Donna Strauss, ACP

I met Donna Strauss, ACP, through both the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) and the Richmond Paralegal Association (RPA). She participated in the Leadership Enhancement and Preparation (LEAP) class through NALA.

Donna is employed as a paralegal with the Markel Corporation. She is a NALA Certified Paralegal and obtained an Advanced Certification in Business Organizations – Incorporated Entities. Donna is an active member of both NALA and RPA. She has held several positions on the RPA Board which include Director, NALA Liaison, Secretary, and President.

PRTW: There are many avenues for becoming a paralegal. Can you tell us about your journey to becoming a paralegal?
DS: I fell into a paralegal role by accident. I was working as an admin, and I left work to stay home with my children. When it was time to return to work, I signed up with a temp agency and they placed me in a legal assistant position. I learned a lot on the job and after six weeks, I was hired as a permanent employee.

PRTW: Why did you choose the paralegal profession?
DS: I initially never thought of becoming a paralegal, but after being placed in the position, I fell in love with the work and the team I was on. I did not have a degree at the time and realized that I finally knew what I wanted to major in – Paralegal Studies.

PRTW: Tell us about someone who has influenced your decision to become a paralegal.
DS: There are a few amazing paralegals whom I have worked with both on the job and on the RPA Board who unknowingly have encouraged me to remain in the field when I have toyed with the idea of changing direction. Seeing their passion and their knowledge of their own fields gave me the motivation to remain focused and progress in my chosen career.

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 & why did you choose it?
DS: I have worked only in corporate law. In my current job, I have been able to touch on other areas within corporate law in which I had not previously had an opportunity. These areas include SEC filings, trademarks, real estate, litigation, et al.

PRTW: What advice would you give someone interested in choosing the paralegal profession?
DS: Perform research on different areas of law and reach out to paralegals for guidance. You can connect with paralegals on LinkedIn and grow your network that way. Look into your local paralegal association and attend events that are open to non-members to make face-to-face connections.

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?
DS: I don’t think anything will necessarily change in the paralegal profession in the next five years, but technology will always be changing. There may be changes in the way we track or manage files online via new systems. Be open to change and take webinars or attend training sessions when offered.

PRTW: What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?
DS: Oh boy … where should I start?! I would definitely advise myself to remain in college and finish my degree. I would also tell myself that my college major does not necessarily determine what I will be doing for the rest of my life, so an 18-year old should not walk away from college because they don’t know what they want to be when they grow up. Don’t ever give up on something because it seems difficult. The years will fly by and you will be five years older one day with a degree or without. Why not make it with a degree?

PRTW: What might someone be surprised to know about you?
DS: I love traditional scrapbooking! I created a digital scrapbook once and it just wasn’t the same. The camaraderie you get by getting together with other scrapbookers is wonderful.

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 skillsets? If so, what are they?
DS: I am in the public sector. I do not believe being in one sector or another makes a difference in the skillset of a paralegal. Paralegals are detail-oriented and work very hard no matter which sector or area of law they work.

PRTW: What do you find most challenging about being a paralegal? How do continue to do your best work in light of these challenges?
DS: I have had experience being pulled into projects at the end and being asked questions when I knew very little about it. This was very frustrating and challenging. Luckily I am involved in projects early in my current role so this rarely happens anymore.

PRTW: Name a highlight in your career.
DS: A highlight in my career occurred when I graduated with my Bachelor’s Degree in Paralegal Studies. It took many, many years of part-time evening classes. I first obtained my Associate’s Degree in Paralegal Studies before transferring to University of Richmond.

PRTW: What is the best book you have ever read & why?
DS: I remember reading Misery by Stephen King (1987) and not being able to put the book down. It is a psychological horror novel that was subsequently made into a movie and starred Kathy Bates and James Caan. What Kathy Bates’ character, Annie Wilkes, did to James Caan’s character, Paul Sheldon, was unbelievable and intense.

PRTW: Have you ever been published (journal, magazine, book)? If so, where can we find it?
DS: Yes, I wrote an article for NALA’s Facts & Findings Jan/Feb 2015 issue called “Help! I’m Having a Midlife Career Crisis!

PRTW: Pro bono work is an integral part of the legal profession. Do you feel that paralegals can contribute to pro bono work? What are some of the benefits for paralegals to perform pro bono/volunteer activities? Have you participated in any pro bono activities?
DS: Absolutely! I feel that paralegals should, if possible, contribute to pro bono work. Doing so allows them to learn new areas of law, learn new skills, and network with attorneys and other paralegals. I have participated in pro bono work and I enjoyed it.

PRTW: If you could give yourself one piece of advice at the beginning of your career what would it be?
DS: Set goals and work toward them without worrying about what others think. This is your life and you can achieve anything if you want it bad enough.

PRTW: How did you obtain your Certified Paralegal and Advanced Certified Paralegal designations? How have these certifications helped you in your career?

DS: Obtaining these certifications was a personal goal of mine. I obtained them while in my current role so they have not made a difference in my career. However, I believe they will make a difference if I were to ever look for another job as I believe many firms/companies are now seeking certified paralegals.

PRTW: What skills should a paralegal learn today?
DS: A paralegal should learn critical and analytical thinking. Also, a paralegal must learn not to be afraid of ever-changing technology.

PRTW: What do you find most rewarding about being a paralegal?
DS: I find it most rewarding being a part of a team that successfully completes projects on time.

PRTW: If you could change one thing about the paralegal profession what would it be, and why?
DS: As a Certified Paralegal, I am required to obtain a certain number of CLE’s, but I would like to see this requirement for all paralegals. Perhaps it could be a law firm or company-specific requirement, but I think paralegals would benefit from this requirement as it would help keep them current with the laws.

PRTW: If you weren't a paralegal, what would you be doing instead, or what would your life be like?

DS: If I were not a paralegal, I would be an event and meeting planner.

PRTW: Who inspires you?
DS: My children inspire me. I see hope in their future and I want to show them how working hard and completing goals can get them on the right track for success.

Donna can be reached via LinkedIn or email.