The role of experienced paralegal professionals continues to evolve in exciting new directions. Hear how driven paralegals are finding opportunities in organizational leadership as technology and artificial intelligence (AI) continue to disrupt the legal profession. The sky is the limit for today’s paralegals.
Guest Tara Kim Eberhart shares how the International Practice Management Association (IPMA) is leading the way with its four pillars: people, process, profits, and progress. Paralegal professionals more than ever are driving the operation of successful firms and organizations creating management opportunities for paralegals.
What are the best practices and standards of care in management, and how do organizations incorporate these into their own operations and prioritize goals? Practice management and practice support may be two different fields, but they share the goal of driving an organization in orderly, focused manner.
Moving from daily paralegal duties to practice management and oversight can be an exciting career development opportunity for experienced paralegals seeking new challenges.
And don’t forget IMPA’s 2023 conference, Building Today For A Successful Tomorrow, Oct. 11-13 (pre and post conference events begin Oct. 9 and wrap up Oct. 15).
Tony Sipp: Welcome back to The Paralegal Voice podcast. My name is Tony Sipp and I have a very special guest with us today, her name is Tara Eberhart. She’s been in our circle in the legal field for a while now and doing amazing things. Tara is the Senior Director Practice Management, Founding Member of Chief DC and President International Practice Management Association, otherwise known as IPMA. And Tara, I believe you are in your second term as President as well?
Tara Kim Eberhart: That’s correct. And I appreciate you telling, not telling everyone how many years I’ve been in legal, so thank you.
Tony Sipp: I thought I would skip that fact, but it’s clear your experience brought you to where you are now. So Tara, is there anything you would like to tell the folks, our listeners about yourself that I may have overlooked?
Tara Kim Eberhart: So I’m based in Washington DC but I have responsibilities nationally. I appreciate you giving a shout-out to all the association work that I do. I know that it’s near and dear to your heart as well. And you know, other than that, I am a wife and a mom and all of the stuff that I do that is sort of possible is because of my very patient husband, Robert, and my daughter Madison, who is a real person now that she’s graduated from grad school.
Tony Sipp: I love it, I love it. So Tara, one of the conversations you and I had was about the four pillars, and this is part of the association IPMA that you’ve been working with. And there’s something else that you’re doing, which we’ll get to down the road, but one of the things that had me curious is that you were talking about the four pillars, part of the mission and the key objectives of IPMA. Can you talk to us about what those four pillars are and how you see that being more incorporated IPMA?
Tara Kim Eberhart: Sure. So the four pillars are actually sort of a way of expressing some ideas that we’ve been wrestling with in IPMA for a while. So, if you’re familiar with the International Practice Management Association history, we’ve been around for almost 40 years now, next year is our 40th anniversary and we started with a real emphasis on paralegals. We were the Legal Assistant Management Association, and then we rebranded years later to International Paralegal Management Association, and as all of our roles have evolved, we wanted to rebrand as the International Practice Management Association, but that left some of our members that had a really clear identity in paralegal land, looking for us to sort of clarify how IPMA was continuing to service them at different stages of their career, and how we were absolutely giving a nod to our very proud tradition of being rooted in the paralegal community but also recognizing that our association wanted to be a little bit more inclusive and broader.
So the four pillars, which I brought to our Board of Directors in March of this year, are People, Process, Profits and Progress. And some people would call progress innovation, but it didn’t start with a P, so that was out, it had to start with a P.
So those are the four pillars, Tony.
Tony Sipp: I like it, I like it. Just Progressive enough that, fits right into my world. So being the President, there’s something that you did that I’m very proud of your accomplishments, and somebody told me that you were kind of the anchor behind the DEI Initiative for IPMA, is that true? I think it is.
Tara Kim Eberhart: Yeah, I like to say that I contributed, I mean, certainly so, so when Patty Maxwell, was president of IPMA, we had a lot of tensions in the U.S. that bubbled up over that particular summer, and IPMA was looking for a way to sort of be responsive to some of the hurt and anguish and frustration that was sort of percolating certainly in the United States and in different ways in Canada.
