Here at The Paralegal Society, we like to feature our members. We launched a series entitled: “Sketches of Our Society,” which will provide you with an up close, personal and professional look at various paralegals, students, aspiring paralegals and other legal minds that make our society so great. We hope you enjoy reading them as much as we do! Let the mingling begin…
Featured Paralegal: Barbara L. Liss
Hails From: Santa Barbara, California
How long have you been a paralegal, what is your current title and what are your area(s) of practice?
I’ve worked in the law industry since 1972, having first started as a legal secretary (when I was 12 . . . only kidding; I was 19). My first paralegal job was in a commercial litigation firm in 1976, and my title was “pseudo-paralegal” because they were afraid to use the title “paralegal” or “legal assistant” back then. For most of my career I was a complex business litigation trial paralegal, but worked for some time in elder abuse litigation as well. I also managed a large trust estate for nine years as its asset and litigation manager. This helped me transition from litigation to wills, trusts and estates, the area of practice in which I am currently employed. Today, I am the office manager and “Estate Planning, Trust Administration & Probate Paralegal to Christopher C. Jones” in Santa Barbara, California.
Tell us about your educational background, i.e., did you attend “the school of learn or get fired” or a college? Also tell us about any paralegal associations you participate in, as well as any accolades or special honors you have received.
While working full time during the day, I attended classes at night and acquired my Certificate in Legal Assistantship from the UCSB extension program in 1984. I obtained my California private, post-secondary teaching credential in paralegal studies in 1990. In the 1970’s, I started but never completed my B.A. However, my work history and wide ranging experience substituted handily for the formal education that I lacked. There have been occasions when law firms would not interview me because I didn’t complete my B.A., nonetheless, I was sponsored by a mentor to obtain my teaching credential and successfully gained admittance to law school without it. (Personal, emergency family circumstances dictated my withdrawal from law school; after resolution of these, I decided not to return.) My lack of a bachelor’s degree has never been a significant obstacle in the path of getting to what I want. I have always adequately demonstrated the intellectual equivalency necessary to perform the demands of my work.
During the long course of my career, I actively participated in the Ventura County Legal Assistant Association (now VCPA), the Channel Cities Legal Assistant Association (no longer in existence), the Sacramento Legal Assistant Association (SALA), the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (having served on the white paper committee that wrote its original and first definition of “paralegal” in the mid-1980’s) and the Santa Barbara Paralegal Association. While a member of SALA, I started its first legislative committee and was the first paralegal lobbyist in the State of California to the California Legislature, lobbying on issues of interest to paralegals.
In the 1980’s, the California State Bar formed its “Public Protection Committee” which proposed to regulate California paralegals through licensure, supervised under the auspices of the Bar itself. I and several other members of SALA testified before both the Bar’s Public Protection Committee and the California Senate’s Subcommittee on the Judiciary in opposition to the attempted new legislation. As a result of that effort in opposition, the Bill was defeated and eventually California Business and Professions Code, sections 6450 through 6454 were enacted instead, which now regulate paralegals/legal assistants in California, but do not require licensing, registration or control by the California State Bar.
I authored many articles on paralegal regulation and other topics in the 1980’s and 1990’s, having been published in NFPA’s Reporter, Legal Assistant Today and other newsletters and magazines.
I have more recently served Santa Barbara Paralegal Association as Secretary, Newsletter Editor, Chair of its Full Day Continuing Education Conference for two years and am currently its President-Elect. [Exciting note: since completing this profile for TPS, Barbara was recently elected President of the Santa Barbara Paralegal Association!! Congrats, Barbara!]
The Practicing Law Institute (New York) invited me to be one of its very few non-lawyer faculty members and for a number of years I taught civil litigation basics in three day seminars offered in cities throughout the U.S. in PLI’s Workshops for Legal Assistants. I chaired the workshops for PLI for five years and taught in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, New York, New Orleans and several other locations. I co-authored PLI’s workbook for this program, which continues to be available today on Amazon.com. (It is published under my former name before a recent marriage, which was Barbara L. Albert.)
What made you become a paralegal?
A desire to be of service, together with fascination of law and a desire to delve more deeply into it.
