals interested in making the switch. Stay tuned until the end for Listener’s Voice, Carl’s recurring segment featuring audio questions or comments from a listener. To send in your own question email Carl at [email protected].
Andrea Grabow is a certified paralegal stationed at the Consumer Protection Branch of the U.S. Department of Justice.
Special thanks to our sponsors NALA, Thomson Reuters Firm Central, and ServeNow.
The Paralegal Voice
Transitioning from a Law Firm to Government
Carl Morrison: Hey law nerds. There is a brand-new show on Legal Talk Network about the First Amendment called Make No Law. Here is a quick trailer about the show.
Ken White: News and pop culture are full of controversies about free speech and the First Amendment. We hear terms like hate speech and heckler’s veto and a barrage of coverage about campuses, protests, and even wedding cakes, but what does it all mean and how do we get here?
That’s exactly what my new show Make No Law: The First Amendment Podcast from HYPERLINK “http://www.Popehat.com” Popehat.com will explore.
I am Ken White and I invite you to tune in every month for the history, stories and personalities behind the right to free speech and the most important Supreme Court cases establishing it.
Carl Morrison: You can find Make No Law on HYPERLINK “http://www.legaltalknetwork.com/”legaltalknetwork.com, Apple Podcasts, Google Play or wherever you are listening to this podcast; and now, on to The Paralegal Voice.
Carl Morrison: Hello everyone. Welcome to The Paralegal Voice, here on Legal Talk Network. I am Carl Morrison, a certified paralegal, devoted to law, and your host of The Paralegal Voice.
I am a certified paralegal and paralegal educator and I am devoted to not only the paralegal profession, but to all legal professionals, from legal support professionals, to paralegals, and to those whom we support, attorneys.
I am devoted to helping others enhance their passion and dedication for the paralegal profession through entertaining and engaging interviews.
Today, we have a special guest. Her name is Andrea Grabow. She is a certified paralegal, and Andrea, we are grateful that you’re here today. Welcome to the show.
If you don’t mind why don’t you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself?
Andrea Grabow: Hi Carl. Thanks for having me. I’m a certified paralegal. I’m originally from Claremore, Oklahoma. I actually became a paralegal in 2009 and spent six years at a medical malpractice insurance defense law firm in Tulsa. And I obtained my certified paralegal in 2011 and I received the NALA Affiliate Award in 2013, and then in 2015, I moved from Oklahoma to Maryland, which is where I currently live, and I work at the Department of Justice.
Well, I work for a government contractor called Leidos. I am stationed at the Consumer Protection Branch of the US Department of Justice in Washington, DC. And, when I first moved I was with the contractor Lockheed Martin, which a lot of your listeners might recognize.
In 2016 my department actually merged with a different government contractor called Leidos. So, I’m officially employed by Leidos, but I am stationed at the government.
Carl Morrison: Fascinating, absolutely fascinating. And of course you’re in one of my favorite locations, our nation’s capital and I’m jealous that you get to enjoy all that legal stuff all the time.
So, thank you so much for being with us today.
Andrea Grabow: Thank you for having me. It’s kind of fun walking down the street and you look over, and oh, look, there’s the White House. There, oh, look, there’s the Washington Monument in the distance.
Even after three years like it still kind of gives me sometimes.
Carl Morrison: Right, right. Before we begin we’d like to thank our sponsor.
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And also NALA; NALA is a professional association for paralegals providing continuing education, voluntary certification and professional development programs. NALA has been a sponsor of The Paralegal Voice since our very first show.
And finally, ServeNow, a nationwide network of trusted prescreened process servers. Work with the most professional process servers who have experience with high volume serves, who embrace technology and understand the litigation process. Visit HYPERLINK “http://www.serve-now.com/”serve-now.com to learn more.
And now back to the show. So, we have a special guest with us, Andrea Grabow, certified paralegal, and we’re just going to jump right off into the questioning here, Andrea, about transitioning from a law firm into a corporate or a Federal legal position.
So, did you ever have a desire to work in a corporate setting or work for the government as a paralegal?
Andrea Grabow: Okay, first, let me just say that these are my own thoughts and in no way reflect any official government or contractor policies nor do I speak for the government or my employer.
And now, back to your question, Carl. Not really until I came to the East Coast. There are so many more government opportunities here in DC than in the Midwest, and not that there aren’t opportunities to work for a government agency in Oklahoma, but it’s on a whole another level in DC.
