Here at The Paralegal Society, we like to feature our members. We’ve 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: Christi Condon
HAILS FROM: Ft. Myers, Florida
How long have you been a paralegal, what is your current title and what are your area(s) of practice?
I have been a paralegal for 17 years. My current title is Contract Paralegal and I am the sole proprietor of CHC Legal Consulting. My primary area is consumer law including bankruptcy, foreclosure defense, FDCPA and FCRA claims, short sales, debt negotiation and settlement, but I have also worked to a lesser degree in Trusts and Estates, Matrimonial and Real Estate. I’ve got a tad of experience in contracts, corporate and environmental, as well.
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 started out as a temporary legal secretary doing dictation in a matrimonial firm and shortly thereafter was hired as a full-time bankruptcy paralegal and was thrown into the deep end of the pool, learning as I went. After about 10 years of working as a paralegal in the field, I decided to finish my BS in paralegal studies, which I did, while working full time and raising my 2 boys. I graduated magna cum laude from the program after 3 ½ years of study with numerous President’s List awards. I was certified as a CBA (Certified Bankruptcy Assistant), but have not actively participated in the CBA program for the last several years.
What made you become a paralegal?
I have a natural bent to help people and I fell in love with law watching Perry Mason as a young girl. I always thought I’d grow up to be like him, but I chose civil law as opposed to criminal and I’ve never looked back. It gives me a great sense of purpose to know that I’m helping people deal with their financial challenges and helping to resolve them.
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?
The biggest challenge in becoming a paralegal was that I had very little work experience and even less office experience when I started out. Fortunately, I worked with people who saw my capability and intelligence and who were not afraid to challenge me to do more and better. I worked hard to live up to those challenges because I just loved the work and I had so much empathy for the clients that I wanted good outcomes for them. I think it really helps a lot to have people who believe in you even more than you do yourself. So I encourage people to give it their all, surround themselves with people who know what they want to know and always keep learning and growing in your chosen profession. A formal education also helps tremendously. Before I went to school, I didn’t have a clue what I didn’t know. That was also a challenge, given how I chose to do it, but it helped my skills as a paralegal tremendously!
Being a paralegal often comes with a lot of stress. What’s your favorite way to handle the stress?
I travel, spend time with my loved ones, work out, try to eat right, and try to get enough sleep. I live in Florida and I work from home, my kids are now grown and my guy is retired, so I really have it pretty easy compared to a lot of people who are working in an office every day and then coming home and juggling the cooking and cleaning and getting their kids to where they need to be and also be a good partner. But mainly, I think my faith in God and my belief that I am doing what He would want me to do is the biggest stress reliever. There’s no challenge so big that with Him in my corner, I can’t face it or deal with it.
What are your secrets for being successful? In life? At work?
My biggest secret is that even if I’m afraid or feeling a little overwhelmed by something, I do it anyway. It works in life and it works at work. We should never allow our fear to hold us back. If something is truly important to us, we will find a way to make it work, even if it takes a significant amount of time and effort.
What particular task in the paralegal world is your least favorite?
I think the hardest thing for me has been dealing with clients who have been let down by other legal services professionals. Oftentimes, I have come into an attorney’s office and they are struggling with client service issues from ineffective leadership with former staff members and I have to do a lot of hand holding and soothing to make the situation right for the client without sacrificing client service to other clients. I’ve worked for some high volume practitioners and it is often difficult when you are the only paralegal to keep up with the work load, so I’ve found that you have to set client expectations low and when you accomplish more than you promised you would, you become a hero in their eyes. I’ve turned some really tough clients into very good friends in the process.
What particular task in the paralegal world is your favorite?
Legal research and writing! I love writing a brief that wins the day! I love the research, love reading the case law that’s currently out there, and I love formulating an argument that is persuasive enough to set precedent that is positive for our clients and others.
If one of your good friends had to decide whether to become a paralegal or some other professional, what advice would you give? Why?
