Heidi Mares, ACP is a Business Solutions Manager for Adams & Martins Group, a Division of Roth Staffing.
She currently serves on the Board for the National Association of Legal Assistants – Paralegals (NALA) on the Continuing Legal Education Council, and as a mentor for both the San Diego Paralegal Association (SDPA) and Women in eDiscovery (WiE) San Diego. Heidi holds an active committee position for Professional Development with California Alliance of Paralegal Associations as a GOAL Leader and 2016 Webinar Presenter. She was a Director with SDPA for more than five years and is now an active Committee Member as NALA Liaison.
Additionally, Heidi is an active member of in the American Bar Association (ABA), California Alliance of Paralegal Association (CAPA), American Alliance of Paralegals, Inc. (AAPI), American Association for Paralegal Education (AAfPE), Lambda Epsilon Chi: National Honor Society for Paralegal Studies (LEX), National Notary Association (NNA), Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society Alumni (PTK), San Diego County Bar Association, San Diego Legal Secretaries, San Diego Miramar College Paralegal Group Alumni, and The State Bar of California: Law Practice & Technology.
Heidi earned an ABA Paralegal Certificate, the Certified Paralegal (CP), the Advanced Certified Paralegal (ACP) in Contracts Administration, Discovery, Trademarks, and Business Organizations, completed the LEAP (Leadership Enhancement And Preparation) National Paralegal Leader Certification from NALA, the Citizens Academy Certificate, and the Contracts Certificate from Harvard University.
She recently presented a webinar for CAPA on Professional Growth and Branding.
PRTW: There are many avenues for becoming a paralegal. Can you tell us about your journey to becoming a paralegal?
HM: My legal career began as a File Clerk. I earned the role as the Administrative Assistant within a few years in that law firm. At the time, it was employment. I did not have a passion for law until I began to assist and work on cases. The work became interesting to me and the more research I performed, the more I enjoyed it. The days went by faster and my desire to learn became my potential role. Originally, my goal was to go to law school, but I decided to become a Paralegal. I worked full-time as a Contracts Administrator while I pursued my Legal Studies Degree, Paralegal Degree, and ABA Paralegal Certificate. Within a few years my career advanced to Senior Paralegal for an in-house legal department and then an opportunity as a Legal Manager for a law firm, where I was able to train paralegals and manage operations.
PRTW: Why did you choose the paralegal profession?
HM: At first it was not a choice, but something that presented itself early on in my life. I am sure I could have chosen many other careers, but at the time being a Paralegal meant the most to me. I feel that I have evolved within my role in a surprising way.
PRTW: Tell us about someone who has influenced your decision to become a paralegal.
HM: My primary influence to become a Paralegal was my role at the time. I was assisting with cases and legal research, but could not be billed out because I did not have my law degree or Paralegal Certificate. I wanted to be the best and highest level staff in the law firm where I worked. Originally, my goal was to put myself through law school working as a Paralegal full-time.
PRTW: 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?
HM: Contracts and Business Law were always my specialty and passion.
PRTW: Why did you choose this specialty?
HM: I love transactional work. I found documents to be soothing and enjoyed the business aspects of the law. I am a deliberative person so I enjoy being able to capture the same mentality into my work. I loved to take sections at a time, re-word verbiage to be concise and clear, and research laws that applied to each section. Boring to some, but I could argue myself into circles with Contracts for hours and really enjoy it.
PRTW: What other specialties have you worked in, and why did you change specialties?
HM: I have worked in practice areas: Contracts, Business Law, Business Litigation, Corporation, and Business Development.
PRTW: What advice would you give someone interested in choosing the paralegal profession?
HM: I think that the legal field is like working out. We work out because we have to keep our bodies strong, not because we necessarily enjoy it. After a while, we might start to enjoy it but it is still a lot of work and downright frustrating at times. The legal field will work out your brain, your mentality, and test your limits. And just like working out – you will always see the results of your hard work and dedication. The only limit is your mentality.
The most frequently asked question I receive from potential legal professionals is: is working in the legal field hard? My response is always: is anything worth it ever easy?
PRTW: What do you think will change in the paralegal profession in the United States the next five years? What is the best way for a paralegal to prepare for these changes? With this mind, what changes will you make to continue being a successful paralegal?
HM: I predict the Paralegal profession will change drastically with new titles and roles within E-Discovery and new technology changes. Business & Professionals Code 6450 will amend to evolve with the change in Certificated Paralegals working in the legal field without the official “Paralegal” title. We will see more Litigation Specialists, Business Development, Marketing, and Management and Operations from those who hold Paralegal education or backgrounds. Within 10 years I imagine that we will see the Limited License Technician become more of an Associate-level Paralegal to the public. I predict that becoming an Attorney will have higher standards and ethics as the Paralegal profession advances to Attorney standards.
PRTW: What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?
HM: Be stronger. Don’t ever allow people be mean to you. Do not care what others think of you. Keep your heels and standards high.
PRTW: What might someone be surprised to know about you?
