Sara M. Lutz, CP, Senior Paralegal for The Walt Disney Company graciously agreed to answer questions for Paralegals Round the World. She is an active member of the San Diego Paralegal Association (SDPA) and the California Alliance of Paralegal Associations (CAPA). She currently serves as a Director for SDPA and is the VP of Policy for CAPA. Sara is a National Association of Paralegals (NALA) Certified Paralegal (CP).
PRTW: Why did you choose the paralegal
SL: I wanted to go to law school but was unsure if it would be a right fit for me. While looking at the law school program at USD in San Diego, California, I found their paralegal program. It dawned on me that I could get some great legal/work experience as a paralegal before I attempted law school.
PRTW: Tell us about someone who has influenced your decision to become a paralegal.
SL: My mother was the main influence in choosing the paralegal career path. At the time, she had been a legal secretary for over 20 years. She highly advised me to work in a law firm setting before jumping into law school. She had seen many young attorneys out of law school dislike the profession. She fully supported my decision to continue my education and attend a paralegal program.
PRTW: What advice would you give someone interested in choosing the paralegal profession?
SL: Be friendly, approachable, and have a positive attitude. With that always offer up your time and be open to taking on new cases and areas of the law even if you are unsure about what to do. The more exposure you have to different matters and areas of law will make you invaluable.
PRTW: What do you think will change in the paralegal profession in the next five years?
SL: I strongly believe that the traditional paralegal role will become a hybrid of technology and paralegal – the “IT paralegal.” I have seen this slowly evolving over the last 8 years. Technology is rapidly evolving creating more software, database, and computer assistance programs. Strong knowledge in using and manipulating these programs will take a paralegal far.
PRTW: What might someone be surprised to know about you?
SL: I’m an open book – however one of my greatest accomplishments was studying abroad in Paris during college.
PRTW: If you weren't a paralegal, what would you be doing instead, or what would your life be like?
SL: If I was not a paralegal, I would probably be doing one of the following: travel blogger, creative director of Kate Spade, a magazine editor, or art historian/curator.
PRTW: What do you find most challenging about being a paralegal?
SL: If you had asked me this question a year ago I would have said billing my time effectively. Now, my biggest challenge is learning how my company works from all aspects.
PRTW: How do continue to do your best work in light of these challenges?
SL: I continue to learn and educate myself and reach out to those who are more senior and have knowledge for help/assistance.
PRTW: Name a highlight in your career.
SL: Receiving San Diego Paralegal of the Year award, and being offered my current position in the same year.
PRTW: What is the best book you have ever read? Why?
SL: The best? Oh my… there are so many good books, and so many I have not read yet. I typically like to read funny books by comedians which I wouldn’t say are the greatest books but they make me happy. So I will have to answer this in two parts because I love comedy. Any book by Chelsea Handler, but Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang was my favorite. The BEST book I have ever read is The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan.
PRTW: What was your educational path?
SL: I received my BA in Political Science from San Diego State University.
PRTW: How do you deal with stressful situations?
SL: I try to not let stress get to me; I generally remain calm, and diffuse situations as quickly as possible while maintaining a friendly and approachable attitude.
PRTW: You mentioned earlier that you were a Certified Paralegal (CP) through NALA. What did you do to obtain this certification?
SL: I took a CP prep course through UCSD, and then took the two-day NALA exam.
PRTW: How has your certification helped you in your career?
SL: I do believe my CP helped me obtain the job I currently hold.
PRTW: What skills should a paralegal learn today?
SL: Database management and ANYTHING technology related, including E-Discovery rules/procedures.
PRTW: Do you feel professional mentors are important to your success as a legal professional and why?
SL: Yes. Having a mentor is like having a fairy godmother. It’s hard to do anything alone for very long – having a network of professionals and mentors that can help guide you is invaluable.
PRTW: Are you a mentor to someone in the paralegal profession?
SL: I am not specifically a mentor to anyone, however I volunteer my time for my local paralegal association and state paralegal association and always provide my time if needed to anyone, including students that seek advice or guidance.
PRTW: If you could change one thing about the paralegal profession what would it be, and why?
SL: California paralegals are required to follow and comply with B&P Code 6450, et seq. California sets forth minimum requirements to hold oneself out as a paralegal and requires continuing education. I would like to see similar requirements/codes for individuals holding themselves out as paralegals in all other states.
PRTW: Do you read any legal blogs?
SL: Yes, the CEB Blog, The Paralegal Mentor, The California Litigator, and The Estrin Report.
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?
SL: Litigation – Personal Injury and Employment.
PRTW: Why did you choose litigation as your specialty?
SL: At my second paralegal job I was exposed to personal injury and employment matters, among others – matters that were handed to me without choice. It was great exposure to different areas of the law.
PRTW: What other specialties have you worked in?
SL: I wouldn’t consider my path as changing specialties, as everything I have done has been litigation which is broad and can be applied to many specialty areas of law. For example, I previously worked in - construction defect, malpractice, insurance defense, and business litigation.
PRTW: In the United States, paralegals can be employed in either the private sector or the public sector. Do you believe paralegals employed in each of these sectors possess different skillsets? If so, what are they?
SL: Yes, absolutely. There is no one answer to this question. Every paralegal job is different. Even from one defense law firm to the next. In general, paralegals should have a basic sense of the legal system, terminology, and local procedure. From there, each job, whether it is public or private is vastly different.
You can reach Sara via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please note: Any views or opinions expressed in this interview are solely those of the individual and do not necessarily represent those of the individual’s employer.