Christine V. Cunetta (Christy) and I met while she was attending George Washington University’s Paralegal Studies Program (GW). While at GW, she was President of the Paralegal Studies Association, and she became a member of the National Capital Area Paralegal Association (NCAPA). Christy is currently employed as a Litigation Defense Paralegal at the Weinberg Wheeler Hudgins Gunn & Dial in their Miami location.
Prior to recently relocating to Florida, Christy was an active member of NCAPA. She served on the Board of Directors and as Co-Chair of the Mentorship Committee. She is also a member of the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA).
PRTW: Why did you choose the paralegal profession?
CC: I chose the paralegal profession because I love everything that the job entails. Specifically, the intricacies of the discovery process – from document production to document review to creating deposition summaries and working closely with expert witnesses, etc. These are all duties in which most attorneys do not have the time to do but that paralegals, like myself, get the opportunity to do daily. What I admire most about being a paralegal is that we are trusted by the supervising attorney to create for them “the big picture” of a case - an “A to Z” timeline of events. And, no one knows a case better than the paralegal assigned to it!
PRTW: In the United States, there are many avenues for becoming a paralegal. Can you tell us about your journey to becoming a paralegal?
CC: Growing up with an affinity for law, I began my legal career by working part-time during summer months while in high school at a family friend’s law firm as a file clerk. I learned so much about our court system and the process of a case, meanwhile realizing that I did not want to be an attorney. However, I still was attracted to the study of law. After graduating college I began my first job as a legal secretary and was introduced to the world of paralegals. And, I fell in love! Shortly thereafter, I was given an opportunity to work as a paralegal at a boutique law firm and the rest, as they say, was history.
PRTW: What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?
CC: I would tell my 18-year-old self not to take life too seriously. You are on a journey, which means things will change. Even important things will change, sometimes suddenly. And it’s all about learning from your choices and moving forward. But nevertheless, life is an amazing journey and everything that happens in it along the way is well worth it.
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. Why did you choose to specialize in Product Liability?
CC: I was fortunate enough to fall into this exciting area law when I began my second paralegal position at Arnstein & Lehr, LLP in Miami, FL, one of the country’s oldest and most respected law firms based in the Chicago, IL. What I love most about Product Liability cases has been learning about other areas outside the legal realm like engineering, medicine and science.
PRTW: What advice would you give someone interested in choosing the paralegal profession?
CC: The best advice I could give to someone choosing the paralegal profession is to go the extra mile towards improving your education. Go out and obtain a certification or degree in Paralegal Studies from a reputable institution. There are so many options and convenient ways to enhance your legal knowledge today even if it means just attending continuing legal education (CLE) courses. There is no doubt that your education will benefit you throughout your career!
PRTW: What do you think will change in the paralegal profession in the United States the next five (5) years?
CC: I believe that most paralegals in the U.S. in the next five years will eventually combine their legal specialty with a strong concentration in litigation support and e-discovery. There is no one better in the legal sphere than a paralegal to be the liaison between the IT staff, attorneys and/or vendors. As a paralegal, when you make your lawyer look good while perfecting your skills in the use of legal technology, your worth will rise and there is no doubt you will reap in the benefits.
PRTW: Tell me about someone who has influenced your decision to become a paralegal.
CC: It may be cliché, but Erin Brockovich of course! She exemplified what all paralegals should be – smart, sassy, strong, tough and committed. But most of all, it was her passion to help those who suffered unjustly that influenced my decision to go down the same career path. Her story goes to show that one person can make a difference.
PRTW: What might someone be surprised to know about you?
CC: I am a huge Disney buff! I grew-up visiting Walt Disney World several times a year as for as long as I can remember and today am fortunate enough to visit anytime I want with my annual pass. This past New Year’s Eve was by far my most favorite trip! From movies to restaurants and resorts, Disney has brought so many unforgettable memories to my life. More than anything, it is the story of how one man, Walt Disney, was able to create wonderful experiences for families from a vision that was way ahead of his time.
PRTW: In the United States, paralegals can be employed in different sectors, such as private or public sectors. Do you believe paralegals employed in each of these sectors possess different skillsets?
CC: Yes. I believe that paralegals in the private and government sectors possess stronger skillsets from one another. For instance, a paralegal in government will probably have a much higher skill set in dealing with contracts than a private sector paralegal who may primarily deal heavily in discovery work. Not to mention, that many government paralegals are not required to bill or meet a minimum of hours billed per year as would a private sector paralegal.
PRTW: What do you find most challenging about being a paralegal, and how do continue to do your best work in light of these challenges?
