Here at The Paralegal Society, we like to feature our members. In our series entitled: “Sketches of Our Society,” we 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. For today’s sketch, we’re featuring a fabulous paralegal blogger, speaker, and podcast host extraordinaire. I have to admit, I feel a bit like Barbara Walters on this one!! So, without further adieu, let the mingling begin…
SKETCH OF TPS MEMBER: Lynne DeVenny, NCCP
HAILS FROM: Greensboro/Winston Salem, North Carolina
How long have you been a paralegal, what is your current title and what are your area(s) of practice?
I started in the profession as a legal secretary in 1986, and officially became a paralegal/legal assistant in 1990. Currently, I’m a Senior Paralegal (ha! not because of my age ) at Elliot Pishko Morgan P.A., a small plaintiffs’ litigation firm in Winston-Salem, NC. I provide litigation support in a wide variety of areas including employment and labor law, civil rights, workers’ compensation, serious personal injury, immigration, Social Security disability, and federal criminal cases.
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.
I worked full-time as a legal support staffer while earning an associate degree in paralegal studies, and then finishing my bachelor’s degree in English literature. I’ve been involved in a number of legal and paralegal association activities over the years, including serving on executive committees and editing paralegal division newsletters. Currently, I’m in the final year of my three-year appointment to the N.C. Bar Association Paralegal Division Council, http://paralegaldivision.ncbar.org/, but am hoping to continue my service to the Division in another role in the coming year.
What made you become a paralegal?
This sounds awful, but the need for a paycheck and groceries. I didn’t even know what a paralegal was in 1986. I was a single mom to a toddler with three-fourths of a bachelor’s degree in English and mad typing skills, when I accepted my first legal secretarial position – because it was the highest-paying job offered to me at the time! However, I discovered quickly that the legal field made good use of my writing and analytical skills.
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?
It wasn’t easy getting started in the legal field. I’d never had any encounters with the law, and didn’t even have a mortgage. I hit the ground running in a general practice firm, and made lots of newbie mistakes. Going to paralegal school while working full-time and being a single mom was no picnic, either, although I did have an advantage over many of my classmates who’d never worked in a law firm.
Being a paralegal often comes with a lot of stress. What’s your favorite way to handle the stress?
Reading mysteries, playing my flute, hanging with my hubby and my hounds!
What are your secrets for being successful? In life? At work?
The paralegal field has been good to me, and I’ve had some terrific supervising attorneys mentor me along the way. If I’ve enjoyed any success, it’s probably due to my few super powers, including reading and writing incredibly fast, and my unwillingness to give up on a problem until it’s resolved.
What particular task in the paralegal world is your least favorite?
Reviewing and summarizing medical bills. I am good at it, but dang, it can be tedious!
What particular task in the paralegal world is your favorite?
Reviewing and summarizing medical records and related evidence. I love to see the story evolve.
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 would strongly recommend to a friend considering entering the paralegal field to do her homework, and keep up with the legal support staff want ads weekly to see what the job market is like in the area she plans to live. I’d encourage her to get the first entry-level legal staffer job she can afford, and work while getting a paralegal degree from a reputable institution. Experience is a much desired qualification in today’s job market.
What’s the funniest thing you’ve ever done as a paralegal?
Some of them I obviously can’t share due to confidentiality issues, but once I had to shop for coffins. Don’t ask!
What’s the proudest moment that you’ve had as a paralegal?
Seeing a young workers’ compensation client and upper extremity amputee wearing the myoelectric prosthesis we fought hard to get the insurance company to pay for.
What’s your craziest story stemming from your experience in the legal world?
Probably the first time I taught an Introduction to Paralegalism class at the local community college, and a student asked me if the assigned papers had to be written in complete sentences. Um, yeah, I did blog about that, because she was dead serious!
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 honestly can’t think of anything I would change. I have been fortunate in my career and my employers, and even my worst mistakes yielded valuable lessons.
If you were teaching a paralegal class in your area of practice, what would it be? Why is it so important?
Oh boy, that is a hard one. I’ve actually taught the intro class, as well as family law, personal injury, and civil litigation classes at the local community college. Having been a community college student myself, I think what is most important is that the person teaching a particular class actually be practicing in that area. I had a few instructors that were lawyers – who had never practiced in the area they were teaching!
