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Interview with Laura Kryta, President of the Western New York Paralegal Association

Laura Kryta, President of the Western New York Paralegal Association and paralegal at Phillips Lytle LLP recently provided Paralegal411 with an in-depth interview about paralegal careers. Laura provided fantastic advice for us on everything from networking to time management. She also provided helpful information on beginning a career in the legal field as well as career management tips.

What circumstances or influences led you to pursue a career as a paralegal?

My interest in law and the legal profession began during my high school years, likely sparked from some television shows such as L.A. Law and later Law & Order. I remember first taking a business law class, which I loved. Also, in college, I participated in every aspect of mock jury trials, which served to intensify my legal career interests. I inter-played various roles of the attorneys, witnesses and judge, and it was a fun experience.

Originally, I wanted to teach political science, but the appeal of the prestigious legal profession enticed me to pursue a fulfilling career as a litigation paralegal. Twenty-three years later, I love this profession even more, and the excitement that I had as a junior paralegal continues as an experienced senior paralegal today, with new cases and subject matters to learn about arriving daily, the job has remained fresh and keeps me wanting to come back to the office and contribute to our clients’ defenses and wins.

My ideal of teaching as a professor and my love of the legal profession merged two years ago when I began mentoring young paralegal students at a local college, sharing the skills that I have learned over the years. I enjoy working in the legal profession and enjoy my job as a paralegal.

What does a typical day look like for you?

A typical day in a private law firm is diverse and varies, as does the work in a particular practice area. There are many different areas for a paralegal to find as a niche from litigation, torts, negligence, medical malpractice, family law, property, criminal, environmental, etc. My specialty area is civil litigation, strictly working as a litigation support paralegal and as the lead for a dedicated support team of trial litigators, which means primarily preparing cases for trial.

My daily responsibilities include, but are not limited to:

  • managing paralegal staff and coordinating work flow;
  • interacting with clients;
  • drafting legal documents and pleadings;
  • interviewing witnesses;
  • preparing case status reports and project management reports;
  • writing correspondence;
  • analyzing documents for facts and information;
  • performing legal research;
  • summarizing records; and
  • organizing the case files.

The biggest challenge to working as a litigation paralegal is that the case work never ends, and paralegals are constantly managing their time to meet the deadlines and demands of the practice of law. Paralegals can work the same long hours as attorneys, especially when there is a need to meet important deadlines.

One of the positive aspects of working as a paralegal is the variety of case assignments that is challenging, stimulating, and rewarding.

Can you give us an example of an interesting or meaningful case or project
that you have worked on and your role in helping to achieve a positive outcome?

As a trial paralegal, I have had the pleasure to assist many outstanding trial litigators, to achieve some notable accomplishments and win cases. In one matter, I spent six months compiling and rearranging raw data into a database format in order to calculate damages on a commercial case. My dedication, hard work, and commitment were well rewarded. During the trial, the re-arrangement of the damage calculations baffled opposing counsel, and that strategy won us the case. It is very rewarding to help a client navigate through a complex legal matter and obtain a successful outcome.

The interesting subjects that come across my desk really do keep the role of a paralegal interesting. Another recent case where I made an impact involved the review of actual surveillance footage from a bank to determine which property owners had access to a particular door entrance. When the property owner walked across that screen, it felt just like one of the detectives on those shows I was watching in high school finding that fingerprint that solved the case.

When we caught up with you, you mentioned a new trend: legal staff, both attorneys and paralegals, on “temporary loan” from your employer to a client’s in-house legal team. Do you see that happening frequently in your field, and what are the benefits for the client?

A new trend for law firms is to outsource their legal staff to assist a client’s in-house legal department handle a large case by “temporarily loaning” a paralegal or attorney to work on-site.

The benefit to the client is the ability to reduce the cost of not having to hire additional in-house staff to work on a document review or e-discovery project. This is an added value to the client by saving time from retaining and training a contract or outsourced legal professional, lowering managed risk by having a legal professional familiar with their business work on-site, and creating efficiencies to reduce costs on legal services. This type of outsourcing is relatively new, however, it is a great way for a corporate in-house counsel to handle complex or time-consuming projects on a more affordable budget. By extending the paralegal from the law firm into the client, it deepens the business relationship between both parties, encourages further collaboration between in-house and outside counsel, and potentially could open opportunities for the paralegal to be hired full time by the corporation if that environment suits your skills better.

What qualities or skills do you think are most important for success as a
paralegal?

Most essential is top-notch writing skills for drafting correspondence, communications, and drafting pleadings. A paralegal should become proficient at performing legal research, both on legal research databases and the Internet. Technology skills are the most sought-after skills for paralegals today, especially in the e-discovery realm and litigation support positions. Other important basic skills include multi-tasking, attention to detail, balancing and prioritizing work demands, team work, and organizational skills.

For new paralegal candidates, law firm and corporate employers are looking for newly hired employees to have the work ethic and diligence to be flexible, trainable, and the ability to navigate basic computer programs, such as Word, Outlook, and Excel.

In previous conversations with us you have talked about the importance of networking, both in person and online through channels like social media. What is your advice for approaching the networking process and making it “work” to the candidate’s benefit?

Networking with other paralegals in your area, by joining a legal organization or paralegal association often leads to learning about job opportunities in the legal market place. Most legal professionals build relationships with other members of the legal community – lawyers, paralegals, legal vendors, and human resource managers. Interacting with other like-minded professionals keeps you visible and open to a referral to a potential employment opportunity.

Social networking on LinkedIn provides an opportunity for legal recruiters and HR managers in law firms and corporate law departments to search for worthy candidates by reviewing your on-line resume. Also, interacting on forums and discussion groups allows one to establish a connection, which may lead to a referral or invitation to submit your resume to the direct attention of a key executive looking to hire a candidate for a position.

Is there any further advice that you would share with paralegals who are new to the field?

New paralegals should have the ability to adapt, approach a task or assignment with a positive attitude, be flexible to try a challenge, and take the initiative to work autonomously and prioritize work tasks.

New paralegals should make sure they are up to speed with the latest office software and computer programs that are used on a daily basis in order to be prepared to handle the attorney requests. Formatting and attention to detail are very important as much of the work that paralegals prepare ends up being used in submissions to Court or opposing counsel.

Paralegals are an integral part of the support staff that enables a law firm to function efficiently and effectively, be proud of your title, and it will show through in your work.

We’d like to thank Laura for being so generous with her time! To connect with her and learn more, visit the Western New York Paralegal Association and Phillips Lytle LLP