And so she, during her presidency established the Advisory Board for, is a group that Sybil and I headed and we explored how IPMA as an association should really be approaching the subject and incorporating the subject of DE&I in our association. And so, the Advisory Board met for about 10 to 12 months and we came up with a series of recommendations to the Board of Directors, and from there one of the recommendations was to formally establish a DE&I Committee and to be able to integrate our conversation about those important topics in all aspects of what we do as an association.
It was really important to us that we didn’t just establish a committee, and for one hour a month, talk about topics that were important, we wanted to have a committee that would enable us to infuse a DE&I lens in all aspects of the association. And so, I was really proud as the president-elect at the time to Co-Chair the Advisory Board and then to hand over the DE&I committee to our DE&I Committee Chairs.
Tony Sipp: And I didn’t know this. I knew that one of the past presidents Karen Tuschak, who is my mentor that — did you guys overlap a little bit? But I just realized that, I saw your names together on some of, oh it was an award that you won through IPMA. I don’t know if you recall what that is.
Tara Kim Eberhart: Yes.
Tony Sipp: But yeah, you know what it is, okay, thanks.
Tara Kim Eberhart: Yeah, absolutely no. I mean Karen, Karen is inspiration right?
Tony Sipp: She is.
Tara Kim Eberhart: Within sort of paralegal circles and then certainly as well within IPMA circles and I am just amazingly proud now that she has branched off and started her own company and is really sort of continuing the conversation that we all try to have within our law firms and within our organizations in a much broader way, right. She’s concentrating on just the message of how paralegals can really drive practice management and practice support and how we have those conversations and the training that is needed.
And so, yes, I wasn’t on the Board with Karen when she was President, but she’s among others is one of the reasons why I agreed to step forward and serve on the Board and then ultimately become President, so.
Tony Sipp: That’s excellent. It’s great people all working together for a great cause, I love it. So with us, all of us, collaboration is very important in everything that we do; relationships matter, everything matters so that we can get our job done effectively. So, how does the IPMA work with other international organizations or associations to promote the best practices and standard of care on a global scale because you are international.
Tara Kim Eberhart: Yeah, so it’s interesting. So over the years, there have been, just different titles given to that concept. One group title was the Conclave and that was sort of IPMA and NFPA and NALA and ILTA coming together and sort of having conversations. And then now there’s another group called the Brain Trust and certainly same concepts, right.
I like to think of the four pillars as each association I think, has the same sort of concepts, we just put them in a different order. So like ILTA started with progress, innovation, tech, but certainly has expanded those conversations to some of the other concepts, you know clock. I think if I was thinking about how clock was strategically placed, I would put process forward as sort of the first idea for clock, certainly coming from their in-house perspective, and now expanding to those of us that are in law firms.
So yes, I think it’s super important and over the years IPMA certainly in our paralegal roots had a really strong and continues to have a really strong relationship with NFPA and with NALA, with CAPA out there in California, right, where you are Tony?
Tony Sipp: Correct, correct.
Tara Kim Eberhart: And I was proud in my paralegal days to be one of the presidents of the one of the six founding chapters of NFPA. So I was President of the National Capital Area Paralegal Association here in DC. So, I like to trot out my recovering paralegal like real roots, right. I did real work, I was in the trenches —
Tony Sipp: Yeah, yeah.
Tara Kim Eberhart: — before I went to the dark side of management and then to the business side of the firm, so.
Tony Sipp: That’s great. It shows the evolution of a paralegal and what you want to do as your goals change and the world, the legal world changes as well. So it’s great to see people doing that successfully, and encouraging others to reach those same goals.
All right folks, we have to take a commercial break and we’ll be right back with some messages from our sponsors.
