Roads Less Traveled
provide the foundation for a variety of careers.
By Rachel Campbell
March/April 2004 Issue
Paralegals come in many forms and take
their careers in many different directions. From state senator to
musician and business entrepreneur to senior case manager for the
largest class action in history to director of quality and risk
management, the four paralegals profiled here have taken the skills they
acquired as legal assistants and put them to extraordinary uses.
Although they each chose very different career paths, the one thing they
have in common is that their paralegal backgrounds have provided the
road map for their successes.
From Law Office
to Capitol Hill
Georgia State Senator Mary Squires is on her 45-minute
commute home from another hectic day at the office. Her phone has been
ringing all day with calls from the press seeking her opinion on
President George W. Bush’s immigration plan. The drive home is one of
the few times of the day Squires can stop and reflect on her
accomplishments as a state legislator and her goals to become a U.S.
The political arena is nothing new to
Squires, who grew up surrounded by politics. Squires’ father is a
lobbyist and, intrigued by his work, she started volunteering for
campaigns at age 10. “I have always been interested in politics,”
Following in her father’s footsteps,
Squires got her start as a research assistant to a lobbyist after
graduating from the University of South Florida in 1980, with a Bachelor
of Arts degree in history. In 1982, Squires’ father said he would pay
for her to go to law school or get her paralegal certificate. “I had no
interest in practicing law, so I went to paralegal school,” she said. “I
thought it was probably the type of job I could work in good or bad
Squires graduated from the National
Center for Paralegal Training in Atlanta with a certificate in general
legal studies in 1984 and started working as a paralegal in the real
estate and mortgage sector. Two years later, Squires joined the Georgia
Army National Guard as the military equivalent of a paralegal. She
served as an officer in the Signal Corps and Nuclear, Biological and
Chemical Warfare Corps until 1996.
With extensive military experience and a
background in law, Squires seized the opportunity to run for a seat in
the Georgia House of Representatives in 1998 and was successful. Her
first year in the House was instrumental in paving the road for her
political career. She was the first freshman legislator to introduce a
House Bill, (which provided that persons acting as notaries for a
petition can’t also act as circulators of such petitions) and it
subsequently passed. Squires said she owes the success of passing the
bill to her paralegal training. “I would encourage any legal assistant
not to think their legal experience is inferior. Their legal experience
is actually superior for policy making.
“It really served me very well because I
knew what kind of legislation I needed to introduce. I knew sections of
the code of Georgia very well, and I introduced legislation to repair
laws. I see the big picture pretty clearly. I like repairing laws and
making policies. I know how to do it, and to me it’s very clear. My
knowledge and expertise I mostly gained as a paralegal has made me one
of the most successful legislators in the past six years.”
Squires has been so successful she was
elected to state senate in 2002 after two terms in the House, and is
currently the only Democrat running for Georgia’s U.S. Senate seat in
November’s election (www.marysquires.us).
Entering the race for U.S. Senate so early into her term as state
senator was not her original plan, but with the current U.S. senator
retiring and no Democrats planning to run, Squires decided to go for it.
Squires said campaigning for U.S. Senate
“has been a joy. It’s a position I am passionate about.” Her dedication
to change and providing a better future for everyone has parlayed into
support from people she meets on the road while campaigning.
“When they meet me, we get along great,”
she said. “When I am meeting people, I instantly gain support. I think
that is wonderful.”
As a single parent with two sons (ages
14 and 10), Squires said she understands the struggles of working
families. This understanding drives her to fight for the rights of
Georgia citizens hit hard by tough economic times. “In Georgia, jobs
have been lost. We are losing huge segments of our state because of no
jobs … I am a fighter and completely determined to turn things around,”
Squires also is dedicated to issues
related to the war on Iraq. “One of the biggest concerns is that
enlisted troops, the bulk of the fighting force in Iraq, are not
expected to re-enlist when they return stateside … If these people don’t
re-enlist, we will not have a sufficient army to defend our borders. It
means we will be drafting again in three years at a minimum. No parent,
no grandparent can let a bunch of guys with no military experience do
this to our kids,” she said.
Squires is hoping her 10 years of
military experience (which is more than the other four Republican
candidates in the race have), and her understanding of military and
legal issues will help distinguish her as a candidate ready to tackle
the issues the nation faces today.
Until November, Squires will continue to
spread the word about her ideas for change and a better future while
keeping her family a priority. “[My sons] are the number one reason for
everything I do,” she said. “It does not hurt for boys to see a strong
From Law Office
to Health Care
In the world of health care, it takes a determined and strong
individual to keep doctors and health care professionals on task and
accountable for their actions. That is where Diane Sharer comes in. As
director for the office of Quality and Risk Management and the assistant
regional compliance officer for the Texas Tech University Health Science
Center in Odessa, Texas, Sharer has turned her career as a paralegal
into a management position in the often-intimidating field of health
When Sharer started her paralegal career
in 1977, she was not certain about what direction to take. After two
months working for a solo practitioner, Sharer earned an associate’s
degree in applied science, and in 1993, she earned a bachelor’s degree
in paralegal studies from McMurry University in Abilene, Texas. “When I
first started working, I was young, 22, and it was different back then.