CC: I would say that the underutilization of a paralegal to its full potential is what I find most challenging about the field. All attorneys should take the time to acquaint a paralegal with his/her particular style and method of practice, communicate and share information, challenge them to take on more complex cases and greater responsibilities, believe in their professional ability, reinforce continuing legal education, demand a high level of work product, and make their expectations clear.
I have realized that no one is going to help me to excel in my career except myself. Thus, in order to continuing doing my best work in light of these challenges I make sure to go out of my way to improve my all-around skills as a paralegal like going outside “my comfort zone” to assist attorneys in other areas of law I may not know much about; volunteering for a role in a paralegal association in order to gain leadership skills; and attending continuing legal education courses.
PRTW: Name a highlight in your career.
CC: I would definitely have to say that the best highlight of my career would be graduating with my Master’s degree in Paralegal Studies from George Washington University in 2013. Although it was very challenging at times, graduating with a Master’s degree offered me personal growth, greater employment opportunities, an amazing network, career advancement, credibility, and a huge sense of accomplishment!
PRTW: What is the best book you have ever read & why?
CC: If You Have to Cry, Go Outside: And Other Things Your Mother Never Told You by Kelly Cutrone. If you are unfamiliar with the fashion world, Kelly Cutrone is an admired American fashion publicist who is the CEO and Founder of a brand strategy and public relations firm called People's Revolution. In this book, she discusses working from the ground the up, her failures and successes, and all while being a single mother. In one chapter, she explains how everyone should “find their tribe” in order to be successful:
“Finding your tribe, like following your dreams, isn’t always about what makes sense; it’s about what your soul needs. As much as we’re looking for experiences that turn us on, we’re looking for people who do the same, whether creatively, emotionally, spiritually or intellectually.”
For me, specifically, I had to move to Washington, D.C. in order to find my tribe which then brought me back to Miami, Florida. This is something that Kelly describes in her book and was my official AHA MOMENT. If you’re looking for some empowerment, this is the book to read!
PRTW: Have you ever been published?
CC: Yes, I have had the wonderful opportunity to be published in newsletters and blogs. In 2012, I had the opportunity to publish an article I wrote for the blog, The Paralegal Society, about my experience as a paralegal working on Capitol Hill. You can read it here.
PRTW: What was your educational path?
CC: My educational path included my undergraduate career, about three years of work experience, and then, back to school once more to get my graduate degree in Paralegal Studies.
PRTW: How do you deal with stressful situations?
CC: I deal with stressful situations by reminding and telling myself, “This too shall pass.” Things always change and you won’t feel the same way forever.
PRTW: What skills should a paralegal learn today?
CC: Every paralegal should get on the technology and e-discovery bandwagon! Litigation paralegals position will change over time. Paralegals need to know not only how the process of discovery but what e-discovery entails. They should expect to understand litigation support technology, know how to utilize legal project management and have the skills to potentially supervise others.
PRTW: What do you find most rewarding about being a paralegal?
CC: The most rewarding part of being a paralegal is having the freedom to choose a specialty. As a paralegal, you can choose to specialize in a specific area of law and/or obtain a certification as a specialist. This then translates into a higher salary and increases the demand for your service. Many paralegals, like myself, specialize in an area of law as a great way to market ourselves to law firms who may need someone with that specific experience to help on a certain case.
PRTW: What role does mentorship play in your career, both as a mentor and a mentee?
CC: Mentorship plays a huge role in the success of a paralegal! I was very lucky to have a wonderful senior paralegal mentor me and teach me in the area of Product Liability (Thank you Lisa Morales, CP!). By gaining knowledge, I also gained confidence which I then passed forward through mentoring a non-experienced paralegal of my own. Through mentorship, you not only help improve someone’s skills in the workplace, but you contribute to improving the paralegal profession as a whole.
PRTW: What legal blogs do you read?
CC: I love the blog, The Paralegal Society!
PRTW: What legal podcasts do you listen to?
CC: I definitely recommend The Paralegal Voice with host Vicki Voisin.
PRTW: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
CC: Never underestimate the power of being nice! It takes courage to be nice sometimes. But taking the energy to be nice is well worth the effort. Research has shown that choosing to go down the nice path will strengthen your career, relationships and even your health. Being nice sure does go a long way.
PRTW: If you could give yourself one piece of advice at the beginning of your career what would it be?
CC: Asking questions is extremely important when you’re starting out in your career as a paralegal. Your boss and your coworkers want nothing more than for you to do your job correctly and efficiently the first time, and the best way to do that is to ask questions. Most importantly, actively listen to the answers, and ask follow-up questions if needed in order to avoid any miscommunication.
Christy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on LinkedIn.