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Tony Sipp: All right folks, welcome back. We are here with Tara Eberhart discussing some really important things in the paralegal community and the legal field in general. During the commercial break Tara and I had a little conversation about practice management versus practice support. Tara, can you tell us the difference between practice management versus practice support?
Tara Kim Eberhart: Yeah. Well, I think that’s a real sort of debate right now. It’s really interesting to me because I think a number of firms are taking different approaches to practice management and we’ve had this debate in IPMA, because obviously it’s in our name, right, International Practice Management Association, and what does that mean. And so, I think there’s a lot of different ways to sort of envision it.
In my universe at Dentons, in my everyday job, practice management to us means we have practice directors and senior directors who oversee our different practice groups, and then we have practice support administrators who help us run the actual sort of business of the Practice Group.
Yeah, so in other settings, practice management could mean managing an aspect of the practice or managing a population within the practice, right. So you’ve got people who are in practice management who oversee paralegals, you have people in practice management who oversee docketing departments or litigation support. So I think we’re all trying to sort of within our organizations navigate, practice management, practice support, what does that mean and how do we complement each other in those roles. I think sometimes we try to have a uniform definition and I don’t think that’s necessary to have a uniform definition, I think within the organization, I think you have to have a clear understanding of what those roles mean, so that you can create pipelines and you can create career advancement and professional development opportunities, and so you can have some just clarity on responsibilities.
But I think that’s going to be interesting again as we go into the next sort of five to ten years with all of the emerging trends and all the advancements in the legal profession, I think we’re all going to continue to see those roles evolved, because in some groups it’s the bean counters, right. It’s the pure like other firms, you have to be a lawyer to be in practice management.
So I think it’s one of those departments, areas, functions like we’ve seen in the past where it sort of gets defined over time and within your organization.
Tony Sipp: Right. I’ve noticed that it in many practices as well. I’m losing a lot of my paralegal friends to Legal Ops lately.
Tara Kim Eberhart: Yes.
Tony Sipp: So it’s evolving and we’re watching as technology grows, how do we fit in, what place are we, what skills do we have that will complement everything that we’re doing with the firm and inside and outside of work. So I do understand that you have something really great coming in next month, the conference. This is the what second annual, 39th Annual Conference & Expo with a great theme, Building Today For Success Tomorrow, kind of what we were talking about just now. Can you tell us a little bit about the conference and why people should attend?
Tara Kim Eberhart: Sure. So IPMA has a conference each year. It’s traditionally in October. The conference itself starts on a Wednesday, kicks off on Wednesday and wraps up on Friday evening, but we’ve currently run a one-day managerial skills seminar, so if people are interested in doing the managerial skills seminar, they can come in on Tuesday, we do a whole day seminar and then the conference starts on Wednesday.
So this year, we have over 25 different sessions over the course of the three days. They’re going to align with our different pillars that we were talking about. So when you look at the Conference Agenda you’re going to see some of the sessions are really focused on people, some are really focused on process, some are really focused on profits and some are you know in the progress or innovation space.
So we’ve tried to align the conference with our pillars and our idea is that we all come to professional development with strength in one, two, three or four of those pillars.
And so by coming to the conference, you can pick some of the topics that you are interested in deepening your experiences and then you can try other topics where you’re sort of exploring them, and thinking a little bit about how that sort of may fit into your future career plans, but it’s the week of October the 9th and it’s in Atlanta this year. So we’re really excited to go back to Atlanta.
Tony Sipp: You mean Hotlanta, right?
Tara Kim Eberhart: Yes, yes. But yes exactly.
Tony Sipp: The more famously known.
Tara Kim Eberhart: Yes. So, Angela Monroe and Huascar, two of our Board members are down there in Atlanta, so they have been telling us all what clothes to bring and all the local things to check out while we are down there. So yeah, we are really excited to see everybody.
