I am pleased to introduce Kristine M. Custodio, ACP as this week's PRTW. We met through the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA), and were both selected, among other individuals, for the Leadership Enhancement and Preparation (LEAP). I was fortunate enough to be placed on the same team as Kristine.
She is employed at Dinsmore & Shohl LLP as a Senior Paralegal/Office Administrator. Kristine received her Advanced Certified Paralegal designations through NALA in both discovery and trial work.
Kristine is a very active member in national, state, and local associations. She currently belongs to the following associations: San Diego Paralegal Association (SDPA); California Alliance of Paralegal Associations (CAPA); NALA; San Diego Press Club; Filipino American Chamber of Commerce (FACC); and Filipina Women’s Network. On top of being an active member in these associations she currently serves on SDPA’s Board as a Director and NALA Liaison, as well as holding the position of Past President. She is the CAPA President, a Continuing Education Council Member for NALA, a member of the University of San Diego's Advisory Board, a member of the Rancho Penasquitos Town Council, Commissioner for the City of San Diego's Citizens' Equal Opportunity Commission, and the FACC-SD Secretary.
PRTW: Why did you choose the paralegal profession?
KC: My journey becoming a paralegal began out of curiosity. I was studying to become a physical therapist, or so I thought. My mother fell ill my last year of college, and I moved back to San Diego, California to assist in her rehabilitation and to take over her business for her. I still remain involved in my family’s business today.
PRTW: Please tell me about someone who has influenced your decision to become a paralegal.
KC: My mother’s illness was the catalyst to my decision to become a paralegal. Had she not fallen ill and if I had not returned to San Diego, I may never have explored alternative career options outside of the medical field.
PRTW: What advice would you give someone interested in choosing the paralegal profession?
KC: I recommend that anyone looking to enter the paralegal field should do their research. The law casts a wide net, and there are a multitude of areas of law in which one may like to specialize. It is helpful to write a career development plan and to set both professional and personal goals for oneself.
PRTW: What do you think will change in the paralegal profession in the next five years?
KC: The paralegal field is and will continue to expand and grow. With the implementation of the Limited License Legal Technician’s (LLLT) program by the Washington State Bar Association, mandated by the Supreme Court of Washington, it seems that the paralegal profession may be heading towards uniform educational requirements and possibly towards licensure or regulation of some sort. I think that the demand for highly skilled and technologically proficient paralegals will increase over the next five years.
PRTW: What might someone be surprised to know about you?
KC: If I could do anything in the world, I would be a physical comedic actress like Lucille Ball.
PRTW: What do you find most challenging about being a paralegal?
KC: I have a heavy workload because I work for a small law firm and am also a hybrid position with administration duties.
PRTW: How do continue to do your best work in light of these challenges?
KC: I enjoy my job, my team, and the challenging work. I work with phenomenal attorneys. I try to keep a grateful and positive attitude every day.
PRTW: Name a highlight in your career.
KC: I am very interested in leadership development, so when I had an opportunity to co-author a chapter in a leadership book I jumped at the chance. Becoming a published author was on my “bucket list.” Now I can say that I have done that. You can find the book here: DISRUPT Filipina Women: Proud. Loud. Leading Without A Doubt. More information on the book may be found here.
PRTW: What is the best book you have ever read? Why?
KC: I am an avid reader. I especially enjoy period pieces, history, and autobiographies. I cannot say that there is only one book that has had a life-changing impact on me. I am selective of the materials I read, so each book becomes part of me. I try to take away something, a life lesson, from whatever I am reading.
PRTW: What is the best advice you have been given?
KC: The best advice I have ever been given is to never give up and to treat others as you wish to be treated.
PRTW: What was your educational path?
KC: I received my BA in Human Development with an emphasis in Physical Therapy from the California State University at Long Beach. I received my ABA-approved paralegal certificate and my HR Management certificate from the University of California, San Diego Extension. I have a certificate from the California Department of Social Services, Community Care Licensing Division as an Administrator for Adult Residential Facilities. I am an ACP with NALA.
PRTW: How do you deal with stressful situations?
KC: I like to hike, listen to and play music, talk to my friends, meditate, read, draw, and paint as outlets for stress. I am also a proponent of good planning and communication to ease stressful situations.
PRTW: How have the certification(s) helped you in your career?
KC: Opportunities to expand my professional endeavors in leadership, public and motivational speaking, career coaching, writing, and teaching have become available to me because of my continued desire to educate and improve myself and to hone my craft.
PRTW: What skills should a paralegal learn today?
KC: Problem solving, communication, and technology skills are important for today’s paralegals.
