By Camille Stell, Special to CPN
June is the month of conventions for many of North Carolina’s bar associations. This is a time of leadership change as well as to celebrate the relationships attorneys share and recognize their accomplishments. The associations also use this time to offer their paralegal members a chance for education and camaraderie.
Here are some of the takeaways from this year’s conventions:
N.C. Bar Association
The paralegal division of the N.C. Bar Association offered a three-hour CLE at its bar convention in Wilmington, N.C. Some of the topics discussed were ethics and computer sleuthing. A panel of paralegals also detailed their career paths and told stories of how they became leaders in various paralegal organizations. While their stories were unique, their messages were similar, urging others to join a group and get involved, volunteer and find a mentor.
• Join a group: Some young professionals have a tendency to wait until later in their careers to join a paralegal association, thinking they will have more to offer once they gain experience. I’d encourage you to join as early as possible, even while you are still a student. This allows an opportunity for networking, which may help you get a job.
• Get involved: Taking leadership positions will help you develop personally as well as professionally. I ran for office during my first year as a paralegal. Within three years, I served as president of both a local and state paralegal organization. It was during these years that I met colleagues who helped me professionally. I also made lifelong friends.
Ultimately, leadership is learning how to motivate a group of people toward a common goal. Isn’t this what each of us do in our law firms every day?
• Volunteer: One of my favorite moments at the NCBA convention was recognition of the Citizen Lawyers. This year’s recipients had varied accomplishments, including an attorney with 40 years of volunteer service with Pitt Memorial Hospital and an attorney who helped establish the International Civil Rights Museum in Greensboro, N.C.
We can’t all go to those lengths. However, being a member of a local paralegal association opens up volunteer opportunities that are relatively painless. Many times, members can do something as significant as sending care packages to our troops simply by showing up at a monthly meeting with a donation.
Your leadership is desperately needed. Every organization in our state is looking for the next generation of leaders and you can make the search easier by volunteering.
• Find a mentor: Many of the paralegals recently elected to service in associations are there because of a mentor. I became involved in the Raleigh-Wake Paralegal Association and the N.C. Paralegal Association because the first paralegal I met, Joan Brinson Dressler, was serving as an officer in both organizations. Joan taught me valuable lessons about how to be a paralegal and she helped develop my leadership skills by introducing me to people in the organizations and encouraging me to run for office.
The NCPA has a formal mentoring program underway. If you want to be a part of this program and haven’t responded yet, reach out to Diane Talley at email@example.com and volunteer.
N.C. Advocates for Justice
The N.C. Advocates for Justice also held their annual convention in Wilmington in June. This organization has had a Legal Assistants Division much longer than any other bar association in the state.
The LAD was formed in 1983. In 2009, the NCAJ became the first bar association in the country to allow the LAD to have a vote on its board of governors. A similar proposal was voted down by the NCBA in 2008.
Warren Savage, one of the claims attorneys at Lawyers Mutual, spoke at the convention. In preparation for his talk, Warren and I sat down with Kim Hill, a paralegal and office administrator for Martin & Jones.
Kim talked about the systems and procedures her firm has in place to make sure that the paralegals and lawyers are working together daily with a common goal of meeting their clients’ needs.
Kim exhibits leadership every day as she manages legal professionals who work in a busy and high stress environment. It would be easy to dismiss employee concerns or attorney problems by saying “We need to focus on the client,” but Kim recognizes that while it is hard to balance it all, it is a requirement of her job.
N.C. Association of
The N.C. Association of Defense Attorneys has had a paralegal division since 2007. Since that time, its membership has grown from 30 members to 50 members.
A small contingent of paralegals attended the NCADA convention on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina, according to Shelli Simontacchi, its chair. Shelli works for Hedrick Gardner, Kincheloe & Garofalo, a firm which provides her with an education budget to encourage paralegals’ involvement in the organization. If you are interested in joining this growing organization, you can reach Shelli at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the website at www.ncada.org
Have you ever wanted to volunteer, but have been afraid? Need a mentor, but don’t know how to find one? Reach out to discuss this or any other topic overheard at your water cooler by contacting me at email@example.com or CPN Managing Editor Diana Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor’s Note: Camille Stell is director of client services for Lawyers Mutual Liability Insurance Company of North Carolina. She worked as a paralegal for 20 years, taught ethics and law office management in the Meredith College Paralegal Program and served as president of the Raleigh-Wake Paralegal Association, the N.C. Paralegal Association and as District II director of the National Association of Legal Assistants.