Modern Divorce - The Do-Over For A Better You

What is a Legal Paraprofessional?

July 13, 2023 Attorney Billie Tarascio
Modern Divorce - The Do-Over For A Better You
What is a Legal Paraprofessional?
Show Notes Transcript

Lacking the funds to hire an attorney is a big problem in the U.S., but a new alternative to using an attorney for your divorce was recently made legal in Arizona. Combining the detail work and "heavy lifting" of document preparation from a paralegal, and mixing in the courtroom work of an attorney, is the newly designated licensed Legal Paraprofessional.

In today's Modern Divorce Podcast, host Billie Tarascio talks with Christy Farmer, one of the first LP's licensed in Arizona and already taking on divorce cases that would otherwise need an attorney. Christy describes what it takes to step into this new role and how she has adapted from being a paralegal to standing up in court and arguing cases for clients. Hint: She loves that part!

So far, Arizona, Oregon, Utah, Colorado, New Hampshire, and Minnesota have active licensing programs, while California, New Mexico, South Carolina and North Carolina are considering creating of similar programs to help legal consumers. 

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Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Modern Divorce podcast. I am your host, Billie Tarascio, owner of Modern Law and co-owner of Win Without Law School. And today we're gonna take a slightly different approach to our podcast. We are talking with. Legal Paraprofessional. Christy Farmer, who is here at Modern Law, and we are going to [00:01:00] talk about all things legal paraprofessional, who might be a good candidate, who might not be, surprises she's found, and her journey to becoming an LP.

Christy, welcome to the show. 

[00:01:10] Christy Farmer: Thank you. I'm happy to be here. 

[00:01:12] Billie Tarascio: So Christy, you are one of the state's first legal paraprofessionals. You now work full-time at Modern Law with a full caseload, um, just like any lawyer in the firm. Can you tell us a little bit about your background and your journey to being an lp?

[00:01:30] Christy Farmer: Absolutely. Um, so I, my original history in family law was not in family law. I started out actually in criminal. I worked for the City of Scottsdale Prosecutor's office, um, as my very first legal job. Um, I loved it. It was, uh, it was fun. I enjoyed the pace of it. I liked the work. Um, so I decided that's that's the avenue I was gonna stick with.

Um, and then I kind of transitioned into civil law for a while. Complex civil law, um, as a [00:02:00] paralegal, uh, working on really, really big cases that had a lot of documents, a lot of discovery. Really involved cases. Um, and then from there I decided that civil law was not for me. I didn't enjoy it. It was a little dry, a little stale, a little boring.

Um, I wanted something a little spicier, something a little more exciting, and that's when I moved into family law. Um, and I became a certified legal document preparer first. Um, so I had a background as a paralegal. Um, got my certified legal document, preparer certificate. Started working for myself, got some real good experience in family law.

Um, and then I came to Modern Law as a paralegal where I was for a couple years, um, before I was able to get my LP certification. And 

[00:02:48] Billie Tarascio: you have been incredibly successful. It's been an interesting, so the LPs officially began getting licensed in 2021, right? 

[00:02:58] Christy Farmer: Yes. Uh, it was towards the end, I [00:03:00] think, but yeah, I think the 

[00:03:01] Billie Tarascio: end of 2021.Okay. And when did you get your license? 

[00:03:05] Christy Farmer: March, 2022. 

[00:03:06] Billie Tarascio: Okay. March, 2022. All right. So at that time there were only a few other people who had been licensed SLPs, and even now we only have roughly 50 at Modern. Law. What we found, Uh, we've been huge proponents of the LP process and of our paralegals becoming LPs, but what we found is that the majority of people who have transitioned from paralegal to LP have not wanted to become essentially litigation attorneys, which is what you are doing.

[00:03:34] Christy Farmer: Right, right. It's, you know, um, I think a lot of, um, people so far who've transitioned the roles from a paralegal into becoming an lp, I think are quite shocked to find, um, the. The increase in the level of responsibility. And also, um, it's very different to go from being kind of the, the number one person, the first [00:04:00] supporting role, kind of the executive officer in a, in a, you know, an attorney group to becoming the one who makes the decisions.

