The Paralegal World According to Sara Youngers

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01Oct2011

The Paralegal World According to Sara Youngers

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By Chere Estrin,

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Sara Youngers has a unique position.  In addition to working in litigation, Youngers also works on legal billing fee analyses.  In other words, she may be auditing the time your law firm bills to its clients.  In an exclusive Q&A, Youngers talks about her career, her duties, her future.

How long have you been a paralegal? Since April 2003, for approximately 7 years.  Education? B.A. in Political Science from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and a Paralegal Certificate from University of San Diego, earned in April 2003.

What did you do prior to becoming a paralegal? I was a publication researcher in London and a program assistant for a non-profit organization.

Tell us about your job: I am a civil litigation paralegal.  My general tasks including research, drafting discovery requests/responses, trial preparation, and work on legal billing fee analyses.  The only time I work extra hours is during trial preparation.  No travel is required since we are a small, single firm.

What’s the most interesting thing about your job/career?  No two days are the same and I love that aspect!  Right now, I am preparing for trial in state court, working on discovery in a federal case, and finalizing a legal fee audit report for a client.  New things come up daily and the variety keeps it interesting and keeps me motivated!

How closely do you work with the attorneys?  Very.  The head of the litigation department and I have built up a wonderful billing audit practice and, in terms of civil litigation work as a whole, she is incredibly organized and brilliant.  She trusts me and I trust her.  We have a great rapport. The partners have designed it so work is not our life and it is refreshing.  The firm shows a lot of respect for attorneys and staff and because of it, we are so much more productive.  Sure, there are stressful days, but the whole staff feels valued by the partners.

What’s the most important thing you can tell paralegals about how to submit time?  Whenever you type in a billing entry for a task, ask yourself “WHY?” you did what you did.  I often see people say they “drafted letter” but there is no other information.  To  whom?  Why??  The specifics will get you paid, but being vague will not.

How can paralegals do a better job of billing time?  Work on it daily.  It takes practice, so don’t expect to be a pro right off the bat.  But if you consistently enter in your day’s work at the end of the day, then it becomes easier to do and you ensure that you have captured all of your time.  If you are like most people and forget what you ate for breakfast, how would you ever remember what you did at work over a week?

What’s the biggest mistake paralegals make when billing time?  Billing for clerical tasks.  We are not secretaries, so do not bill like one; copying documents do not count.

Who makes a good paralegal?  Anyone who is willing to adapt to whatever is thrown on their desk.  Also, keep smiling and stay positive.  I wholeheartedly believe that my nauseating level of optimism has been key in helping me move up the paralegal ladder fairly quickly.

Why should anyone stick with this career?  There are different avenues to take.  Three years into paralegaldom, I first heard of software called Concordance and it changed everything for me.  Not only do I think it is fantastic for document management, but I became a Certified Concordance Software Trainer in August 2007 and have used it to start my own business of freelance work and software training.  Whatever you learn in this profession, use it and see where it can you take you overall.  I never would’ve predicted my path.

What do you do on your days off? Spend time with friends and family, including my dog, feeble attempts at cooking, swimming in the pool, and gardening the roses.  Oh, and if there is a concert or dancing, I am there too.  I love music!

Guilty pleasure:  Reality T.V., especially Top Chef, Real Housewives of any city, and anything with Jillian Michaels.

Where do you hope to be in five years?  Making freelance work and software consulting the bulk of my time.  Oh…and the only way I will move out of San Diego is if it is somewhere in Europe.

Advice to other paralegals.  To get ahead in this world, network.  It’s how I got this current position.  Also, adapt to the trends.  In civil litigation, e-discovery has added a new layer and changed things to the traditional work.  It will not go away, so do what you need to do to keep up. Trust your instincts.  Ask too many questions.  Always smile and stay positive.  Remember to stay balanced because work is a small part of life that defines us.

Originally appeared on The Estrin Report blog.

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