Being a paralegal is a tough job. You’re not an attorney, you don’t get to pick your clients and oftentimes, it is only on the basis of your writing and client service that you can really help people since in most cases you can’t go to court and argue your own cases. So if a good friend were trying to decide whether to enter this profession, I would first ask them to examine their reasons for wanting to do it, their skill set, their ability to deal with stress, and their ability to be able to take direction and work under someone else. The legal field is often a crazy business and I think you have to be a little crazy yourself to be in it, but if I could afford to do this job for no pay, I would. And I think that’s the bottom line in any profession. It isn’t work if you love it and it makes you happy every day to do it!
What’s the funniest thing you’ve ever done as a paralegal?
I remember going to court on a motion calendar once with a new attorney in our office who hadn’t really practiced bankruptcy before and the judge presiding over our cases (whom I knew really well from having been in the field for a while) kept looking at me as the attorney was making his case to make sure that he knew what he was talking about. And every time I would nod my head, he would go back to listening to the attorney make his argument.
What’s the proudest moment that you’ve had as a paralegal?
I think my proudest moment was when I wrote my first memorandum of law and made precedent in our division. Ours was one of the first cases in the country to allow second mortgage lien stripping in Chapter 13 bankruptcy cases and the later case at the appellate level that actually won that right for Debtors in our district actually happened because of that.
What’s your craziest story stemming from your experience in the legal world?
There are so many. I’ve dealt with some pretty interesting clients over the last 17 years. One of my clients was a very wealthy businessman who had gotten into some financial trouble. Our office represented him in a personal Chapter 11 case and every month, I’d have to get his financial figures and supporting documentation to do his financial reports for the U.S. Trustee’s office. Even though the client had very few personal assets or personal financial dealings (his businesses owned most of his assets and most of his money was handled through them as well…the businesses were also in Chapter 11 cases, as was his wife), every month it was an absolute struggle to get him to turn over the financials and documents I needed to do his work. I guess he found it an annoyance to meet the requirements of the system. And perhaps that is what got him into trouble in the first place since he later went to jail for fraud.
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?
If I could change anything, it would be to get the courts to fairly compensate attorneys for their work in this field. I would also get attorneys to stop taking bad cases because they make up 5% of your practice, but wind up costing you 95% of your time. I also would have stopped our government from changing the bankruptcy laws to make it harder for people to file. I’ve never met a single client who really wanted to file bankruptcy. I have met some who weren’t completely honest in the process, but 99% of our clients really need help and I think it is terrible what our government has done to make it harder for them to get the relief they need.
I wouldn’t change a thing about the progression of my career. It has been challenging, but I have learned so much and developed so much, not only professionally, but as a human being as a result of working in this field.
If you were teaching a paralegal class in your area of practice, what would it be? Why is it so important?
I would love to develop a class on best practices in bankruptcy on the debtor side and teach it. When you set up a system that is effective and efficient, you eliminate so much of the stress that goes along with this business and you and the attorneys you work for really shine to your clients and to the courts.
What things have you learned about yourself over the years as a paralegal? How have you personally grown?
I have learned that patience is not my best virtue and I really have to work hard to maintain patience in difficult situations. I’ve learned that empathy goes a long way with dealing with clients and attorneys and that my empathic nature often makes up for what I lack in patience. And I’ve learned that if you approach it correctly, both clients and attorneys CAN and DO accept the limitations of what you can do for them, even if they don’t like it or really want to hear it.
I can’t count the ways I’ve grown as a person or as a professional in this field. I’ve gone from knowing absolutely nothing to developing a reputation as a very knowledgeable bankruptcy paralegal. I’ve developed leadership skills, teaching skills and client service skills of which I am very proud. My writing skills have improved tremendously, as have my time management skills. And I’ve learned that I really don’t want to do anything else and I will probably never retire until someone makes me.
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!
I love to share information with others and it’s also great to hear and learn from the experiences of other professionals in the field. I’m hoping to make some connections in other areas of law that are ancillary to mine, such as social security disability, workers’ comp, and personal injury so that I have someone to ask for help when I need something I don’t fully understand explained to me or so that I have someone to help our clients when the inevitable things in life happen to them while we are working with them.