Did you face any challenges in trying to become a paralegal? If so, how did you overcome that challenge, and what advice would you give to others facing that challenge now?
I interviewed with A. Barry Cappello in 1980 and discussed the idea of being hired as a complex business litigation trial paralegal for the very first time. We both agreed that if I wasn’t up to the challenges of the work, I’d take on a less demanding role, say as a legal secretary. I remember feeling nervous but excited at the threshold of the opportunity. I had some self-doubt but never looked backward from that time forward. For me, I discovered that I am my own worst critic and realized that I am only limited by my own beliefs in what I trust myself to be capable of doing. I continue to surprise myself to this day, just not as frequently or as much.
I suggest that others do some inward reflection with honesty and objectivity. Perhaps what is seen as a shortcoming or inability is not as relevant as initially perceived.
Being a paralegal often comes with a lot of stress. What’s your favorite way to handle the stress?
I have in the past used long distance walking as a great de-stresser. I completed the L. A. Marathon in 2006 and have also completed several half marathons. Now that I’ve developed some arthritis in one of my knees, I am searching for another athletic outlet that feels equally satisfying. I continue to take walks, although much shorter ones.
I also make certain to take good care of myself by having a massage every other week and seeing a chiropractor regularly because of the intense computer work I engage in.
What are your secrets for being successful? In life? At work?
I discovered a long time ago that for me, ambition is a personal cannibal and I jettisoned it. I replaced my need to be driven to succeed with a need to be of service to others. It is much more fulfilling and satisfying. When I operate from a centered place, focusing on being of service in my life and my work, I am happy, fulfilled and useful. I lead a purposeful life.
What particular task in the paralegal world is your least favorite?
These days I work in a small office environment and am thus called on to perform many administrative tasks outside of the ordinary realm of paralegal work in a larger firm environment. While I do them well, I’d much prefer to not be in charge of getting billing out the door or dealing with clients about their billing questions and problems or inability to pay. That said, I do try to handle each task with professionalism and caring such that if the situation was that I was on the opposite side, I’d feel respected in how matters were handled.
What particular task in the paralegal world is your favorite?
I’ve always enjoyed the process of legal research and writing. Thankfully, I am respected and well regarded in this area such that I am given many meaty assignments to keep me happy.
If one of your good friends had to decide whether to become a paralegal or some other professional, what advice would you give? Why?
I’d suggest a combination of inward examination of skills and personality traits together with information gathered from opportunities to determine whether they fit into a paralegal life through taking a class or two at a certificate program of quality. I love the profession and it’s worked extremely well in my life but it isn’t for everyone.
What’s the funniest thing you’ve ever done as a paralegal?
Well, I’ve had a lawyer split his pants at trial, hand them to me through the men’s room door at the courthouse and had to sew them in the corridor – that was pretty funny.
What’s the proudest moment that you’ve had as a paralegal?
There have been many. One occasion was when the California Dept. of Transportation caved on a case after my deposition testimony and altered a dangerous roadway, preventing further injuries and deaths in the future.
If you could do it all over again, what would you change, and why? What wouldn’t you change, and why wouldn’t you change it?
I’d have stayed in law school. I don’t know that I really want/wanted to be a lawyer, but the education would have been worth finishing. I should have made a different choice at that fork in the road.
If you were teaching a paralegal class in your area of practice, what would it be? Why is it so important?
I am teaching “Fundamentals of Paralegal Studies” at the University of California, Santa Barbara’s extension paralegal certificate program at the moment and have done so for a couple of years. Previously, I have taught Civil Litigation at American River College’s paralegal certificate program, the University of Northern California School of Law’s paralegal certificate program and Lincoln Law School’s paralegal certificate program. I have also taught Civil Litigation for the Practicing Law Institute’s Workshop for Legal Assistants for five years and lectured on document management systems for a variety of programs.
It is essential that paralegals teach and mentor other paralegals – if only lawyers teach paralegals they will learn only theory and not the practical aspects of the work. Many lawyers teaching in paralegal programs do not and have not worked with paralegals themselves and thus are unable to communicate precisely what it is that the students need to learn in addition to theory.
What things have you learned about yourself over the years as a paralegal? How have you personally grown?