Tony Sipp: Those are great friends and board members to get that done ahead of time, I love it. What I love about you is well, just you’re a person, I know you do this as a president and you’re a leader in Dentons as well, but you definitely are a person that puts people first and it shows through your work. It shows through your time there as President of IPMA, my apologies, is that something you just been passionate about or did you end up going into the titles that you are, because I see you as seeing things before they happen and trying to get people ready to be in a position where they can become leaders in the community as well as in their firms or other legal organizations that they’re a part of?
Tara Kim Eberhart: Yeah, I think that probably comes from my sort of upbringing because I’m a military brat. I am a very — my dad was in the Army and so I was literally born overseas when he was stationed there.
Tony Sipp: Wow.
Tara Kim Eberhart: And he was on active duty until he retired the day I graduated from high school. So my entire life before I got to make a choice about where I was going to go to college was, being in the military. And in the military, it’s all about people, not only do you work with your troops but you live with your troops, right. You’re deployed, you have a tree of concern, you have a tree of care, spouses and significant others, before deployments we have meetings about how we take care of each other while people are deployed.
So I think that history of growing up and you’re when you’re away from your extended family, you sort of form that family as with your military folks. So I grew up, every holiday that we were overseas, my dad would invite random strangers to come and have Thanksgiving with us or Christmas or because they were away from home and away from their families, so I grew up learning that you take care of your people. I mean that’s, that’s what you do.
And so, as I’ve had the opportunity to go into different management positions and then leadership positions, that’s probably what weighs the heaviest on me is that responsibility. When we manage people, we are partly responsible for helping them to be successful, and when things go well and you give the credit to the folks that did it and when they don’t go well, as a leader or manager you try to take some of that burden. But I think that’s probably part of it Tony, is just that military upbringing and that sense of we’re sort of in this together or so.
Tony Sipp: Yeah, yeah, I have the same. I don’t have the — I have military in my family but not direct, and I think that’s a great story that you just shared with us and thank you for sharing that.
Let’s just take a quick commercial break and we’ll be right back with Tara Eberhart.
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Tony Sipp: And welcome back. My name is Tony Sipp. I’m here with Tara Eberhart, the Senior Director in Practice Management at Dentons. We were just talking about some very interesting things and trends that are happening within the legal community. So Tara, what emerging trends do you see or challenges that you see that will impact our industry moving forward in the near future?
Tara Kim Eberhart: Yeah, Tony, it’s interesting because I get asked this question at different times and so I just went to the ILTACON 2023 Conference in Orlando, about two and a half weeks ago.
So, that’s sort of a big topic on my mind now. So I spent four days just looking at how we practice, right. How we practice, how we’re going to be leveraging technology? I do a lot of process oriented projects and so one of the things that happens when you do a lot of those types of projects, as you always get tasked, is technology going to replace people, right. Like what’s going to happen in the next iteration of things and it was sort of a joke at ILTACON with some of us that no matter what tool you had, you had to have something about it was connected to AI, right, that is the — everything we do is the records, file trail is going to be connected to AI, and you know, everything.
So I mean I think that what’s really great and for your audience, right, as, as paralegals, as paraprofessionals, we have just unbelievable unlimited opportunities right now, because in order to really look at technology, in order to look at processes, you have to know how things work, you have to know how they currently work, and you have to be able to sort of map them out and intelligently discuss what parts of the process should be automated or can be automated and then what are some of the advantages or pitfalls of doing that.
So, you mentioned legal operations, practice management, practice, support, legal operations, these are all the terms that law firms are wrestling with. We are trying to harness our data, we are trying to get smarter and to be more quantitative in our approach to legal. We are trying to be more efficient and to look at process. In a universe where every lawyer wants to be an entrepreneur and wants to run their own practice.
Tony Sipp: Right.
Tara Kim Eberhart: And wants to be unique and have their differentiators, right?
Tony Sipp: Yeah, yeah.
Tara Kim Eberhart: Do we see the dichotomy there? Right. We need to put processes in place and we need to be efficient, but on the other hand, we need to differentiate, we need to offer value and we need to stand out from our competitors.