It was sort of one of those things where I had never done legal work
before, but I was fascinated by it. I was always interested in the
field,” she said.
In 1980, Sharer took the National
Association of Legal Assistants’ CLA exam and became certified. At
first, Sharer worked in real estate and then became interested in trial
work. “It was just the excitement of it. It was always something
different,” she said.
In 1989, Sharer was certified (CLAS) as
a specialist in civil litigation by NALA, and when the state of Texas
offered the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in 1994, she chaired the
civil trial commission, something she continues to this day.
About seven years ago, Sharer decided to
move her career in a different direction by taking a position with the
Texas Tech Health Science Center. “My work has evolved. I no longer work
in a traditional law firm. Although I work with attorneys, we are
self-insured,” she said. “We handle anything to do with professional
liability or medical malpractice. We represent the doctors in their own
Sharer is actively involved in the cases
her office works on. Her primary area is in managing the risk and
helping investigate the cases. “I don’t think I would ever go back to a
traditional law firm,” she said. “I still use the things I learned, and
it’s still an aspect of civil litigation, but I don’t have to worry
about billable hours and all that stuff. Also, I can work on the defense
side. I never was much for the plaintiff side.”
As director of quality management,
Sharer monitors health care. “I strive to ensure the quality of care is
maintained at a high standard through quality management,” she said.
Another aspect of Sharer’s job is to be
a regional compliance officer. “Compliance can be a lot of things. In
the health care field, it’s compliance with billing and documentation.
You have to document patient records in order to bill. I check the
records and make sure everything is correct,” said Sharer, who also is
certified in compliance.
Even with all this work, Sharer finds
time to chair the Legal Assistants Committee of the State Bar of Texas,
a standing committee organized to promote and assist the legal
profession in the use of paralegals. The committee is made up of roughly
80 percent attorneys and judges and 20 to 25 percent paralegals, Sharer
Currently, Sharer is working toward
getting a master’s degree in health care administration, which includes
many courses such as business management, she said.
While Sharer no longer works in a law
office, she uses the skills she learned as a paralegal everyday.
“Working for a small firm, I had so many responsibilities and was
exposed to many areas of the law,” she said. “Those early years gave me
the most valuable education that I would not trade for anything. Not
only did I gain valuable analytical, research and investigative skills,
but the ability to deal with various personalities and the pressures of
a stressful work environment that has continued throughout my career.
Such skills are essential to being successful in my current employment.”
From Law Office
to Recording Studio
At only 27 years old, Michael Rojas, Jr., has a long list of
credits including musician, business entrepreneur and paralegal. Growing
up in Los Angeles with a father famous in the Latin music world,
drummer, Mike Rojas, Sr., it was only natural Rojas would be interested
in a career as a musician. At the same time, something about the legal
profession was calling him. Perhaps law symbolized the values for
equality and fairness Rojas’ father instilled in him as child. “He [my
father] developed a campaign for the rights of Hispanic musicians,” he
said. “I grew up writing petitions to get Latin music on the airways in
the ’70 and ’80s. I had that embedded in my mind: work smart, not hard,
to get your fair share.”
Getting his fair share and making sure
others do as well is Rojas’ goal and one of the reasons he decided to
become a paralegal. In 1996, after earning his associate paralegal
degree from Phillips College in Van Nuys, Calif., and working for
attorney Bruce Goldberg, Rojas opened his own paralegal firm, Legal
Justice For All. “He [Goldberg] was my mentor for four-and-a-half years.
He basically encouraged me to start a program to assist people in basic
legal work. It was so successful it ranked in the top 100 Hispanic
businesses for three years in a row,” he said.
To get his business on Hispanic
Magazine’s Hispanic Entrepreneur 100 listing in 1997, 1998 and 1999,
Rojas first got the name of his company out to attorneys by placing
advertisements touting the freelance paralegal services his company
provides. “I saw the need for limited and fast, temp work,” he said. “A
lot of times, attorneys don’t need a full-time paralegal. They hire me
for specific things and pay me an hourly rate or in blocks of time. It’s
more economical for a solo attorney to hire me on a case-by-case basis
rather than hire full-time legal assistants with salaries, benefits and
The business took off quickly, but Rojas
has kept his operation small. Although he has hired a few assistants,
Rojas does all the legal research himself.
Extending his paralegal services
further, Rojas represents entertainers and musicians through his music
production and marketing company, Ace Productions Entertainment Group.
“Music and legal work came hand in hand,” he said. “I prepare management
agreements, license agreements and distribution agreements. I do the
legal research and prepare the legal documents for attorneys to review,
and they put their stamp of approval on it.”
Rojas was nominated for the Small
Business Administration “Young Entrepreneur of the Year award in 1997,
and that same year was the executive producer for the “Sopa De Ritmo”
(Rhythm Soup) album, which sold more than 300,000 copies and received
nine Grammy nominations. Rojas is currently focused on a new Latin band
comprised of four teenage boys recently signed with the label USC
Records and Tapes. The band, called Kreacion De Mentes (Creation of the
Mind), will release its first album in March.
