Profile: Cyndi Adams, CP, Danner & Martyn
Paralegal found her calling as legal ''minesweeper''
by Regan Morris
Her computer skills—in the early days of personal computers—landed her a secretarial job with a law firm as a typist and data entry clerk for billing. She was one of the few secretaries who knew how to use computers and PFS:Write, the word processing software precursor to MS Word. Back then, laptops were called "luggables," and Adams knew how to use one.
When the law firm split, Adams, 47, decided to move with one of the departing partners to a solo practice.
"On my first day on the job, I was helping them prep for trial," she said. "I was marking exhibits, and it was like, 'You know what? I like this. This is exciting; this is fun. I think this is what I want to do when I grow up.'"
Adams continued to learn paralegal skills on the job and enrolled in a paralegal studies program at Oxnard College, working during the day and studying at night. Her boss had been a teacher before he became an attorney, so Adams was in the perfect position to learn her trade.
"It was just kind of one of those things where it was the best of all worlds," she said. "An opportunity came to me, and it was just like every time I turned around, I had another opportunity to grow and advance my skills."
On her first day in that office, someone asked Adams to prepare a subpoena.
"A subpoena? I never even heard of it," she said.
But Adams, who grew up in a small town in the Mojave Desert, soon figured out how to prepare a subpoena, and now she's a leading voice in the paralegal profession.
Adams' mentor is now semi-retired. And Adams works for Danner & Martyn as a litigation paralegal in Thousand Oaks, CA. Lately, her caseload has focused on the client DirecTV Group, Inc., the largest U.S. direct-broadcast satellite provider. When DirecTV catches people stealing satellite cable, Adams helps with the litigation.
"People that steal cable potentially are facing a fine of up to $10,000 per device," she said, adding not everyone who steals the signal is poor, that some can afford to pay.
"Some people steal cable because they can't afford it, and some people steal [the signal] just because they think, 'Oh, well. DirecTV is a big corporation. What does it matter if I steal [the signal]?'" she said. "And corporations are in business to make money."
Adams has been doing litigation work for 16 years and said she wouldn't consider leaving the specialty. She's been quite active in local and national paralegal associations and is currently the president of the California Alliance of Paralegal Associations. She is past president of the Ventura Country Association of Paralegals.
Adams urges paralegals to get involved in associations so they can network and keep up with trends. She's also an advocate of paralegal certification.
"I graduated from paralegal school, and then I took the CLA exam, which is the NALA certificate, voluntary certification exam," she said. "I'm a certified paralegal. And California doesn't have any requirements that you do this. It's kind of the above-and-beyond people that are dedicated to the profession. One of the ways to show your commitment to the profession is through continuing education. And that was something that I always valued."
Adams said one of the most difficult transitions for paralegals to make is from the classroom to the courtroom or law firm. She urges students to pursue work experience opportunities, find a part-time or full-time position while studying, or just intern or clerk in a law office.
"Because most attorneys—they tend not to be patient in nature," she said. "They really don't want to train. They want to get someone in that knows what they're doing so they have a minimal amount of downtime."
Joining a local paralegal association is a great way for students to get a foot in the door of a law firm, she said.
Adams still loves preparing for trial and the details and says success often lies in the details.
"Each judge, each jurisdiction, each venue—they all have their own nuances," she said. "I think because it's really my job to be the minesweeper. I'm the one that has to check the local rules. And check with the judge's clerk to make sure we're not missing anything. So it's really an important role in terms of how your attorneys perform in the courtroom— based on how well you do your job. So I take great pride in my ability to be the minesweeper, going out there and looking for the little pitfalls [that] could lie ahead if we weren't careful."
Adams says law firms aren't for everyone. But if you're deadline- and detail-driven, litigation can be a rewarding career.
"It isn't particularly a warm, fuzzy environment," she said, "because the legal field, particularly litigation, is deadline-driven. You've got to kind of have a high tolerance to withstand the strain of lots of demands being put on your time and juggling. But it is an adventure, and some days, it's a really fun adventure."