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Thelma Alvarado-Garza: President of the Capital Area Paralegal Association and Paralegal with Whitehurst, Harkness, Ozmun & Brees; Austin, TX

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<<"Because the nature of my work always involves an injured or deceased individual, it has been difficult to refrain from becoming emotionally involved with the clients because of their plight," she said.

Alvarado-Garza has worked at Whitehurst, Harkness, Ozmun & Brees for 14 years, but she has been a paralegal for a total of 16 years.

"I've always been interested in the legal profession," she said. "Initially, I thought I would learn more about it as a paralegal and then decide whether or not to pursue law school. After a few years as a paralegal, I realized I was just where I needed to be."

"I used to think that if I had the chance to do things over again, I would change my decision not to attend law school. That is no longer the case," she said. "I find that as a paralegal, I get involved in just about everything the lawyer does, except, of course, for the actual practice of law. I can attend depositions, trials, hearings, etc.; but most importantly to me, I usually have the direct contact with our clients."

During her 16 years in the profession, Alvarado-Garza has seen improvements in the way in which attorneys utilize the skills and services of paralegals and a growing trend toward technology in the courtroom, the latter of which she finds exciting due to her own interest in the areas of graphic design and technology.

"Lately, I have found much delight in being able to utilize my interest and skill in graphic demonstrations during trials," she said.

However, as the legal field evolves and becomes more technologically advanced, legal services are becoming more expensive and less accessible to the public.

"[An] important issue is the inability for the indigent to find good legal representation. The few offices that provide legal services to the poor are being deprived of the proper funding necessary to support the practice," she said.

In her current position, Alvarado-Garza works for a senior partner in the area of liability and personal injury law. Some of the cases she works on include aviation accidents, wrongful death cases, and propane and natural gas explosions.

Originally hired as a legal secretary, a position she found through a newspaper ad, she was promoted to a paralegal position after only three months. Working for a firm that she described as "one of the largest, oldest, and most established plaintiff's firms in Austin, TX," Alvarado-Garza enjoys the independence she is given.

"It allows me to provide the most efficient and effective service to our clients and the firm," she said. "This independence and the fact that I don't have to account for billing hours gives me the opportunity to spend some of my time being involved in our local paralegal association. At the present time, I'm serving as the President of the Capital Area Paralegal Association [CAPA]. I am also able to explore other areas of professional interest at the firm. I maintain a level of administrative duties for the senior partner's practice, as well as handling most of the firm's in-house IT needs."

As President of CAPA, Alvarado-Garza is a big promoter of the various benefits of membership in paralegal associations.

"An association—especially one locally centered—provides a great networking opportunity as well as a foundation for continued legal education needs," she said. "Both are valuable to the individual and the general paralegal population. An association also offers opportunities to attune one's leadership abilities if one chooses to become active in the association."

When it comes to education, Alvarado-Garza said she learned most of what she knows about the legal profession while working as a paralegal.

"I took the opportunity afforded me to join a prestigious civil litigation practice and applied the skills of listening, communicating, and networking to enhance my position," she said. "The discipline to study that I learned while in college helped my efforts."

As a way of building a network and growing networking skills, she suggests joining a paralegal association while pursuing paralegal certification.

"Get involved in paralegal organizations," she said. "The network that you frame can help you in ways that you can't begin to imagine. From listservs that help with ongoing how-to topics to hearing about potential job opportunities, these networks prove invaluable to your success. Always challenge yourself to continue learning about the legal profession and your area of practice in general."

In her free time, Alvarado-Garza enjoys reading, swimming, spending time with her husband and one-year-old daughter, and visiting the family's small ranch in Driftwood, TX.

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