Carl Morrison: Working and living in DC, I can just imagine that it’s just a totally different world than working and living in Oklahoma.
So, tell me what experiences have best prepared you for your current position in DC?
Andrea Grabow: Trial, definitely. I love trial; trial, everything trial. Also having organizations, just learning how to be a paralegal in a law firm is really no different than essentially being a paralegal with the government.
There are a few things that are done differently. You definitely work with a lot more people in the government than in the law firm, but for me, I’m lucky that my current job title is Project Supervisor which can cover a wide range of opportunities, and so, I was able to specialize in my favorite part of being a paralegal, which is trial preparation and trial presentation, and so working for a litigation law firm in Oklahoma has definitely directly transitioned into working for the government as a litigation paralegal.
Carl Morrison: That’s fantastic. So, definitely your trial experience in history helped you in your current position. So, let’s talk about transitioning; transitioning from what I call the law firm world to the corporate, and in your case, the federal government position, what was your most significant career challenge that you faced making that transition?
Andrea Grabow: The paperwork. I know everyone jokes about the government’s red tape, but being hired by the government or by a government contractor involves a very rigorous process of paperwork and background checks at different levels and I know for me I only have the most basic level of security clearance that may not even be able to be called a security clearance, but the paperwork was astounding, that I had to do in order to apply for the job that I have.
And I would say that the length of time everything takes. I applied for the job and it took about a month between when I submitted my application to when the interview got set up, and granted I was still living in Oklahoma at the time and so the hiring managers were very good about working with me and working around my schedule of traveling, but on the trip that I made when I had the job interview I also signed a lease on an apartment here in Maryland, and so I had to put my notice in at the law firm back in Tulsa and then moved back out here to the East Coast two weeks after that and it was still a month before my actual start date. So between applying and interviewing was approximately a month, and then interviewing to start date was about a month-and-a-half.
But while I was here I still had to travel to various locations in DC and Virginia during that timeframe to continue with the hiring process, doing all of the standard new hire background checks, drug testing, et cetera.
Carl Morrison: So, it was a lot of timing, things just take a little bit longer than normal?
Andrea Grabow: Yes, and for anyone who might be looking to transition my advice would be to make sure that you ask upfront about what kind of timeframe the hiring managers tend to expect. And being hired by the government might even be a different timeframe than being hired by a contractor and sometimes it just depends on timing like what time of year it is, if the government is in a hiring freeze or if they think they might go into a hiring freeze, or if they are just coming out of a hiring freeze that sort of thing.
I kind of stumbled into it but because I asked several of the right questions at the right time I was able to figure it out quickly and then compensate for it, because it was about a month exactly between my last law firm paycheck and my first contractor paycheck, but I was very fortunate to have a support network, but it’s definitely better to be able to plan for that sort of thing prior to changing jobs.
Carl Morrison: Right, exactly. Did you find adjusting from midsize to large size law firm to a government position difficult?
Andrea Grabow: Not entirely, I mean, I still had an office, it had a door and it closed so that was nice, and working with attorneys and preparing for trial are basically the same.
Now the types of cases and the lawyer personalities are very different in the government than they were at the law firm, but then the government offers you unique prosecutorial opportunities that you can only access through the government.
For me the hardest part is probably the acronyms. I know that might sound kind of strange but there are so many government acronyms that the people who have been working here for 10-plus years just drop all the time. And I know for at least the first six months I found myself saying and that stands for — quite a lot.
I mean, I am better now, especially with the ones that I see all the time, but I still run across random letters that don’t make sense until I look them up or ask someone.
Carl Morrison: So, what skills had you developed while you worked in a law firm that really have served you well working in the federal government?
Andrea Grabow: Definitely being organized, teamwork is also a very important skill to have because the government has a lot more procedure and red tape than a law firm. So, you have to be able to get along with everyone and look at yourself as more of a cog in the machine rather than a separate machine operating under the same umbrella as other paralegals.
Carl Morrison: Right, exactly. Okay, we’re going to take a short break to hear a word from our sponsors and when we come back we’ll continue our discussion with Andrea Grabow, CP, about transitioning from a law firm to a corporate or government setting.
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Carl Morrison: Welcome back to The Paralegal Voice. I am Carl Morrison. My guest today is Andrea Grabow, CP.
Andrea, before the commercial break, we were discussing about some of the skills that assisted you in your transition. Making that transition and working now for a while in the government, did you find that you needed to be more flexible with your supervising attorneys in your government position versus working in a law firm?