What things have you learned about yourself over the years as a paralegal? How have you personally grown?
I’ve learned that I’m patient, persistent, and really nosy, which has been very helpful from an investigative standpoint over the years. I think 26 years in the legal field has made me extremely passionate about knowing your rights and being informed in situations that have legal consequences.
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!
As a paralegal blogger of over three years myself, TPS has been an extremely exciting and inspiring entry into the blawgosphere. It’s wonderful to see so many legal professionals working together in such a selfless endeavor, so willing to share their experiences and knowledge. I enjoy the camaraderie and the enthusiasm of the group.
What major accomplishments and accolades would you ultimately like to see listed on your paralegal obituary when the time comes?
Oh, man, I try not to think about my obit, although I guess I should think about writing it, huh? I’d honestly be happy to see it say that I cared about people and helped make a difference in many lives.
What are your three top professional goals at this time?
If I tell you, I’ll have to kill ya, because I do have some projects brewing. But eventually, I’d like to move into more of a practice management, technology-training, marketing position (is that three things?), master some new software applications, and convince my firm that we need litigation software like CaseMap. We do have practice management software, but I’m ready for the next step!
What is the most difficult situation you’ve ever overcome (personal or paralegal)?
Gosh, that’s tough! Let’s see, I didn’t get lucky in romance until I was 40. I somehow ended up becoming a popular public speaker, despite being extremely shy, so there have been some fun deer-in-the-headlight moments there. I have a beloved teenager with sickle cell disease that I worry about constantly. There’ve been times in my paralegal career where there were some hard moments with difficult cases and co-workers.
What makes you a unique person?
Um, I’m squirrely, sort of a Type-A, over-thinking, fast-talking little lady who’s learning not to say everything she thinks out loud.
What is the most unique life experience you’ve had to date? Tell us about it.
The local Big Brothers Big Sisters of America chapter would probably tell you I’m the only Big to ever adopt her Little in over 35 years. While the experience brought me my beloved youngest daughter, the juvenile court aspect of it went on for over two years, and exposed me to many things I’d honestly never ever thought about before.
If your friends were to tell us about your worst quality(ies) what would it/they be?
Impatience, and overly independent, to the point of being bull-headed.
If your friends were to tell us about your best quality(ies) what would it/they be?
Funny, creative, helpful.
What is your most life-defining moment to date?
Recognizing that I somehow became my mother.
What is your most life-defining “paralegal moment” to date?
Realizing that I genuinely love what I do.
What are three unusual facts about you?
1. I was once owned by an African Pygmy hedgehog. I’m actually looking for another one.
2. I discovered that I draw extremely well – when I was 40 years old!
3. I have perfect pitch (music).
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?
Aye carumba, so much food, so little time! Seriously, a tuna fish sandwich. I adore tuna fish.
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?
Well, I’ve been set back quite a few times! Failed romantic relationships, single mommy-hood, my own and family members’ health crises, to name a few. I don’t know that I handled everything as well as someone else might have, but I really hope I’ve become more empathetic, more willing to find a silver lining, and more willing to accept the support of family and friends.
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?
Relax. Be more understanding of my own and other’s mistakes. Take art classes in high school.
Anything we failed to ask that you would like us to know about you?
I hope you’ll check in at my blog, Practical Paralegalism, www.practicalparalegalism.com, and listen to The Paralegal Voice podcast on Legal Talk Network, www.legaltalknetwork.com. I would love for many of you to complete the legal staffer and/or paralegal student profile questionnaire at the top of my blog, and share a little about yourself with my readers. I love featuring a legal staffer every week. And thanks, TPS, for this opportunity to share a little about what I do with your readers!
We’d like to extend a special thank you to Lynne for being sharing more about herself with our readers. We’re honored that we could feature a fellow blogger on our forum…and especially one who flies in the “paralegal v” with all of us! If you missed the article Lynne and I co-wrote awhile back regarding geese and paralegals, be sure to check it out:
We feel like we truly know a lot more about Lynne as a person and paralegal now — don’t you TPS readers? Please feel free to leave your comment(s) below…