Thursday, February 6, 2014

Paralegal Profile: Rebecca Garland, Traverse City, Michigan

Rebecca Garland is the Executive Director of Conflict Resolution Services, Inc., in Traverse City, Michigan where she specializes in family law and alternative dispute resolution.

She has a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology/Criminal Justice and a Masters of Business Administration.
1.  What prompted you to choose a paralegal career?  When I started college, I thought I wanted to be a prison guard for the state of Michigan.  One field trip to a prison took care of that notion!!  I did an internship in the office of an assistant prosecutor and fell in love with the law and the work of a paralegal.

2.  What is your favorite part of your job?  As the Executive Director, I handle all of the case intake paperwork for an agency that provides mediation, arbitration, facilitation and training services.  The favorite part of my job is when both parties involved in a mediation tell me there is no way they are going to agree on anything with the other party and then, after mediation is completed, finding out the parties worked out an agreement.

3.  What professional associations do you belong to?  I belong to the Grand Traverse Area Legal Professionals (GTALP); NALS of Michigan; and NALS, the association for legal professionals.

4.  How has your memberships benefited you?  Specifically as it relates to the GTALP, I have met so many wonderful individuals who were willing to share their wealth of knowledge regarding the legal system when I was starting out, tips on how to navigate the court system in my area and a listening ear when I was feeling frustrated because something wasn’t working out.  I have become very close to many of my “sisters-in-law” and truly value those friendships.

5.  What has been the highlight of your career?  The highlight of my career professionally was receiving the Liberty Bell award from the Grand Traverse-Leelanau-Antrim Bar Association in 2000.
The Liberty Bell award recognizes a lay person who was instrumental in promoting better understanding of the rule of law, encouraging a greater respect for law and the courts, stimulating a sense of civic responsibility and contributing to good government in the community. I received the award as a result of my work with survivors of domestic and/or sexual violence at the Women’s Resource Center in Traverse City, MI.
The highlight of my career personally has been talking to individuals I assisted when I worked as the at the Women’s Resource Center and seeing how much they have achieved in their own lives after leaving abusive situations.

6.  What do you see as hot trends in the paralegal industry?  There are two “hot trends” in the paralegal industry.

The first is the “virtual paralegal”.  Many attorneys, at least in my area, are starting to downsize their practices – no more big offices and several support staff.  The reality is, though, they still need assistance on small and large projects – research, writing, organizing.  Someone who is proficient in several document formats, electronic filing and so forth, who is self-motivated, works well with and without deadlines and (often) under pressure, will be able to market their services to those “downsized” attorneys and have all of the advantages of setting their own schedule, determining their pay and so forth.

The second is what I call the “non-traditional paralegal positions”.  In my case, I started working in a law office – a traditional setting for a paralegal.  But I really wanted to work with survivors of domestic violence and/or sexual assault as they navigated the criminal and civil justice systems.  That was when the “non-traditional paralegal position” became known to me.  It wasn’t where you would expect to find someone working as a paralegal but it was where individuals needed help understanding those systems.  I am now working as an Executive Director and even though I am not doing a lot of “traditional” paralegal work, the knowledge and skills I learned working as a paralegal have transferred into the work I am doing.

7.  If someone contemplating a paralegal career asked you for career advice, what would your answer be?  My first answer would be, “go for it.”  Working in the legal field can be so very, very rewarding.  My second answer would be, “be willing to learn things you might not be particularly interested in or comfortable with because the more you know, the more marketable you will be.”

8.  Is there a quote that inspires you?  “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change.  As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him.”  Mahatma Gandhi

9.  You’ve enjoyed a successful paralegal career.  To what single event or person do you attribute your success?  Attorney Mark Risk.  I worked for Mark for about one year.  In that year, I learned more about the legal field than I thought possible.  He gave me permission to try anything and provided me with direction when I needed it.  But most of all, he gave me credit for my work to others when other people would have taken the credit themselves.

10.  What is the most important step a paralegal can take to keep his or her career interesting?  Always be open to new experiences.  This might mean being open to learning about something you have never done before (like drafting a pleading) or being open to working somewhere you might not have thought about (like an agency helping survivors of abuse or the homeless) or to an area of law you didn’t think you would like.  The more flexible you are willing to be, the more things will open up to you and keep your career from becoming boring.

11.  What is your favorite kind of music?  Old school country music (think Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Mel Tillis, Dolly Parton, Hank Williams, Sr. and so on).

12.  What was your first job?  My first substantial job was planting and harvesting tomatoes on a farm in south-eastern Michigan.  It was done with mechanical assistance but was still incredibly, incredibly dirty work!

13.  From American history, who is your hero?  Laura Haviland.  “Aunt” Laura, as she was known, lived in the town of Adrian, Michigan.  She helped slaves navigate the Underground Railroad to Canada.  She was the only white woman to have a bounty on her head – dead or alive – paid for by the slaveholders and slave traders.  Her concern for orphans led to the opening of the Raisin Institute (eventually known as the “Adrian Training School”) and she insisted that it be open to all regardless of race, sex or creed.  The school started with children from the county poorhouse so they could receive an education and learn a skilled trade to move them out of poverty.  The education of blacks was forbidden in many states and the school was the first to teach blacks in Michigan.

Bonus Question: You’ve been given the chance to have dinner with anyone living or dead.  Who is it?  Aunt Laura Haviland – for all of the reasons she was my answer to #13!

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