Interview with Katrina Lea, President of the Fort Worth Paralegal Association
We recently had the great opportunity to interview Katrina Lea, president of the Fort Worth Paralegal Association. Katrina minored in Pre-Law at Taylor University and earned a master’s degree and certificates in project management and business analysis. She worked in telecommunications for 11 years before transitioning into a full-time paralegal career. In this interview, we discuss Katrina’s career path, what a typical day looks like, and her advice for paralegals who are seeking their first job in the legal field.
How did you get your start in the legal field as a paralegal?
I actually began my paralegal certificate coursework prior to being laid-off with the hopes of joining our legal department and after the lay-off, I continued in the Paralegal Certificate Program at the University of Texas-Arlington. Although UTA’s program did not require an intern/externship, I know that on-the-job training is one of the best ways to learn a new job/career. I was fortunate to be able to intern with a Senior Paralegal at a firm supporting a group of family law attorneys. Through that experience, I obtained my first job with a solo practitioner whose primary practice was family law, with a little civil and federal litigation.
Can you describe what a typical day looks like for you?
Since I currently work for a corporation, I no longer have direct interaction with clients. My clients are internal to the organization and there is also a difference regarding my level of responsibility. While working at the solo firm, I was responsible for all of the non-attorney duties: answering phones, managing the mail and calendars, drafting documents, filing at the courthouse or via e-file, setting up service of process, assisting with research, billing, greeting clients, administrative paperwork, etc. Currently, as a legal contract analyst, I review and disseminate real estate and transportation contracts for automation. Typically, my days consist of a lot of reading, analysis, and data entry.
Can you share an interesting or meaningful case that you have worked on and how you contributed to a positive outcome?
I do not have one specific case to share because while working with my attorney on family law cases they were all interesting to some degree and most importantly, I considered them all meaningful. The cases which touched my heart deepest were those involving children in divorce and custody situations. On those types of cases, I knew that what may have been considered the smallest or even most mundane task could potentially have a big impact on someone’s life – someone who trusted our office to put their interests first. My positive outcomes happened when the client, with tears in his/her eyes, hugged me or shook my hand with a heartfelt “thank you.”
What qualities or skills do you think are most important for success as a paralegal?
I believe success comes in many forms depending on individual perception or belief – for me, a successful paralegal is one who is courteous, professional, and ethical. Although, my first career was not in the legal field, the skills I gained initially: attention to detail, proficiency in writing and grammar, communication (up and down the authority chain), prioritization, ability to follow directions, and active listening; have all served me well as a paralegal.
What are your observations about the job market for paralegals in your area?
We are fortunate in the Dallas-Fort Worth area to not have been hit as hard by the downturn in the job market. There are many opportunities for paralegals depending on the area of law/interest as well as the level of experience. Also, since we are in the southwestern part of the country, being able to speak a second language is a highly sought after skill set.
What advice would you give to current paralegal students for getting hired after graduation?
Have a plan and be realistic when setting goals and expectations, you may have to start low in the organization. For example, I know several paralegals that began their career as a legal secretary or file clerk. I would encourage students to keep their minds and options open – these types of positions can be excellent stepping stones toward gaining experience. Also, I cannot say enough about “network – network – network.” Become immersed in your legal community, join the paralegal association in your area AND become involved. Lastly, awareness of where you are and what you are doing are crucial – you never know who is watching what you do, what you say, and how you carry yourself. The gentleman wearing jeans and flip-flops may be an attorney or partner in the firm where you are interviewing and he just heard your entire phone conversation while riding on the elevator.
How does joining an association like the Fort Worth Paralegal Association help paralegals in their career?
Becoming involved in your local, county, state, national Paralegal and/or Bar associations helps you not only gain lifelong friends, but also knowledge, visibility, career advancement, continuous learning, and respect; especially when you align yourself with reputable and active organizations. With any venture, you will get out of it what you put into it.
We thank Katrina Lea for sharing her career path and advice for prospective paralegals.