Welcome to the third “Paralegal Spotlight”, where we will be featuring a paralegal every 3 weeks.
Please find the interview for Katie McKeogh Karch of www.skyeparalegals.com.
If you have any questions or like to learn more about Katie contact her below:
Email – firstname.lastname@example.org
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/LitigationParalegalServices
How did you start as a Paralegal?
Law gained my interest when I studied at University of Washington, where I earned a BA in Women Studies and Diversity (legal track). While I decided whether to attend law school, a temp agency placed me at a small plaintiff civil rights firm in downtown Seattle, where the head attorney took mostly sexual harassment and discrimination cases. The first big case I worked on was a six-week sex discrimination trial where I assisted the head paralegal in coordinating depositions, witness subpoenas, exhibit books, pre-trial motions, and tracking exhibits throughout trial. They invited me to attend parts of the trial in support of our client and I was hooked form then on!
I’ve prepared for dozens of trials and even attended seven of those, four as the senior litigation paralegal. Most cases never make it to trial due to the expense, but I worked for a lawyer whose clients were not interested in settling, so we went to court. This experience was invaluable as I was able to observe how the attorneys use the exhibit binders, trial notebooks, deposition transcripts and it is there at the front of my mind as I do all litigation work.
The trial experience is important and often hard to get, but I consider my greatest accomplishments to be the moments where I gained the trust of the managing attorneys to try new technology.
At an employment firm in Seattle, I facilitated the transition from copying all mail to the entire legal team on each case to gong “paper light” where all mail was scanned and emailed to the team. Attorneys could still print out documents they needed to review on paper, but at least we cut down on the amount of paper that was glanced at once and thrown away.
When I started working in the DC office, technology was the lead attorney’s least favorite word. After some time, I convinced them to transition to using Summation for large document reviews, digital dictation, paper light filing systems, and even bates stamping using Adobe Acrobat. I know this may sound like obvious evolution of legal practice these days, but for many attorneys it is difficult to trust technology to do the job when they have done it the same way for decades and that has always worked for them.
Professional Background and Experience –
I started in Seattle at the plaintiff civil rights firm for a year, after which I moved on to a permanent position at an insurance defense law firm. It was there that really honed my trade skills as the case load was fast and heavy. I worked on construction defect cases, employment law, personal injury, medical malpractice, legal malpractice, and even education law. Following that, I was recruited by a national employment law firm to work for their litigation manager where I stayed until I had the opportunity to move to the Washington, DC area. In DC I worked for a national law firm whose DC office had a budding litigation department. We worked on fewer, larger, and more complex cases, which I loved because developed close relationships with the clients, several of whom are now my current clients.
Why did you start Skye Paralegals?
I knew there was a market in Seattle for seasoned litigation and e-discovery paralegal services for solo practitioners and boutique law firms. E-discovery costs were skyrocketing and it seemed only large law firms could afford the technologies and salaries of skilled professionals, so I knew my mission would be to offer affordable solutions and to take the burden of the e-discovery challenges off the shoulders of these small firms. After four years working at a busy litigation practice in downtown DC, preparing for and attending many trials, I knew I was ready to return to my home in Seattle where I have a wonderful legal network to tap into. What really made me finally take the step to start Skye was that I wanted the freedom from day-to-day case management to choose specialized projects and to hopefully collaborate with other independent professionals in developing services catered to the small firms.
How do you market and gain new clients?
Most of my new clients come to me through current client referrals. I also reach out to attorneys I’ve supported in the past through email and social media networking, join professional associations and attend their functions regularly (my favorite is Women in E-Discovery), and post my resume on Indeed. My main clients are attorneys I worked for at previous firms, which is great, because we already have established trust and weathered the litigation roller coaster together, which is difficult to build and maintain virtually.
If you were going to start a new paralegal service today with knowing what you know now, what would you do and/or do differently?
I would definitely start networking immediately with other independent paralegals in various specialties. My clients want to send me as much work as possible, so they ask for services outside my specialty such as estate planning, corporate administration, real estate, and contracts. In fact, that is my main focus now – so if there are any independent senior paralegals out there who face these same challenges – contact me!