Andrea Grabow: Honestly, I would say, I had to be more flexible working at the law firm, which kind of surprised me, but there were a lot more last-minute emergencies at the law firm, but I’ve never had a governor attorney run into my office, breathless and asked me do something ASAP. These government attorneys have time management down to an almost science, which makes piecing out the deadlines pretty easy, and so it’s a lot less stressful where I can plan my day or my week, and then it actually goes as planned. And again, not always, but it’s a lot less stressful than at a law firm, and I plan to say that you don’t have to be flexible with the government attorneys because being flexible is a great attribute to have, but I’m fine that I’m working a lot less overtime and working on a lot less emergency projects with the government attorneys than I did with the law firm attorneys.
Carl Morrison: So, what one thing do you find most rewarding working for the federal government versus working for a law firm?
Andrea Grabow: I think I mentioned before. I personally am stationed at the Consumer Protection Branch of the Department of Justice; so, for me, I personally find it extremely rewarding that we work to protect the consumer. I’ve had two telemarketing violations cases as well as one Consumer Product Safety case that have all gone to trial in the last three years that I’ve been there and I can see that the differences that our department makes because people stop getting annoying telemarketing calls or the products that they can buy in the stores are safer because of the regulations and the work that the government does to essentially protect the consumer.
Carl Morrison: And that’s fantastic and it sounds like you do get some rewards from your position working for the government, so kudos to you.
Andrea Grabow: Thank you.
Carl Morrison: Do you find that there are any drawbacks to working in-house/federal government?
Andrea Grabow: There are certain ways of doing things. So, there’s — I mean there’s a lot of procedure because the federal government is enormous and so trying not to be become overwhelmed with the scope of everything and trying to kind of keep all of the administrative portions of the cases in line and functioning has been a challenge, and sometimes it can be a matter of too many cooks in the kitchen.
If the government attorney is asking me for one thing but then my contractor supervisor is recommending that I do a different thing and so trying to coordinate all of that communication not only between the attorneys that I work with and then also my supervisor at my employer but there are also several different support agencies and support departments that we deal with in terms of discovery and document analysis and that sort of thing, and so trying to coordinate everybody is sometimes a big job.
Carl Morrison: So, in other words it’s like herding cats, huh?
Andrea Grabow: Always. That being said for as enormous as the federal government is, it operates as efficiently as it can. At least for the people that I work with and the parts of it that I’ve seen, when you look at it and you think, how did this come to be or kind of why do we have to do this procedure this certain way and it’s because you have a lot of different personalities and a lot of different people coming together, you just have to streamline certain things and do things a certain way and you have all kinds of different levels of approvals that certain things need to have, and so, it’s inspiring actually and it’s very impressive to me at just how efficient the whole process is when you take into consideration just how much then federal government deals with on a daily basis.
Carl Morrison: Yeah, exactly. So, I’ve got another question here for you. Did you have a difficult time adjusting working for the federal government after having worked for a law firm, large law firm or did you find that it was a pretty easy transition?
Andrea Grabow: Well, I was definitely well-equipped to handle the case volume that the government deals with regularly. I had worked on several large cases at the law firm and for the government having a million documents in any given case is a small number on their scale. So, my experience dealing with large cases has definitely helped and been enhanced during my transition and then now working for the government, and for me, I have to get used to dealing with calm people as well as the constant network of communication of keeping everyone informed.
Carl Morrison: So, Andrea, what advice would you give a paralegal considering transitioning from a law firm setting to either working for a governmental entity or a corporate in-house type of situation?
Andrea Grabow: Well, I think I had previously mentioned the timeframes for hiring about planning for that hiring window, but also make sure that you essentially do a background check on yourself to see what your potential employer might find as far as credit report and kind of knowing what your score is and knowing generally what’s on your credit report and that way if there is something that may be a little bit less than stellar or if there something that you could improve in your credit report, then you can include that as part of your planning process when you’re planning for your transition, prior to applying for any jobs that you can actually bring up your credit score, so that when you submit your applications you look even better to a potential employer.
And then, of course, having the organization and communication skills being able to work well with others, having your discovery and document analysis skills are going to be really important when you actually go in-house or go into a government setting.
