In a way, almost every paralegal changes the world. It’s easy to overlook the fact that all the mundane paperwork, all the boring LexisNexis searches, all the interminable client interviews, are actually part of an important and frequently life-changing legal matter for the parties involved.
It’s tough to pick out individual paralegals who are making a splash because the entire purpose of the paralegal role is to support the team – quietly, professionally and with no thought of personal glory.
No paralegal is ever going to get up in front of the Supreme Court and argue a landmark case, or have their face show up on TV screens around the world defending some big Hollywood celebrity or politician in a scandalous case. That’s just not the job.
But that doesn’t mean that individual paralegals can’t or don’t have a significant impact on justice and the legal system while working behind-the-scenes. You just have to look a little harder to find them.
Here are 5 of those paralegals who are busy changing the world while the bright lights are focused somewhere else.
The Estrin Report is a top-tab bookmark in the browser of many paralegals around the world and is an early-morning must-read for most of them. The influential blog has been around since 2005, authored and maintained by paralegal Chere Estrin and covering topics from how to dress appropriately for interviews to the often-contentious debate over mandatory paralegal licensing.
It’s an unusual position for a one-time theater company owner to be in, but maybe Estrin’s background in show-biz prepared her to put herself and her opinions out there to influence others. She worked her way up as a paralegal in an entertainment law firm and then started her own business, a paralegal staffing firm.
But her blog is how most people know her and by branching out into training and publishing, Estrin has been able to put her stamp on the industry far and wide.
Listening to a podcast is a perfect way to stay up to speed on paralegal trends and topics, and a great way to soak in the latest info while doing something else – probably the easiest multitasking you’ll ever do. For eight years, Vicki Voison’s “The Paralegal Voice” has been providing the kind of insider perspective that’s hard to find anywhere else.
Interviewing guests that range from legal scholars to paralegals working in some pretty obscure niche roles, Vicki helped to professionalize and expand interest in the profession.
As an early member of the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) and eventual president of the organization, Vicki had easy access to interesting guests and a 50,000-foot perspective on the issues facing paralegals and the legal industry in general.
Although Vicki recently turned over the hosting reigns for the podcast, her influence on the paralegal field and individual paralegals will continue through her work as an author, speaker, and as a professional mentor to other paralegals.
It’s easy to forget that the roots of the paralegal profession are all about providing legal services to people who couldn’t otherwise afford professional legal help. But then you run across someone like Negar Ashtari of the Tahirih Justice Center and realize how important access to legal assistance can be for the underprivileged.
The Tahirih Justice Center is a national non-profit that works primarily with immigrant women and girls fleeing violence and war overseas. As contentious as immigration has become, the process is full of legal landmines and complex requirements.
Ashtari, originally from Botswana by way of Iranian parents, has become an expert at assisting with asylum filings and working with victims of abuse. Her commitment to social justice has helped the Tahirih Center bring more than 22,000 individuals to safety.
Linda Teater is an unassuming litigation paralegal at a Colorado law firm… when she gets through her regular mountain of work at her day job, she puts on her superhero cape at night and dives into the increasing and heartbreaking problem of widespread homelessness.
Teater volunteers for Project Homeless Connect, which connects around 1,000 homeless individuals in Denver with a variety of much-needed services. She coordinates legal night clinics for people who would never otherwise have access to legal assistance.
In 2015, Teater was named the National Federation of Paralegal Association’s (NFPA’s) Pro Bono Award winner. She also received the Colorado Bar Association and the Rocky Mountain Paralegal Association’s Pro Bono Paralegal of the Year Award.
Paralegals are accustomed to working behind the scenes, but sometimes they find themselves on the front lines… as was the case for U.S. Army paralegal Corporal Krista Bullard in Iraq in 2006.
Part of the 37th Transportation Group, Bullard’s usual job filing paperwork and advising other soldiers turned into convoy escort duty when the exigencies of working in a war zone demanded all hands on deck.
Manning a massive .50-caliber turret in an escort Humvee, Bullard found herself taking fire from two sides in the dark outside Baghdad International Airport. After identifying the source of the incoming fire, she unleashed return fire and silenced the ambush as the convoy quickly broke contact.
Her command sergeant major credited her with helping to save the convoy and the men and women in it… one of the most important world-changing events any paralegal can ever be a part of.