Relating to musicians is easy for Rojas,
not only because he grew up around them, but also because he is a
hip-hop artist who has released two albums of his own under the name
Criminal Ace. “I fight for the rights of injustice,” Rojas said.
The fight for equality and a better
future was on Rojas’ mind when he started a program called Down with
Peace, backed by the Los Angeles County Probation Department. Down with
Peace is a motivational campaign that brings recording artists to
juvenile detention centers to encourage the kids who are locked up to
stay out of trouble and stay in school. “It gives them a little
motivation,” Rojas said.
Even though he is just one man, Rojas is
determined to continue the fight to bring everyone their fair share. He
currently is deciding his next step professionally, which will include
either going back to school to get his master’s degree in business or
his juris doctorate to become an attorney. In the end, Rojas hopes to
follow in the footsteps of one of his role models, Ruben Blades. Blades
is a Harvard graduate, musician, actor, political activist and lawyer.
“He is one of my heroes,” Rojas said.
From the Law
Library to the Largest Class Action in History
It takes a brave person to willingly take on the task of
organizing 15 million pages for one of the largest class action
litigations in history, but that is exactly what Patrick Rogan,
paralegal for Milberg, Weiss, Bershad, Hynes and Lerach in New York, has
done. As senior case manager in the Initial Public Offering (IPO)
Securities Litigation, Rogan has taken on an essential role in this
large case — this from a man who decided to enter the paralegal field
because “everyone was thinking paralegals were the up and coming thing.
It wasn’t for any great love of the law,” he said.
After seven years in military service,
Rogan decided to attend night school at the National Academy of
Paralegal Studies to earn his paralegal certificate. He began his
paralegal career in 1995 by working in the library at Davis and Gilberg
where he was a librarian assistant. In this job, Rogan learned the value
of research and organization.
Rogan quickly proved his ability at
organizing, planning and preparing documents for attorneys and within
nine months, moved into a position as a litigation paralegal at Davis
Rogan continued in litigation and
started working at Milberg Weiss in April 2001. The first case Rogan
worked on with Milberg Weiss involved a high-profile securities
litigation, and although he started when the case had already begun, he
easily took control of the file and brought a high level of organization
to a case involving hundreds of thousands of pages of documents.
“Patrick Rogan truly exemplifies the
ultimate para-professional. He is intelligent, reliable, diligent and
unrelenting when it comes to seeing a task through to its completion,”
said Ariana Tadler, partner at Milberg Weiss and Rogan’s supervising
For the past few years, Rogan has been
working diligently on the IPO Securities Litigation. Rogan volunteered
to work on the case after a different case he was working on was
wrapping up. The IPO case involves 309 separate securities class actions
involving more than 300 IPOs coordinated before Judge Shira Scheindlin
of the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York. The
lawsuits allege that IPOs were manipulated by investments banks to
artificially inflate the market price of securities and to conceal the
amounts of compensation received by the underwriters. With more than
1,000 plaintiffs and 1,000 defendants, it’s a daunting task to take on
the many documents involved.
“We recently started the discovery
phase,” Rogan said. “My biggest part is organization. There are 15
million pages, and keeping that organized is quite a job.”
Technology is the key to keeping
everything running smoothly, Rogan said. Although he can’t say what
specific programs the law firm uses to organize the documents, he said
they use a combination of four primary tools based on databases. Once a
document comes in the door, there is a specific process the paralegals
must follow. “It goes into what we call a pipeline,” he said. “It’s all
very high tech.”
Learning the technology necessary to
keep this case organized was simply a matter of necessity, Rogan said.
“For the most part, you have to learn it if you want to be successful,”
he said. “Sometimes you have to show an attorney you can use technology
to get organized and not get bogged down.”
Rogan heads up a team of six other
paralegals in the IPO Securities Litigation. He is responsible for
delegating, coordinating and supervising the tasks of the other
paralegals along with finishing his own assignments. The teams work hand
in hand and rely on each other to keep the case as organized as
possible. “I have a very good team of paralegals overall. They use
initiative and get things done,” he said.
While the idea of shifting through
millions of pages of documents for one case might not be appealing to
everyone, Rogan prefers it. “Sometimes you can get in a situation where
you are at a firm and have six or seven small cases,” he said. “The
thing I like about being on one big case is all you have to worry about
is one case.”
As for the future of the IPO Securities
Litigation, Rogan doesn’t know how much longer the case will continue,
but for now, he is happy with the work he has done and how his team of
paralegals is contributing to one of the largest class action suits in
Career to New Levels
The possibilities are endless for paralegals who want to take
their careers to new heights. As these four paralegals have shown, a
background in the law office can take you virtually anywhere. The skills
gained on the job, from organizational to technological to professional,
provide a firm foundation for a myriad of career opportunities.
As Squires said, “If you have ambition
beyond being a paralegal, a paralegal background is one of the best
backgrounds you can possibly have.”