Um, that can be, I think, challenging for a lot of people and intimidating too, because if you're a paralegal, even if you've got 20 years of experience, Um, you know, and even if you've been able to have a self-directed workload, you're still relying on the attorney to have the final say here as an lp it's very different to know that the final say, you know, rests with you.

It's the buck stops here, so you know, you better be sure it's right and it's a good decision. Um, so I think that's probably a big part of why a lot of people are reluctant or shy away from it. Um, I personally love litigation. Um, I love the, um, contentiousness of it. Um, I know that probably sounds a little, a little funny, but I kind of love going to bat for people, um, and try to try to win their case, you know?

Um, I think it's. It's an exciting, you know, profession to have and I love [00:05:00] looking for that. You know, that angle or that argument that you can really like build up and go, oh yeah, this is it. This is gonna be the big winner. I, I enjoy that very much. So I guess I was more well suited, well suited for it than, than some other people.

But you have to be ready to really like, Dig in and, and um, you know, go to bat all the way. Because if you don't, if you don't do it all the way, you're not gonna be successful. You really have to like, fully absorb it and just kind of lean into it, I think. 

[00:05:27] Billie Tarascio: I see. So are you saying it's mostly a mindset difference or are you saying it's a completely different role that not everyone might want or is suited for?

[00:05:41] Christy Farmer: I think it's a little of both, honestly. I think, um, it's definitely, um, you know, part that the role is surprising, even if you've worked very closely with an attorney, um, I think maybe you don't, it's one of the situations where you don't realize what really goes into making these calls, you know, kind of in the [00:06:00] background or things you have to consider, um, until you're actually making them, you know, just like everything else in life, it's.

You know, you really don't know until you do it. Um, so that, that can be really eye-opening and quite startling, I'm sure. Um, and then the mindset, you know, I think is also a key, a key component too, because I went into it, um, knowing that this was a very, very new, I mean, it was brand new. There was no precedent for this.

There's no history to go by. It's just you're trailblazing. Um, so my mentality going into it was that, If you're gonna blaze a few trails, you're gonna, you're gonna get burned a couple times. You're gonna learn along the way. So it's not always gonna be easy. It's not always gonna be simple. So you have to be kind of prepared that, you know, this isn't gonna be this perfect trajectory up to success.

You know, it's not, it's not set up for that. But I was okay with that cuz I, I went into it with that mindset.

[00:06:53] Billie Tarascio: I think that that's really critical, like, really critical because many paralegals pride themselves on being perfect. Yes, [00:07:00] they're the details person. They're the person that doesn't let things get missed.

Everything's always under control. They, they're the controllers. Absolutely. And many paralegals I have found, really think that they do much more work than the lawyers do. 

[00:07:16] Christy Farmer: I mean, I can't disagree with that because a lot of times paralegals are the workhorse in a, you know, in an attorney paralegal relationship.

Um, You know, they're doing the drafting, the docketing, the filing, all those things that have to happen to make a case move forward and, you know, make sure things are getting done when they need to be. Um, those are not small things. Um, and paralegals manage a lot. You know, there's a lot to juggle. Um, so, you know, they do.

It's just a different type of work. I think when you make that jump, it, you know, you're less about the details and more about. The theory or the big picture. Um, you know, and so it's, you know, it's a different set of skills, [00:08:00] but I don't think anyone, um, who's been a paralegal is, you know, inherently not able to do it.

I think it's just a matter of believing that you can do it and telling yourself that, you know, you're qualified to do this and that you can, because I know a lot of it, I think comes too from a lack of maybe confidence because you're new at something and. You know, you're not always sure what other attorneys are going to be thinking, you know, um, when they come up, come up against you in a case they can, you know, hold some, some preexisting, maybe, um, you know, bias against you because you're not an attorney.

[00:08:34] Billie Tarascio: So, yeah, I mean, the imposter syndrome must be heavy in this role because a lot of lawyers were not supportive. And lawyers can generally be, you know, arrogant and superior, and you go to law school so that you could be a lawyer. And so you're having to deal with that, [00:09:00] knowing that, and then having it be brand new.

And knowing that not everybody accepts you, so, You really had to go in mentally tough to deal with that. Plus learning, how do I strategize? How do I make big, huge decisions? How do I do different things in law? 