PRTW: What do you find most rewarding about being a paralegal?
KC: I love being able to help others, including both our clients and my team members.
PRTW: Do you feel mentors are important to your success as a legal professional?
KC: Mentors provide invaluable guidance, experience and wisdom in important career decisions. They also provide a great source of morale when things get rough.
PRTW: Are you a mentor to someone in the paralegal profession?
KC: Yes, I coach and mentor several paralegal students and new paralegals.
PRTW: If you could change one thing about the paralegal profession what would it be and why?
KC: I would like to see the pay scale increase significantly for the entire paralegal profession as a whole. I believe that the pay should be commensurate with the expectations and responsibilities that many paralegals and senior paralegals have.
PRTW: What legal blogs do you follow?
KC: Yes. I enjoy reading The Paralegal Society and The Paralegal Mentor.
PRTW: What legal podcasts do you listen to?
KC: I listen to Legal Talk Network and the Paralegal Voice.
PRTW: If you weren't a paralegal, what would you be doing instead, or what would your life be like?
KC: I would probably be an educator. I enjoy the paralegal profession and have received countless blessings from it.
PRTW: What is a “typical day” like in your shoes?
KC: I work for a small law firm as a Senior Paralegal/Legal Administrator. I don’t really have a typical day. My duties range from event planning to payroll to practice management to case work and more.
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 are your specialties, and why did you choose them?
KC: My specialties include ERISA and Civil/Business Litigation. I spent the first part of my career in an ERISA law firm with a litigation department. I was fortunate to manage both departments in my tenure with that law firm. It was a great learning experience. I also have a certificate in HR Management from the University of California, San Diego Extension which helped with my duties at my firm. I chose the civil/business litigation specialty because I have a passion for justice and for serving others. As a bonus since I have a business background as the Administrator for my family’s residential care facility, I feel that my training as a paralegal improved my business acumen.
PRTW: Have you ever worked in other specialties? If so, what were they and why did you make the change?
KC: Yes. Law Practice Management and Technology (LPMT). LPMT is part of my current responsibilities as a Senior Paralegal/Legal Administrator.
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?
KC: I am employed in the private sector.
PRTW: Do you believe paralegals employed in each of these sectors possess different skillsets? If so, what are they?
KC: Yes. Paralegals in the public sector working for the government or the court or other administrative agencies adhere to specific and uniform regulations subject to public policy. In the private sector, paralegals are found in corporations, other business entities such as nonprofits and private law firms. The skills required in these types of environments may necessitate specific skills with regard to proprietary software and rigid policies and procedures for those in larger firms and businesses. Paralegals who support small and solo practitioners often find themselves wearing multiple hats and must be well-rounded in their skill sets including, but not limited to, research, accounting, bookkeeping, payroll, employment law, training and development, etc.
PRTW: In the United States paralegals are not allowed to: 1) give legal advice, 2) set legal fees, or 3) appear in court on behalf of a client (in most instances). Are there any additional tasks paralegals are not allowed to perform based on California state law?
KC: Yes, pursuant to California Business & Professions Code Section 6450(b):
(b) Notwithstanding subdivision (a), a paralegal shall not do the following:
(1) Provide legal advice.
(2) Represent a client in court.
(3) Select, explain, draft, or recommend the use of any legal document to or for any person other than the attorney who directs and supervises the paralegal.
(4) Act as a runner or capper, as defined in Sections 6151 and 6152.
(5) Engage in conduct that constitutes the unlawful practice of law.
(6) Contract with, or be employed by, a natural person other than an attorney to perform paralegal services.
(7) In connection with providing paralegal services, induce a person to make an investment, purchase a financial product or service, or enter a transaction from which income or profit, or both, purportedly may be derived.
(8) Establish the fees to charge a client for the services the paralegal performs, which shall be established by the attorney who supervises the paralegal's work. This paragraph does not apply to fees charged by a paralegal in a contract to provide paralegal services to an attorney, law firm, corporation, governmental agency, or other entity as provided in subdivision (a).
PRTW: What requirements does California have concerning continuing legal education for paralegals?
KC: Under California Business & Professions Code Section 6450(d):
Every two years, commencing January 1, 2007, any person that is working as a paralegal shall be required to certify completion of four hours of mandatory continuing legal education in legal ethics and four hours of mandatory continuing legal education in either general law or in an area of specialized law. All continuing legal education courses shall meet the requirements of Section 6070. Certification of these continuing education requirements shall be made with the paralegal's supervising attorney. The paralegal shall be responsible for keeping a record of the paralegal's certifications.