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Interview with Jennifer MacDonnell, Paralegal in California

We recently had the great fortune to interview California paralegal, Jennifer MacDonnell, who has worked in the legal field for approximately six years. Jennifer graduated with honors from El Camino College Paralegal Studies program, earning an Associates of Science degree in Paralegal Studies, along with a Paralegal Certificate. During the interview, we discussed Jennifer’s most valuable lessons gleaned from her studies, as well as what she enjoys most about working as a paralegal. Jennifer also writes about the paralegal field at The Paralegal Society.

How many years have you worked as a paralegal, Jennifer?

jenn-macdonnellI have combined legal experience, spanning over six years, working in legal support roles and as a paralegal. While enrolled in the El Camino College Paralegal Studies program, I simultaneously interned at the Law Office of Michael Botello, where I developed a passion for estate planning. Following that experience, I worked as a formal legal secretary for the Law Office of David E Simon, where I garnered a solid legal foundation in the areas of business litigation as well as contract and personal injury law. After graduating from the paralegal program in 2009, I continued my career as a paralegal for the Law Office of Andrew M. Meinzer, where I maintained extensive conservatorship matters. Now, I work as a paralegal for Kathleen D. Crane, an esteemed Estate Planning, Trust Administration, and Probate attorney.

Can you tell us why you decided to become a paralegal?

After ending a long and prosperous career in the restaurant industry, which lasted for more than twenty years, I began to feel as if something was missing. Although I enjoyed working in the restaurant industry, where I gained tremendous experience in the business world and employee relations, I decided to go back to college, so that I could reinvent my career path.

I felt drawn to a career that would provide me with daily challenges and allow me to offer a valued service to the public. In fact, for many years, I would not allow myself to “think” that I had chosen the right career path because I wanted to be absolutely certain. It wasn’t until I started working solely as a probate paralegal that I realized I had chosen the right career path. I thrive in the probate realm. I love the personal fulfillment that it gives me to help our clients with their legal issues.

What do you enjoy most about working as a paralegal?

I truly enjoy helping clients work through their Estate Plan or Post Death Administration. Estate Planning or the death of a loved one is difficult enough. Also, I am very lucky to work for an attorney who not only shares my compassion for a client’s unfortunate situation, but honestly cares about the outcome, which I find creates a positive yet rewarding work atmosphere.

What did you learn in school that helped you the most in your career?

Education was the foundation to my career, and I needed to absorb all of my education to make a fresh start after ending a longstanding career in the restaurant business. There are two things I learned in school: Not everything can be taught in a classroom, and optimal writing skills can be the most valuable asset of a paralegal. In other words, I treated the classroom as a job. I arrived to class on time, professionally dressed, prepared, and willing to contribute. Also, I began mastering my writing skills by finishing every project as if I was actually working for an attorney. By treating my education like a job, by the time I started working as a paralegal, I was practiced and prepared.

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

I have been very fortunate to work with some very influential people in my career. One of them is Vi Pham, Esq., Paralegal Program Director at El Camino College. Together, in 2008, we developed the El Camino College Paralegal Club to provide an on-campus support system for future paralegals. I am proud to say that the club continues to provide students individual and group support with things such as drafting resumes, interview techniques, and job search tips.

What advice would you give to paralegals who are just starting their careers?

Keep an open mind and remain humble throughout your daily interactions with clients, classmates, associations, and coworkers. As soon as a person begins to close their mind to new possibilities or becomes overconfident, the best and most interesting people, experiences or career opportunities will pass them by. I feel it is imperative to keep an open mind and be open to any opportunities that may come your way.

We thank Jennifer for providing thoughtful insight about what it is like to be a paralegal. You can read more of Jennifer’s advice for paralegals at The Paralegal Society.