I’m smarter than the average bear.
Quietude and patience are difficult but worth it.
Attention to detail, nuance and minutia can make all the difference in the world.
Being of service is the purpose of my life.
What does The Paralegal Society mean to you? How have you, or how can you, benefit from being a member? Please share your thoughts with us!
Having a private, safe and professional space to meet and share ideas with like minded people is wonderful! I look forward to engaging.
What major accomplishments and accolades would you ultimately like to see listed on your paralegal obituary when the time comes?
She made a difference.
What are your three top professional goals at this time?
1. Figure out some way to achieve a common qualifications threshold for uniform entry into the paralegal field in the U.S.
2. Promote paralegal education by paralegals
3. Continuously work at my own educational improvement
What is the most difficult situation you’ve ever overcome (personal or paralegal)?
I’ve had many personal trials, but I believe the most difficult was the death of my youngest sister to breast cancer.
What makes you a unique person?
Probably my outlook; I do have a unique viewpoint on life and have my “stuff” together.
What is the most unique life experience you’ve had to date? Tell us about it.
I’ve done a lot of living and there isn’t enough time or paper to put it all down. Each day is an opportunity for another unique life experience and I look forward to what’s just around the corner.
If your friends were to tell us about your worst quality(ies) what would it/they be?
Oh no you don’t! My friends wouldn’t tell you and neither will I!
If your friends were to tell us about your best quality(ies) what would it/they be?
I’m loyal to my friends; dependable, funny and a good listener.
What is your most life-defining moment to date?
When I was 28, I took myself to a Lifespring course and allowed myself to look inward. I’ve experienced myself differently ever since.
What is your most life-defining “paralegal moment” to date?
Testifying before the California State Senate’s Sub-Committee on the Judiciary concerning proposed paralegal licensure in the late 1980’s. (Just riding the private elevator to the floor of the committee room with the state senator who co-authored the Bill was a huge rush!)
What are three unusual facts about you?
1. I’m an advanced PADI SCUBA diver, with about 100 dives logged, all over the world.
2. After a rewarding career in complex business litigation, including having been a paralegal at over 30 trials, I changed my field of law four years ago and began work in the Wills, Trusts, Estates and Conservatorship arena.
3. I am one of the members of the NFPA’s white paper committee that wrote the first definition of “paralegal.”
If you could choose any meal for your “final supper” here on planet earth, what would you choose? Is there a specific memory tied to your selection?
I once had the most magnificent foie gras accompanied by a Canadian ice wine at an elegant restaurant at a lodge in Jasper, British Columbia, overlooking an incredibly gorgeous panorama at dusk. I think I wouldn’t mind doing that one again, one last time.
Very few people have never experienced a setback in life. What setback(s) or extenuating circumstance(s) have you dealt with in your life thus far and how did it/they make you stronger? What did you learn from them? How has it changed you?
Boy, you sure ask the complicated ones, don’t you?
Every setback has been a lesson – it’s cliché but it’s true. Because of an abusive childhood, I am a tolerant, kinder adult. Because I’ve suffered loss through death of loved ones, I can be caring and present during the time others are dying. Every harmful or painful experience has given me the opportunity to choose anger or forgiveness – I’m no saint and there are unforgiven in my life, but there is very little anger. I’ve learned that being helpful is a way of participating in the world with positive energy. I have learned wisdom and a modicum of patience.
Robert Fulghum wrote a book entitled “All I Really Need to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten.” If you were six years old, but had the same knowledge that you have now, what would you do differently?
I’d eat more ice cream and worry about my dress size less.
Anything we failed to ask that you would like us to know about you?
You’re kidding, right? I think at this point the only things you don’t know are what my shoe and underwear sizes are. [Very funny, Barb!! We’re glad to see that you have a sense of humor!]
We’d like to say a special thank you to Barbara for taking the time to share this fantastic profile with us. We truly enjoy getting to know the “person” behind each of our members. Please feel free to share a thought or leave your feedback by leaving a comment, TPS readers! We’d love to hear from you.
Are you interested in being featured by The Paralegal Society? If so, we’d love to hear from you! Please contact Jamie at firstname.lastname@example.org and she’ll send a profile questionnaire your way!