So I think that’s going to be one of the things, that’s going to be really interesting to see. I think you’re going to start seeing, especially in law firms, you’re going to see the law firms that really do it well, and thoughtfully at looking at process and tech and engaging your subject matter experts in that conversation and then I think you’re going to see law firms that are going to try to take shortcuts, and they’re going to try to just focus on how do we get the quickest or the simplest or the cheapest. And they are going to forget that you’ve got to build a good process, you’ve got to have it based on good people. And I think that’s going to be trend that we’re going to see in practice management and practice support and legal ops and paralegal land, that’s going to be our universe for the next sort of definitely three to five years, is how we navigate that and how we help our teams navigate that.
Tony Sipp: Wow. This is why I didn’t say as you. So, this is just fantastic. So Tara, please tell us for our listeners something inspirational that we can, they can take home with them before I ask you about your contact information, so that anybody who listens to the program can reach out to you.
Tara Kim Eberhart: Yeah. So it’s interesting because you were talking about how people have been inspirational in your career, and I know sometimes when I’m talking about different things people are, you know look at some of the accomplishments that I do. I think it’s really important that we absolutely keep it real. I fail all the time. I do things wrong all the time. I find things to be challenging or frustrating more.
So one of the things that I’m trying to remember especially in this — again, incredibly strange universe that we’re in of uncertainty and where our team members are just dealing with a lot both in work and out that I try to focus on progress, not perfection. That is my sort of thing lately to give myself some space and grace, to challenge myself to sort of keep learning and keep my ways of staying engaged with what I’m doing, but also to remember that sometimes the to-do list, we’re all great at making to-do lists, sometimes one of the things on the to-do list needs to be to not make a to-do list.
Tony Sipp: True.
Tara Kim Eberhart: And to do something that, that inspires us or is fun or there was a time in my life when I didn’t do things because I wasn’t good at them, right.
Tony Sipp: Right, right.
Tara Kim Eberhart: So I’m not a particularly gifted artist. My niece can draw anything and so I wouldn’t — I didn’t love going to like paint and sips, right?
Tony Sipp: Yes.
Tara Kim Eberhart: Where you had relaxing thing where you went and had a lovely glass of wine and you painted this wonderful thing, because my wonderful thing always like stressed me out, that it wasn’t perfect and didn’t look like the thing. And as I get a little bit older I realized that relax, just relax, it’s in the experimenting, it’s in the discovery, it’s in the process and that’s why, for someone who is a Type A planner, everything has to be on the to-do list, everything has to be accomplished. I’ve had some of the best fun when I just remember, progress, not perfection.
Tony Sipp: Exactly. I told my paralegals, make sure that you stand out and not stick out. So this has been great Tara, and I’m sure we could talk for hours about several, several topics, but for our listeners, where can they reach you if they want to get a hold of you?
Tara Kim Eberhart: I’m definitely on LinkedIn. I invite anyone who is interested to send me a message and/or follow me. I’ve been known to post interesting things from time to time, I certainly would love for people to check out, the International Practice Management Association and their website. But my email address is [email protected]. I would love to hear from people or if there’s something that we’ve talked about that resonates with them or if they have a great idea or something they’d like to share.
Tony Sipp: Yeah, and you can always go to the website and email your questions to us, and we can revisit the topic or Jill and I can discuss it on another episode. So Tara, thank you so much for taking your time to do this with us, and I can’t thank you enough, it’s great to have leaders like you and the world that we live in, so I’m really proud to call you a friend and be happy to have you on our podcast. So thank you so much.
Tara Kim Eberhart: Look Tony, I’m so glad I made the cut, right, like you’ve been doing this for a while and I had to like sneak in there, but I really appreciate the invitation and always happy to come back.
Tony Sipp: Thank you, Tara. I appreciate that. Everybody, thank you for listening and we’ll see you the next time on The Paralegal Voice podcast.
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