Carl Morrison: Yeah, depending on the area of law that you’re working in right now when you transition, you may have to beef up some particular areas. I know for me I had to really hone in on employment law because that was not an area that I’ve worked in the law firm, but it’s now an area that I have and touch on regularly. So, being familiar and learning what the State statutes say about particular employment issues and drafting particular employment contracts is important. So, you know about a position and you may want to apply for a position, but you may have to build on some of those skills, so great advice, Andrea, definitely.
So, of course, I always have to have a fun question thrown in there of my guests and you’re not any different, so don’t think you can get away from this question. So, my question to you, Andrea, if you were to create a slogan for your life what would it be, like Nike’s “Just do it”? So, what is your slogan?
Andrea Grabow: Well, one of my favorite quotes is, “This too shall pass”, which is a great tool to have your toolbox when dealing with attorneys, no matter where they come from.
But, a slogan for my life and for the people who know me, this might make them laugh, “Good people are the unicorns of love”.
Carl Morrison: I love it. Absolutely, love it. For our listeners, I will tell you that Andrea has a healthy obsession for unicorns, and so I just love that slogan for you, Andrea, and most definitely it fits.
So Andrea, truly thank you for joining me today. If a listener would like to get in touch with you to talk and ask and bend your ear about transitioning, how would they reach out to you?
Andrea Grabow: Well, I’m always available via email and my email address is [email protected]; and, anyone can feel free to call or text me, my cell phone number is (918)606-1178. Keep in mind I am on the East Coast, but I do try to keep West Coast from the hours. And I have a long commute back and forth to work, it’s about two hours one way, so I’m always happy to be talking or networking while I’m on the bus.
Carl Morrison: I am glad I don’t have that commute anymore. So, kudos to you to dealing with that two-hour commute every day. So, thank you, Andrea.
Let’s take another short break now, don’t go away because when I come back I’ll have news and other paralegal tidbits to share with you.
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Carl Morrison: Welcome back. The following are some upcoming paralegal and paralegal-related conferences worth noting, and more importantly attending. So, be sure, and if you haven’t registered for one of these, you do so soon and attend.
NALA is having their 2018 Conference & Expo, July 11th through 13th in St. Louis, Missouri. Join paralegals from across the nation and attend the largest paralegal conference in the country. Information about the conference sessions can be found on NALA’s website at HYPERLINK “http://www.nala.org” nala.org and I can tell you that there are some really good sessions that are lined up, most definitely you want to attend. And I’m looking forward to it, I’m looking forward to seeing you there.
NALS is hosting Adventure Tulsa 2018, April 5th through the 7th at the Hyatt Regency in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Come gain CLE, but not in a traditional setting. CLE is going to be held in various locations, including the federal court, local paralegal, classroom, and other nontraditional settings. But it’s not just CLE, fun events will be mixed in as well most differently. So, seating is limited and there are still a couple of seats left. So, be sure and register at HYPERLINK “http://www.nals.org” www.nals.org.
I will be in attendance and I’m looking forward to networking, learning, and having a lot of fun.
And don’t forget about our new segment called The Listeners’ Voice. This is a segment of the show, where I give you the listener, an opportunity for your voice to be heard and send me an email with any of your questions, career celebrations, et cetera.
If there’s a particular topic or you have a question that you’d like for me to answer or maybe your prior guests that you’ve listened to that you have a question for, be sure to send me an email and make your voice the listeners’ voice known and heard. Send your email to me at [email protected].
Today’s question comes from Arlena. Arlena asks, what is your opinion about including introduction letters to firms when applying for a job?
Arlena, that’s a really great question and I’ll tell you that I am a firm believer of including that introduction letter with your résumé when you send it to a potential employer. The reason why you do an introduction letter is you want to showcase some special skills that you wouldn’t necessarily maybe put in your résumé, but you want to grab the reader’s attention.
And most often it’s a head of an HR department or it’s a senior partner or even a senior paralegal that may be conducting the interviews. And if you can grab their attention, the best way to do it is with that introduction letter.
So, most definitely you want to craft a strong introduction letter that really sells you the potential employee to this potential employer. So, most definitely, do those introduction letters. I always tell students, that’s a vital part of getting a really good job.
So thank you, Arlena, and listeners, you must definitely keep those questions coming.
That’s all the time we have today for The Paralegal Voice. If you have questions about today’s show, please email them to me at [email protected].
Stay tuned for more information in upcoming podcasts for exciting paralegal trends, news and engaging in fun interviews from leading paralegals and other leading legal professionals.
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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, or subsidiaries. None of the content should be considered legal advice. As always, consult a lawyer.