HM: I have donated 14+ inches of my hair previously to Locks of Love, a non-profit organization that provides hairpieces to children suffering from medical hair loss.
PRTW: Paralegals can be employed in different sectors, such as private or public sectors. What sector are you currently employed in? Do you believe paralegals employed in each of these sectors possess different skill sets? If so, what are they?
HM: I am currently employed in a privately-held national staffing company.
I think that successful Paralegals possess the same type of qualities: strength, focus, and discipline but learn how to develop them and earn additional skills for their current surroundings or passions.
PRTW: What do you find most challenging about being a paralegal?
HM: Legal Professionals are formed like diamonds. It is only under the greatest amount of pressure and heat that beauty is formed and unbreakable.
PRTW: How do continue to do your best work in light of these challenges?
HM: The largest challenge I have observed is strength and determination. It takes a certain type of person or trait to keep going, never give up, and always look for how to fix things instead of crush under the pressure.
PRTW: Name a highlight in your career.
HM: Someone told me they researched me and said, “Wow, she is a force to be reckoned with.” I was caught off guard. I worked hard for everything I have done and to hear someone acknowledge that I was “powerful” was humbling. I never sat back and looked at my accomplishments before. It was a reminder that hard work pays off. It made me think, what more can I achieve??
PRTW: What is the best book you have ever read & why?
HM: My favorite book (play) is Macbeth by Shakespeare. I love the realistic portrayal of physical and psychological struggle when seeking ambition and power. I love all of Shakespeare’s work. There is so much to learn in each piece.
PRTW: What is one law in your specialty that people would be interested to hear about? Why are you interested in it?
HM: I think everyone should have a good understanding of Business and Contracts. Verbal and written contracts are made daily in our acts. It sets the expectations of all parties. It is the most disputed case for a reason: miscommunication.
PRTW: What was your educational path?
HM: I earned degrees in Legal Studies, Paralegal, and Social and Behavioral Sciences in addition to the ABA Paralegal Certificate. In addition, I earned certifications including the national Certified Paralegal (CP) designation and Advanced Certified Paralegal (ACP) in Contracts Administration, Discovery, Trademarks, and Business Organizations; and Contracts Certificate from Harvard University.
PRTW: How do you deal with stressful situations?
HM: Ignore the stress. Focus on completing the tasks.
PRTW: What skills should a paralegal learn today?
HM: Aspiring legal professionals should obtain an American Bar Approved Paralegal Program/Certificate, learn with volunteer experience at the Superior Court, legal clinics, local associations and legal causes. Network with your local, state and nationwide associations. Career Paralegals should obtain practice-focused certificates and continuing education. All legal professionals should stay relevant in the market.
PRTW: What do you find most rewarding about being a paralegal?
HM: It depends on the practice area. In general, a Paralegal should be rewarded with a solid career, a higher standard of excellence, and respect.
PRTW: What role does mentorship play in your career, both as a mentor and a mentee?
HM: I have one solid mentor in my life and without her; I would probably not be where I am today. In my associations, I feel all of the Paralegals have been my mentors in different ways. Listening, focusing, and following through have improved my skills tremendously. As a mentor, I still don’t feel I am qualified but always learn new things in helping others.
PRTW: Earlier you mentioned that you have an ABA Paralegal Certificate, the Certified Paralegal (CP), the Advanced Certified Paralegal (ACP) in Contracts Administration, Discovery, Trademarks, and Business Organizations, the Citizens Academy Certificate, and the Contracts Certificate from Harvard University. How have these certifications helped you in your career?
HM: My certifications have qualified me by California Business and Professionals Code 6450 in title and an increase in billable rate resulting in compensation raise.
PRTW: If you could change one thing about the paralegal profession what would it be, and why?
HM: I would change the requirements to become a Paralegal to match Notary Public criteria because I feel that Paralegals are in a service to the public and should be held to a higher standard.
PRTW: What legal blogs do you read?
HM: NALA Facts & Findings and Open Source Guide to ESI.
PRTW: What legal podcasts do you listen to?
HM: Limitless by Alex Theis.
PRTW: If you weren't a paralegal, what would you be doing instead, or what would your life be like?
HM: White House Chief of Staff.
PRTW: Does California or your employer require continuing legal education for paralegals?
HM: Yes, to adhere to Business & Professionals Code 6450 and NALA ACP of fifty (50) MCLE hours every five (5) years.
PRTW: What resources does your country, city, or state in which you work provide to you in order to do your job?
HM: Memberships to the Association of Legal Administrators, San Diego Paralegal Association, San Diego Legal Secretaries Association, California Affiliation of Paralegal Associations, and National Association of Legal Assistants – Paralegals.
PRTW: Who inspires you?
HM: Aristotle, Socrates, Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, and Steve Jobs.
PRTW: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
HM: I wish this was given to me directly, but the best advice I have received comes from a quote from Aristotle, “To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.”
Heidi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Heidi Mares, ACP is a Business Solutions Manager for Adams & Martins Group, a Division of Roth Staffing.