[00:09:21] Christy Farmer: Yeah, no, and you hit the nail on the head with imposter syndrome. Um, I think that's a, that's a constant struggle to push that down and, you know, kind of keep, keep that under control and remind yourself that you know, this, you've done this, you know what you're doing.

You, you know, you're competent to do this, you're qualified to do this, and you can, you know, be successful at it. Um, but there is always that voice in your head that kind of says, well, you know, you, you didn't get a law degree though, so are you, you know, but, um, I, I think, you know, also there's been. I've gotten both positive and negative.

Encounters from attorneys, um, which [00:10:00] has been actually kinda surprising. I expected more overwhelming to be treated more negatively than I have been. Um, not that I haven't been treated, you know, negatively or heard stories about my fellow LPs being treated poorly, which is unfortunate. Because I don't think the profession will ever, ever pick up and take away what attorneys have.

You know, attorneys aren't going away. Law school's not going away. We're not gonna take your jobs or your clients. We're here to fill a very, you know, a very particular gap that, you know, a lot of people aren't able to access, you know, an attorney and now maybe can because of us. But yeah, it's, it's definitely a constant reminder, you know, constantly reminding yourself that.

You're, you're just as good as the attorney, just cuz you don't have the jd you didn't go to law school. Doesn't make you any less, um, able to handle these things than, than your opponent. So, yeah. 

[00:10:50] Billie Tarascio: Right, right. You have passed the test. You have gotten the bar license mm-hmm. You're just less experienced.

[00:10:58] Christy Farmer: Right. It's, it's, [00:11:00] you know, I, I equate it to being like a baby attorneys. Mm-hmm. Um, where you ask a lot of questions, you know? Mm-hmm. I, my managing attorney and I are very close because I ask her questions a lot, you know, and because I wanna tap into her experience and, you know, her years of practice, um, that's how, that's how we become better.

Um, Litigators, you know, employees, lawyers, LPs by experience, you know, tapping into the experience of people around you. Um, which is again, why I really respect the LPs who decided to become licensed and go into practice alone, which I think, you know, there's actually several out there that are doing it.

Um, I have a lot of respect for the willingness to do that without the, you know, expanded support system of a legal assistant, a paralegal, um, other attorneys to, you know, pick their brains when you want, when you have a hard situation. Um, that must be a very, very unique, um, set of difficulties that I'm lucky to not have as part of the firm.

[00:12:00] Billie Tarascio So, is there anything that we as a firm should be doing differently? For incoming LPs? 

[00:12:10] Christy Farmer: That's a great question. Um, I think really any LP that's, you know, new coming on board, I think if they want, if they're gonna use their license to the fullest extent that it was intended to be, um, and litigate cases and, you know, take, take cases from start to finish, um, I think.

A lot of support needs to go into trial procedure, tri trial techniques, um, because that I think is overwhelmingly the most intimidating part of becoming an lp. Um, you know, you've never been to trial. It's not, it hasn't been an option until you got your license. So, um, you know, maybe you've watched trials.

We all have, you know, as paralegals, we all watched many different types of hearings. Um, but I think. You know, the ongoing focus on trial skills, litigation [00:13:00] skills, um, the rules of evidence, you know, ongoing, just education. Because you know, I think too, that LPs, at least in my personal experience, and I, I would imagine some others feel the same.

If you're going into a hearing and you know that you've got a, you know, an attorney on the other side, a very seasoned one, maybe. Your best bet is to out prepare that attorney because you can't out experience them. Right. Right. You can out prepare them. 

[00:13:27] Billie Tarascio: That was just, that was so good. 

[00:13:30] Christy Farmer: So that's, I mean, that's my own personal policy is that if I know that I'm gonna go head to head with someone who has maybe 30 years of, you know, family law experience.

I'm gonna, I'm gonna out prepare them and that's what 

[00:13:42] Billie Tarascio: I'm gonna try to, you need to move this case better than they know the case. Because you gotta know the facts, you gotta know the law, and then you gotta put on a good story. 

[00:13:50] Christy Farmer: Absolutely. And that, that, that makes all the difference. Right. And being prepared helps you craft that.

Yeah. Right. 

