Taye Akinola, CRP™, is a Paralegal Specialist with the United States Department of Justice. He is an active member of the Deaf in Government, National Capital Area Paralegal Association (NCAPA), and Deaf and Hard of Hearing Bar Association. He is also a member of the National Federation of Paralegal Associations, Inc. (NFPA) and the Virginia Alliance of Paralegal Associations (VAPA).
PRTW: How does one become a paralegal in the United States?
TA: It depends on the employer, but it seems today’s requirements are a Bachelor’s degree with a paralegal certificate and some paralegal experience (2-3 years).
PRTW: What was your educational path?
TA: My education path has been interesting. I received a Bachelor’s degree in graphic design, a graduate certificate in deaf history, and a Master’s degree in deaf studies—all from Gallaudet University. I also received two graduate certificates in paralegal studies and mediation from Texas State University. And, I am currently pursuing a Master’s degree in legal studies from Washington University School of Law.
PRTW: Why did you choose the paralegal profession?
TA: I chose the paralegal profession because I like doing research and writing. I discovered this when I completed my first Master’s degree and was trying to figure out what kind of job I would like to do.
PRTW: Tell me about someone who has influenced your decision to become a paralegal.
TA: It was not someone, but something. When I graduated with my first Master’s degree in 2010, I struggled to find a job related to my field. And I tried figuring out how I could leverage my degree and that was when I realized I enjoy doing research and writing, which led me to the paralegal profession.
PRTW: In the United States, paralegals have a variety of career options to specialize in, from patent law to elder law to technology law to criminal law. What is your specialty
TA: My specialties are intellectual property law, cybercrime law, and cybersecurity law.
PRTW: Why did you choose to focus on intellectual property law, cybercrime law, and cybersecurity law?
TA: I chose the specialties because I am interested in technology and how it affects our lives on a daily basis.
PRTW: What advice would you give someone interested in choosing the paralegal profession?
TA: Ask yourself—is this a stepping stone to becoming an attorney or is this the profession that you want to pursue for the rest of your life? If the latter, then get the necessary training, join paralegal associations, and network. You never know who would advocate for you if you played your cards right.
PRTW: What do you think will change in the paralegal profession in the United States in the next five years?
TA: I believe the changes would be more respect, which leads to more autonomy in the paralegal profession. I strongly believe the LLLT program started in Washington State will be a huge success to the point where it would be implemented in other states, and the members of the Board at the American Bar Association would take notice and give their backing to the program and expansion.
PRTW: What might someone be surprised to know about you?
TA: I am Deaf, and I am an art history nerd.
PRTW: Paralegals can be employed in different sectors, such as private or public sectors. What sector are you currently employed in?
TA: I am currently employed in the public (federal) sector.
PRTW: Do you believe paralegals employed in each of these sectors possess different skill sets? If so, what are they?
TA: Yes, I do. The skill sets are different in terms of the familiarity of the laws that we work in—mainly because in the federal sector, our client is the federal government. There are certain laws that are applicable to the federal government that are not applicable to private parties/individuals. In addition, the ability to deal with ambiguity on a daily basis is a tremendous skill.
PRTW: What do you find most challenging about being a paralegal?
TA: I think the most challenging thing about being a paralegal is two-fold: respect from attorneys (depending on whom you work for and whom you work with) and the recurring question: “Do you want to attend law school one day?” While the question is a genuine question and come from a good place, the assumption that the paralegal profession is a job (and not as a career)—a stepping stone to becoming an attorney is a bit presumptuous.
PRTW: How do continue to do your best work in light of these challenges?
TA: I chose to become the best paralegal I can be and to make myself invaluable and indispensable by taking on more responsibilities to make an impact and make a difference in the workplace and taking additional training that would support my professional development and the office/employer I work for.
PRTW: Name a highlight in your career.
TA: The highlight in my career was actually before I joined the Justice Department and that is taking and passing the CORE Registered Paralegal examination for the CRP™ designation. It solidified my self-worth as a professional paralegal and knowing that I am well-trained among my peers to enter the paralegal profession.
PRTW: Where can we find your publications?
TA: You can find a few: my Master’s thesis: “The Pursuit of Representation: The Meaning of Material Culture in the Deaf Community” from my first Master’s degree program. And a few articles/blog posts on a popular blog. You can find a copy of my Master’s thesis at the United States Copyright Office in Washington, DC. You can also find the few articles on a popular blog: “The Paralegal Society.”
PRTW: How do you deal with stressful situations?
TA: I create a to-do list and break down big tasks into manageable achievable tasks. And of course, I get a great cup of Chai latte from Starbucks to calm my nerves.
PRTW: What did you do to obtain your CORE Registered Paralegal (CRP™) designation?
TA: I used a self-paced study manual from the credential association: NFPA and set up a self-discipline studying schedule to prepare for the examination.
PRTW: How has your CRP™ helped in your career?
TA: It allowed me to stand out of the saturated legal market for paralegal positions, and it invited inquiries from attorneys and hiring managers about what is the CRP™ designation and how it would benefit their company.
PRTW: What skills should a paralegal learn today?
TA: I know this sounds cliché, but the “must-have” skills are: being detail-oriented, in depth critical thinking, great legal writing, well-versed in conducting independent legal research using different databases, problem-solver (offering solutions), and being a team-player.
PRTW: What do you find most rewarding about being a paralegal?
TA: The work I do that helps the American people. Knowing that by working for the American government, I am rooting for the “underdog” and ensuring they get the best of the best in terms of service, talent, and passion from federal paralegals.
PRTW: Do you have a professional mentor?
TA: No, I do not – I am looking for a couple to help with my personal and professional development.
PRTW: If you could change one thing about the paralegal profession what would it be, and why?
TA: Autonomy within the paralegal profession to allow to directly help people in need—particularly low-income citizens that need legal guidance/help—basically following the Washington State’s model—LLLT program.
PRTW: What legal blogs do you follow?
TA: “The Paralegal Society," “The Art Law Report,” “The eDiscovery Blog by Kroll Ontrack,” and “The Relativity Blog – kCura.”
PRTW: If you weren't a paralegal, what would you be doing instead, or what would your life be like?
TA: I would probably have stayed in higher education—particularly in student affairs. Or probably would have gone to work for the federal government in a management/program analyst position in a federal agency.
PRTW: What resources does the United States, Washington, DC, or your employer provide to you in order to do your job?
TA: They provide ongoing training offered by the Training Center (within my Division) as well as other training resources offered agency-wide. Training could include how to use different kinds of Discovery software for our casework to how the legislative process functions and its effect on the federal sector.
Taye can be reached on LinkedIn and via email at email@example.com.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the interviewee and does not necessarily reflect the official position of any agency of the U.S. Government. Responses made by the article are not reflective of the position of any U.S. government entity.