What major accomplishments and accolades would you ultimately like to see listed on your paralegal obituary when the time comes?
I’d love to write a brief that one of my attorneys would take to the U.S. Supreme Court and win. I’d also like to get an advance degree in law.
What are your three top professional goals at this time?
Grow my business. Help more clients. Hire others and train them to be excellent legal professionals.
What is the most difficult situation you’ve ever overcome (personal or paralegal)?
I had to overcome a very difficult and painful childhood and an equally difficult and painful marriage. But life has gone on, I’ve made peace with my past, I’ve forgiven those who have hurt me and made amends to the best of my ability to those I’ve hurt and as a result I’ve found real happiness and joy in life and try to live every moment in the present.
What makes you a unique person?
I’m very quirky, spontaneous and willing to try just about anything. I’ve got a very positive attitude and I love to encourage and help others. I’m not so sure that makes me unique, because I know a lot of people like me, but I think you attract to you what you are.
What is the most unique life experience you’ve had to date? Tell us about it.
I think the most unique experience I’ve had in my life thus far was joining the navy when I was 19 and seeing some of the world. It really opened my eyes at a very young age to the wonders of the world and of the people in it.
If your friends were to tell us about your worst quality(ies) what would it/they be?
I may tend to be a little bit of a drama queen at times, but I’m a cancer. We feel therefore we exist!
If your friends were to tell us about your best quality(ies) what would it/they be?
I’m very loyal, very capable and will do anything for the people I love that is within my power to do.
What is your most life-defining moment to date?
Having my children. They are the biggest reason I get up every morning. I always say that if I ever did one thing right in this life, it was being their mom.
What is your most life-defining “paralegal moment” to date?
I would have to say that it was my first job as a bankruptcy paralegal. I’m still great friends with the attorney I worked for back then and he gave me an opportunity when perhaps others wouldn’t have. I’ll always be grateful to him for that and it has made all that has come since possible.
What are three unusual facts about you?
1. I have probably moved more often in my life than anyone I have ever known.
2. I love rollercoasters and it is on my bucket list to ride all the best ones in the world before I die.
3. I am a petite 5’2” and you wouldn’t know it from looking at me, but I am scrappy as heck and I’m afraid of almost nothing but snakes.
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?
New England lobster bake with chocolate cake for dessert. I grew up in the seacoast area of NH and I just love it.
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?
I have had more setbacks in life than I can count both personally and professionally, but I try to learn something from every experience so I don’t repeat the same mistakes. As a result, I always tell people that it is never about how you fall down…it is ALWAYS about how you get back up. Life is for the living. It is a waste of our lives kicking ourselves over our mistakes. We cannot change the past, so we have to do the best we can to make amends and forgive and then we have to turn the page and move on. Take the lesson, but let go of the pain.
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 probably would have waited until I was older to get married. But even at that, I learned so much from my ex-husband and we grew up together. And he was crazy enough to marry me and have two beautiful kids with me, so whatever went wrong between us, I will always love him for that.
My favorite part of this one? The part where Christi said, “… I always tell people that it is never about how you fall down…it is ALWAYS about how you get back up. Life is for the living.” Carry that one into your crazy, busy, fabulous work week, my fellow paralegals! Life is for the living. Deadlines are for the complying. Craziness is for the paralegal managing. Yep – that’s right. Dig your heels in deep, bob and weave with the best of ’em, and if you happen to get knocked down, get back up. It’s all a part of “the living.”
We’ll see you later this week!
Are you interested in contributing a “Sketch” a/k/a profile piece to The Paralegal Society? Feel inclined to play a fun game of 20 questions with the grand prize of being featured via the TPS platform? If so, send an e-mail to our fearless leader, Jamie at: firstname.lastname@example.org with “TPS Sketch” in the subject line, and we’ll gladly send you our most fabulous questionnaire. We’d love to get to know more of our paralegal peers, so don’t be shy! We’re looking for regular readers just like you! Go send that e-mail!