[00:13:57] Billie Tarascio: Right. Yeah. Um, [00:14:00] okay. I love that. I love that advice for the firm, more focused on trial skills. I do think that that is just spot on and it's something that we have learned and started incorporating into trainings, but of course you didn't get to be the benefit of that. So what about people who are, maybe they're paralegals and they're considering becoming LPs.

What can you tell them in terms of what to expect both the process to get licensed and what is it? What do they need to know? 

[00:14:31] Christy Farmer: Yeah. The, the process to get licensed, the very first thing I would tell them to be is patient because just like any other type of license, you know, it's not, it's not a fast process.

Um, I would tell them to study the, you know, the relevant statutes for the test to prepare. I, I actually, uh, was on the. Uh, legal paraprofessional website section of the Supreme Court recently, and they do post the, uh, different, uh, tests, passing statistics, [00:15:00] and there is a startlingly low pass rate for all the core exam, which covers ethics and all of that, and all also the subject area exam.

Really family law. Yeah. The, the passing rates were low, 40%, 35%. I mean, 

[00:15:14] Billie Tarascio: this is not an easy test. 

[00:15:15] Christy Farmer: Mm-hmm. It is not, it is not. I was, I was surprised at how difficult some of the questions were, um, actually when I did take the test. So be prepared for the test. Uh, you know, you can't just take it endlessly until you pass.

You are limited. So you wanna really make sure that you're giving your best effort and, you know, Going into it fully prepared. Uh, and then once that's done, then it's, you know, equally as hard, but different in a different way to gather all your documentation, to make sure you know you've got your fingerprints done, because you do have to have that full background check.

And, um, they have to ensure that you're fit for the position, um, which, which takes some time. So make sure you're organized, you have all your documents and everything in order, which for a paralegal should be no problem. Um, [00:16:00] and then just really. You know, be ready for a pretty steep learning curve. It's, you know, it's not, It's not something you're gonna pick up in a day, a week, six months, or even a year.

I mean, this is, this is an ongoing process, so you have to get okay with being kind of uncomfortable in the beginning, I think a lot. And knowing that you're just gonna get better and more comfortable and more confident as time goes by. Because if you go into it knowing that it's not gonna be, you know, super simple.

I'm a fast learner, I can pick this up in no time. Um, you'll be a lot better off, uh, I think in the long run. 

[00:16:35] Billie Tarascio: Christy, I have really enjoyed this podcast, and, uh, I am continually impressed by the results you're getting for your clients, your, your participation in our attorney meetings, just how much you know and contribute and your, your true bravery in diving in.

So thank you so much for coming on the podcast, for sharing all this information and for just [00:17:00] being as awesome as you are. I 

really appreciate it. 

[00:17:02] Christy Farmer: Well, thank you. And it, the pleasure's all mine really. I love, I love working with the firm. I love being an lp. I love all of it. I mean, there aren't, there don't, don't get me wrong, there's plenty of stressful days.

But, you know, it's, it's been a great experience and it's been a great learning experience and I'm, I'm so thrilled to be able to do it. So thank you so much. 

[00:17:23] Billie Tarascio: If you all have enjoyed this episode of the Modern Divorce Podcast, please make sure to download it, rate it, share it with your friends, and if you know of someone else who would be a good guest on the Modern Divorce Podcast, send them our way.

Thanks so much for coming on the show, and I will see you soon. 

[00:17:40] Announcer: We hope you enjoyed this episode of the Modern Divorce Podcast, brought to you by Modern Law. Now a word from our sponsor. 

One consistent theme you'll hear from me, Billie Tarascio, is that we do not believe in a one size fits all solution.

That's why at Modern Law you can find anything you need for your [00:18:00] family law case. For the highest stakes litigation cases, we've got experienced family law attorneys who can offer you representation. We also have embraced. Newly licensed legal paraprofessionals who can offer you legal representation for less.

[00:18:15] Announcer: And if you just need your documents prepared, we can offer certified legal document preparers as well. If that's not for you, and instead you are representing yourself, congratulations, you are like one of the 70% of people out there doing it on your own and our newest offering. Win without law school can help.

For more information about win without Law school, go to win without law To get representation options, go to my Modern Law dot com.