I was introduced to Elizabeth H. Nellis, ACP, through the Leadership Enhancement and Preparation (LEAP) program at the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) in 2013. I was one of the lucky individuals in the program, because she served as mentor to my team, and continues to mentor me to this day.
She currently is employed by Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma, Inc. as a paralegal embedded at the Tulsa, Oklahoma District Courthouse, and is assigned to the Courthouse Assistance Program for the Forcible Entry & Detainer (eviction) Docket conducted by Judge Millie Otey. Elizabeth is a NALA Certified Paralegal (CP) and a NALA Advanced Certified Paralegal (ACP) in Social Security Disability.
In her spare time, Elizabeth is an active member of several professional associations including, the National Association of Legal Assistants Paralegals (NALA); the Oklahoma Paralegal Association (OPA, Co-founder); the Tulsa Area Paralegal Association (Charter Member & two-term Past-President); and the Tulsa County Bar Association, Paralegal Division (Charter Member) & Pro Bono Committee Member. She also serves as a Regional Director on the NALA Board of Directors.
PRTW: Why did you choose the paralegal profession?
EN: As early as I can recall I was fascinated by the law, partially because my father was a licensed Bondsman and our dearest family friend was an old-time country lawyer.
PRTW: Tell me about someone who has influenced your decision to become a paralegal.
EN: Several attorneys and a paralegal in the Oklahoma City Legal Aid office (where I was working as a legal secretary) encouraged me to apply to a new paralegal program at the University of Oklahoma Law School--that started me on the path to success and I will be forever grateful to their belief and support in me and my abilities!
PRTW: What skills should a paralegal learn today?
EN: Technical skills are critical, and developing and improving Soft Skills is essential! Do not neglect basic skills such as reading, writing and arithmetic (3 R's) and mechanical skills to operate office equipment because computers "crash" and support staff may not be available.
PRTW: What do you find most rewarding about being a paralegal?
EN: Client contact! I especially enjoy assisting the attorney to successfully resolve the client's legal problems.
PRTW: What advice would you give someone interested in choosing the paralegal profession?
EN: In addition to perfecting your hard occupational skills, you should develop and improve your Soft Skills. Also, I would advise someone to join a professional organization, even as a student, because of the networking opportunities.
PRTW: What do you think will change in the paralegal profession in the next five years?
EN: The acceptance and actual use of the “LLLT’s,” Limited License Legal Technicians.
PRTW: What might someone be surprised to know about you?
EN: Most people know I love animals, but would be surprised to learn that I have trained in falconry in both the United States and Scotland.
PRTW: What did you do to obtain your CP and ACP certifications?
EN: I successfully completed the NALA voluntary examinations.
PRTW: How have these certifications helped you in your career?
EN: Besides instilling confidence in my education and skills and the recognition and respect of my peers in the legal community, I have discovered that when offered employment or an opportunity to assist in the community, the NALA certifications make the difference in being hired or invited to participate.
PRTW: What legal blogs do you read?
EN: Yes. The Paralegal Mentor.
PRTW: What legal podcasts do you listen to?
EN: Legal Talk Network--Paralegal Voice.
PRTW: What do you find most challenging about being a paralegal?
EN: Remaining current and relevant.
PRTW: How do continue to do your best work in light of these challenges?
EN: By continuing to learn! I am constantly attending CLE events, I am a member of the University of Tulsa College of Law Paralegal Program Advisory Board and the Tulsa Community College Paralegal Program Advisory Board so I am fortunate to learn about the latest trends in education and the profession. I also conduct live webinars for NALA (several times each year relating to separate topics).
PRTW: Please name a highlight in your career.
EN: Occurred recently at the Annual TCBA Awards Luncheon! My mentor, Judge Millie Otey, received an extremely prestigious award. In her typical modest fashion, instead of basking in the limelight, she requested that the honor bestowed upon her instead be given to her pro bono volunteer attorneys. She made an additional request that I also be recognized and honored as her paralegal. This was an unexpected and life-changing moment for me especially considering my Legal Aid Services Director and my first Tulsa employer (now a retired Judge) were in the audience.
