This Week's Paralegal RTW ~ Kathryn C. Wray, RP

I met Kathryn C. Wray, RP through the National Capital Area Paralegal Association (NCAPA) in Washington, DC. I had the privilege to serve on NCAPA's Board of Directors with Kathryn for several years. She works in niche practice that I find fascinating - Native American law.

Kathryn is a paralegal with Sonosky, Chambers, Sachse, Endreson & Perry, LLP, in the Washington, DC, office. In her spare time, she keeps busy serving as President of NCAPA’s Board of Directors. She is also a member of the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) and the Virginia Alliance of Paralegal Associations (VAPA).

PRTW: Why did you choose the paralegal profession?
KW: I remember always being fascinated with the law, through high school, and when I started college. I knew I couldn’t afford to go to law school, so I thought being a Paralegal would be the next best thing!

PRTW: Tell us about someone who has influenced your decision to become a paralegal.
KW: My parents. They knew I loved the law, and they always encouraged me to pursue that idea.

PRTW: What do you find most challenging about being a paralegal?  
KW: Getting the attorneys to believe a Paralegal has a defined place in a firm or office, and entrusting them to perform as skilled technicians. Being respected as a Paralegal and not just ‘a secretary with another title.’ 

PRTW: How do continue to do your best work in light of these challenges? 
KW: It’s difficult! I continue to remind them of the tasks I am trained and capable of doing, offer assistance where I can help, and I have routine tasks that are considered paralegal/billable work.

PRTW: Name a highlight in your career. 
KW: When I was researching documents from the 1880’s and not only found the documents I had been tasked to find, but found some others that I thought were related, and brought them back to the attorney and she was excited because they clearly reinforced the track they were moving on, and would definitely help our client’s position. That, and that she acknowledged I had made a helpful discovery. 

PRTW: What was your educational path?
KW: “Broken!” I went to one year of college right out of high school, attended many colleges and universities part time throughout my Air Force enlistment (7+ years), finished my Associate’s Degree in Paralegal Studies and Paralegal Certificate at a local Junior College while I was a stay-at-home mom. Thirteen years later, just before I turned 50, I finished my Bachelor’s Degree in Paralegal Studies.

PRTW: How do you deal with stressful situations?   
KW: Stressful situations tend to make me work harder, more focused. Then when it’s over, I vent to my best friend!

PRTW: Do you possess any certifications? If so, what are they?
KW: Yes. I am a Registered Paralegal® through NFPA.

PRTW: What did you do to obtain these certifications?
KW: I had to meet the education and experience requirements, then I took a Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam® (PACE®) study course. At the end of the course, I set my exam date six weeks out, and studied every day for at least two hours, using various materials including flash cards, for about 12 hours over each weekend.

PRTW: How have the certification(s) helped you in your career?  
KW: So far it has been 2.5 years and I can’t say it has helped in my career. I believe this is mostly because I work for the same firm I worked for prior to the certification, and I was already working as a Paralegal for them when I obtained my credential. I believe that it will definitely be a factor that sets me ahead of uncredentialed Paralegals if I ever choose to change jobs.

PRTW: What skills should a paralegal learn today?  
KW: Proofreading and editing are always necessary. For the job I’m in, researching skills are paramount. Cite-checking is always a good skill to master.

PRTW: If you weren't a paralegal, what would you be doing instead, or what would your life be like?  

KW: Tough question! I’m doing what I have almost always wanted to do. If I wasn’t a Paralegal, I guess I would hope that I would be in a position to have been able to do a lot of volunteer work and spend more time with my kids and grandkids.

PRTW: What is a “typical day” like in your shoes?
KW: I review several legislative publications every day, track attorney contracts, research topics, and provide assistance to attorneys with various matters.

PRTW: What is your favorite quote?
KW: Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined. - Henry David Thoreau

PRTW: In the United States, paralegals have a variety of career options to specialize in, from elder law to technology law to criminal law. What is your specialty?
KW: Research, specifically and within Native American Indian law.

PRTW: Why did you choose this specialty?
KW: I basically ‘fell into’ it, at one point when I needed a job, I interviewed for this firm that specializes in Native American law. It is fascinating and covers nearly every form of law there is (i.e. corporate, government, contracts, real estate, etc.) but all of it is from the Native American [tribes] point of view.

PRTW: Have you ever worked in other specialties? If so, what were they?
KW: My first job as a Paralegal was working for collection attorneys, handling the assorted paperwork that goes with suing people who didn’t pay their bills. I then went to work for a solo practitioner who had a general practice, but mainly covered eminent domain, corporate law, and estates and trusts.

PRTW: Why did you change specialities?
KW: I was at a point in my life that I needed to make more money, and couldn’t do so in the small town I was currently working in. I circulated my resume in Washington, D.C., and was interviewed for the position in Native American law, and have loved it since.

PRTW: What advice would you give someone interested in choosing the paralegal profession?
KW: Take every learning opportunity you can get. It’s never too late!

PRTW: What do you think will change in the paralegal profession in the next five years?
KW: Definitely the Limited License Legal Technician (LLLT) that is currently being tested in a few states. It will give Paralegals the autonomy to handle some basic work that attorneys are having to do now. By shifting the fundamental tasks to the Paralegal the attorney would be available to do more substantive billable work.

PRTW: What might someone be surprised to know about you?  
I served in the Air Force for over seven years.

PRTW: In the United States, paralegals can be employed in either the private sector or the public sector. What sector are you currently employed in?

KW: Private.

PRTW: Do you believe paralegals employed in each of these sectors possess different skillsets? What are they?
KW: No, not really, with few exceptions, the skills and tasks we are capable of doing can be translated to most forms of law. Cite-checking is cite-checking, research is research, just in different topics. I think one type of law that is harder to translate skills in is Information Technology. The vocabulary and tasks are very different.

PRTW: Does the United States require continuing legal education for paralegals?

KW: No.

PRTW: What resources does the United States or the city in which you work in provide to you in order to do your job?
KW: For me, most of my research tasks take me to the Library of Congress Law Library or the National Archives and Records Administration, both are located in Washington, DC and are provided by the Federal Government.

PRTW: What is it like to research at the Library of Congress or the National Archives?
KW: It’s very exciting! You always come across interesting things. Once while in the Archives, I find a handwritten Executive Order on a torn half sheet of paper (I can't remember which, but it's this or the napkin!). I also found a first-hand historical account on Sitting Bull that was fascinating.

Kathryn can be reached at via LinkedIn