Sunday, August 29, 2010

Paralegal Profile: Kris L. Canaday

Kris L. Canaday, who recently relocated to Slidell, LA from Dequim, WA, answers my Thirteen Questions this week. Kris is a virtual freelance paralegal who works with attorneys across the country from her home office.

You'll enjoy reading the answers Kris submitted, particularly her opinion about the latest trends in the industry. Thanks, Kris!


1. Where do you work and what is your job title? I work as a [virtual] freelance paralegal from my home office providing support to attorneys (and their paralegals) around the country.

2. What prompted you to choose a paralegal career? My career as a paralegal was quite unexpected. My first taste of the legal field occurred when I was [unwillingly] thrust into a two-week legal secretary position after a lot of coaxing by my temporary agency and the attorney. I fell in love with the job the very first day ... the fast pace, the necessity for detail and organization, analytical skills, and what I then dubbed "organized chaos."

I immediately knew I had found my calling and that the legal field provided a way for me to fulfill my need to analyze everything and desire to draft formal documentation. After I completed my temporary assignment, I immediately sought full-time employment at a law firm. I obtained a legal transcription position and worked myself into a paralegal position within a couple of months. The rest, as they say, is history.

3. What is your favorite part of your job? My favorite part of my job is the work itself ... the review, analysis, document preparation ... I love it all. Knowing I am helping attorneys regain a work-life balance and move their practices forward is a close second though!

4. What professional associations do you belong to? I am currently a member of the Washington State Paralegal Association, National Federation of Paralegal Associations, and the National Association of Freelance Legal Professionals.

5. How has your membership benefited you? Membership has expanded my network, introducing me to attorneys and paralegals I would not have otherwise met. As a result, I have had the opportunity to lead association meetings and contribute articles relating to freelance legal professionals and military spouses. These opportunities have helped me develop new ideas for reaching out to both attorneys and military spouses to help educate them on the opportunities available to them.

6. Do you have any professional certifications? When I decided to make paralegalism my career, I went back to school and earned a bachelor's degree in legal studies and a paralegal certificate to back up my experience. I have not yet decided whether to pursue specific certifications since I have already received a degree and certificate in the field.

7. What has been the highlight of your career? Working in the Office of the General Counsel (OGC) for the University of California has, by far, been the highlight of my career. I believe job satisfaction is a direct consequence of one's colleagues.

I've had jobs where I loved the work but the people made the job miserable and I've had jobs where the work wasn't great but the people were and I loved the job as a result. Working in OGC offered both great people, including my mentor, and work with plenty of opportunity to advance my career and knowledge. I grew significantly as a person and a paralegal during my tenure there. I will always hold dear that time of my life and career.

8. What do you see as hot trends in the paralegal industry? I think the paralegal industry will continue to expand and grow. I believe that regulation of the profession will be a hot trend for many years to come.

Several driving factors in technology and the economy may also push the prevalence of virtual work. For example, the ability to connect to anyone anywhere anytime is changing the way firms practice ... more and more firms are adding a virtual law practice to their brick and mortar practice or leaving the brick and mortar behind completely for the virtual world. Similarly, paralegals have the ability to connect with their attorneys from any location; a very lucrative idea for small firms and solo practitioners who have been hit hard by the economy and do not have the financial ability or overhead to hire employees.

9. Have you dipped your toes in the social media waters? I've touched a bit on social media. Although I'm not heavily involved, I do find it a means for interacting and networking with other legal professionals, which is very important to me as a [virtual] freelance paralegal ... it serves as my "office communications" and provides a connection to other professionals who share my interest in law.

I am most involved with LinkedIn and am also connecting with people through ParalegalGateway. I recently opened a Twitter account, as well, but it is still foreign to me; I have not yet had the time to delve into it to figure out how it works.

10. If someone contemplating a paralegal career asked you for career advice, what would your answer be? For two reasons, the number one advice I give is to go back to school. I worked as a paralegal for almost seven years before earning my paralegal degree and certificate and, although the career came first, my studies were concurrent with my work for much of that time. However, core law classes taught me things you don't learn from on-the-job training ... things every person working as a paralegal should know. Although I worked as a paralegal and did my job well, I no longer feel like I was qualified to do so prior to my schooling.

Moreover, our profession is on track to be regulated. Several states, such as California, already have statutes regulating paralegals. In these instances, one cannot hold oneself out as or work as a paralegal without meeting specific requirements. Anyone contemplating a new career as a paralegal will be ineligible for a paralegal position without meeting those requirements, which usually require some sort of formal education. Thus, in states that regulate paralegals, education is a prerequisite to landing a paralegal job.

11. Is there a quote that inspires you? My favorite thing to say is, "Perseverance pays." It is analogous to the phrase, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again."

This concept is applicable in so many ways. When life gets tough, it's important not to give up. The same goes for being overwhelmed with work or school. And, if you look at successful individuals, the key to their success is most often perseverance; there is no success without failure. Successful people don't stop when they fail ... they learn from their errors and keep trying until they succeed.

12. You've enjoyed a successful paralegal career. To what single event or person do you attribute that success? I attribute my success as a paralegal to my long-time mentor and friend Vanessa Adams. She helped me take my career to the level it is now. She taught me how to do my job and she taught me what it takes to be not just a paralegal but a great paralegal. She taught, listened, understood, mentored both professionally and personally, and led by example. Without her I would not be where I am now.

13. What is the most important step a paralegal can take to keep his or her career interesting? I think perhaps the best way to keep your paralegal career interesting is to stay involved. There are many ways and opportunities to stay involved, whether by continuing to expand your knowledge-base through CLE or law classes, taking on new tasks and responsibilities at work, or by becoming more involved outside of work through membership opportunities or pro bono work.

Bonus...just for fun question: If you had to be in any other profession other than a paralegal, what would it be? If I had to be in any other profession, I would be a psychologist. Although law is my passion, psychology has always been my love. I believe the two complement each other. When I went back to school to get a bachelor's degree in legal studies, I also obtained a bachelor's degree in psychology.

My dream would be to go through another dual degree program and earn a J.D./Ph.D. in Psychology and focus my research on eyewitness testimony and false confessions in the hope of someday implementing a nationwide training program for jurors and improving interrogation techniques.

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