PRTW: What was your educational path?
EN: I am a graduate of the University of Oklahoma College of Law Paralegal Studies Program.
PRTW: How do you deal with stressful situations?
EN: I ride my horse, “Nemo.”
PRTW: Have you ever been published?
EN: Yes, I have wrote an article entitled The Tulsa District Courthouse Assistance Program, which appeared in the Tulsa Lawyer magazine in 2013. In 2013, The Courthouse Assistance Program, was also published in NALA’s Facts & Findings magazine.
PRTW: What is the best book you have ever read and why?
EN: “A Dog’s Purpose” by Bruce Cameron because the perspective on life is especially meaningful to me personally.
PRTW: Do you have a professional mentor?
EN: Yes, Judge Millie Otey.
PRTW: Do you feel mentors are important to your success as a legal professional?
EN: Absolutely! Mentors’ experience and guidance are essential not only professionally but personally to my growth but in maintaining and improving my relationships with the entire legal community.
PRTW: Are you a mentor to someone in the paralegal profession?
EN: Yes. While serving on the NALA Board I was fortunate to become a mentor to several paralegals who were participating in the Leadership Enhancement & Preparation Program (LEAP). I also mentor several local paralegals who are members of the local NALA Affiliates.
PRTW: If you could change one thing about the paralegal profession what would it be, and why?
EN: I would improve the utilization of paralegals so they could use their knowledge and skills to their full capacity and be recognized as true professionals.
PRTW: If you weren't a paralegal, what would you be doing instead, or what would your life be like?
EN: I would most likely be a veterinarian.
PRTW: What is a “typical day” like in your shoes?
EN: I try to exercise with my dog early each morning to relax before working from home reviewing and addressing messages.
The rest of the morning I process reports and documents for Legal Aid, NALA, or local paralegal organizations projects and often I am a member of a training team that conducts events at private law firms or at the TU Law School.
The FED docket is conducted each afternoon (except Wednesday) so once I organize my notes and the docket is called I begin to conduct intake interviews to qualify tenants/defendants for pro bono legal assistance. I team with the pro bono attorneys while he/she prepares the case and during the negotiations with the private landlords, attorneys for corporate real estate management or Tulsa Housing Authority. Normally, there are several "bench trials" during the week and I assist the pro bono attorneys with each of them. Judge Otey concludes each case on the assigned court date, rarely continuing a case, so the hours are sometimes long, depending on the caseload. In 2014, Judge Otey personally handled over 23,000 cases, she has an extremely efficient streamlined procedure but there is very little "down time.” Once Court concludes I have LSC reports to complete, messages to review and address, and before I realize it, it's time to begin again--I love it!
PRTW: Are you regulated by an oversight agency?
EN: Yes, the Legal Services Corporation in Washington, D.C.
PRTW: The United States offers many career options for paralegals to specialize in. Specialties can range from elder law to technology law to criminal law and more. What is your specialty?
EN: Civil Litigation.
PRTW: Why did you choose this specialty?
EN: I feel this speciality is full of possibilities and opportunity.
PRTW: Have you ever worked in other specialties? If so, what were they?
EN: Yes. After leaving the Public Sector, and residing in Oklahoma, a natural choice for me was "oil & gas." I was fortunate to be selected to specialize in multi-district litigation (Federal) and antitrust litigation.
PRTW: Why did you change specialties?
EN: I was becoming too specialized and when the cyclical downturns occurred (very routine in oil & gas practice), I needed to expand my skills and marketability.
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?
EN: Public Sector.
PRTW: Do you believe paralegals employed in each of these sectors possess different skill sets and if so, what are they
EN: Yes. In my experience, I have only noticed a difference in billing practices.
Elizabeth can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.