On an administrative note, I would have set up my accounting and learned all about the ins and outs of taxes for the self-employed before starting the company.
What is your biggest challenges having a virtual paralegal service?
Time management! While employed at law firms, I raced against the clock to get my work done so I could go home, but with the freedom of working from my own office, I have to motivate myself to get billable work done as well as the accounting, marketing & business development, and continued education on the constantly changing e-discovery technologies. Communication is also very challenging when working remotely. I miss being able to march down the hall to clear things up with people on my team.
How do you feel the market of being a paralegal is today?
My knowledge comes from the DC and Seattle litigation markets, which are definitely in need of paralegals skilled in trial preparation and practice technologies, especially e-discovery tools. Recruiters reach out to me weekly for positions in litigation support project management and senior litigation paralegal positions. Also, to study the market, I frequently review online job postings where I notice firms in need of paralegals with 5+ years of experience and a specialty such as real estate, IP, trademark.
What is your biggest wins having a virtual paralegal service?
In my first year, I landed the role of project manager for a large document review involving five attorneys, 160,000 documents, and only a couple months to review, code, and produce. I set up the review field codes (issue tags, witnesses), composed and ran complex searches in Summation to narrow down our search, then assigned them to attorneys (and myself) for review. Not only was this a huge responsibility, but I learned a lot and really loved the new role of assigning work to attorneys! The project was successful and stemmed out to more project management tasks such as searching for documents to use as exhibits in depositions and for motions for summary judgment.
What do you think paralegals/ legal assistants today need to be successful?
Be dependable (show up on time and make yourself especially available during busy times), knowledgeable (study and practice your specialty), and trustworthy (takes time – show attorneys you can handle sensitive issues with grace and integrity).
My secret: offer attorneys what they need before they know they need it! Attorneys always express their appreciation when I’m ahead of them on deadlines and preparing for trials, motions, and depositions. This sounds simple, but in the litigation field, this means many things:
(1) Observe trials and depositions so you know how attorneys use their trial and exhibit notebooks, tracking lists, etc.
(2) When discovery requests come in, immediately anticipate how you will assist in providing responses, start the draft responses and put it in front of the attorney
(3) Study your clients: if they are corporate, learn their trade terminology, current trends, legal challenges
(4) Be aware of what technologies are out there to help you
(5) Study the case law for your specialty – it’s constantly changing
What advice would you give to a new paralegal just get out of school/ getting their certification?
From reading paralegal forum posts on several sites, I know there is a lot of frustration out there for new paralegals finding work, and I have two pieces of advice: (1) pick a specialty or area of interest and immerse yourself in it by attending webinars, joining and reading online forums, studying websites built by experts in that field, reaching out to senior paralegals with that specialty for advice; and (2) pay your dues – start out as a document clerk or paralegal assistant and let your employer know you are excited to eventually take on the role of a paralegal, but you know you need to learn how their firm works and to get to know the team. I personally would steer away from receptionist roles, unless it is at a very small firm, because that position is often stuck at the desk and interrupted frequently by the incoming calls making it difficult to take on projects that require concentration. Remember that attorneys paid their dues by getting through law school and passing the bar, and they expect you to demonstrate initiative and commitment to earn their trust and respect.
Do you think paralegals/ legal assistants should get certified?
I am very excited about Washington State’s new opportunity for paralegals to get a limited license to practice law. In 2012 Washington State Supreme Court approved a new rule giving the Limited License Legal Technician Board the role of training and authorizing individuals to help people navigate the civil litigation system. This program will benefit the public by offering more affordable legal services, so I am very much in favor of this new rule.
Challenges in expanding the business:
When I started this business, the long term goal was to expand, hire new associates, and eventually just let the business run itself. Now that I’ve seen firsthand what my clients really need, I’m leaning more toward developing a network of independent, experienced paralegals that I can contract work to when I have case overload or when it is outside my scope of expertise. Likewise, I can provide support to other independent paralegals out there.
We like to thank Katie on sharing such great information and congratulate her for being the third Paralegal Spotlight. If you have any questions or comments for Katie you can reach her at her email email@example.com and visit her Facebook page: Katie McKeogh Karch ~ Litigation Paralegal Services and her website: www.skyeparalegals.com
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