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Marcel Fitch: Paralegal for Karen Smith, Solo Practitioner, Coeur d'Alene, ID

published June 19, 2006

Charisse Dengler
( 16 votes, average: 4.6 out of 5)
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<<"I get a better feel for the law in general," he said. "I get to do more of a variety of things with a sole practitioner rather than a larger firm."

Smith, whom Fitch describes as practicing everything but criminal and bankruptcy law, contacted Fitch when she heard he was looking for a different position. The two knew each other through Fitch's involvement with the Spokane County Volunteer Lawyers Program, the director of which had gone to work for Smith.


Before becoming a paralegal, Fitch worked for 17 years in newspaper advertising and layout. However, when the company began to get into areas he hadn't been schooled in, he started considering other career options.

"I wanted to stick with my degree; but when I found out that that wasn't going to happen, I decided to switch to a different career altogether. And I had looked at a variety of occupations and found that being a paralegal was a better fit than most," he said.

"Being a paralegal, I was able to realize I could practice in a private practice or a corporate practice and also do state and local government areas as well. Then, each of those would further break down into the areas of law: family law, torts, bankruptcy. So, there was a much wider range of things I could do, which I think is beneficial to paralegals as a whole."

Fitch thinks that paralegals have less of a chance of suffering from boredom in their profession compared to other professions and even less of a chance when they are dealing with multiple areas of law.

"You have a chance for burnout in any job; and if you're only doing one thing for one company in one area, I think the risk of burnout is higher," he said. "With being a paralegal—especially with Karen Smith's office, where I'm at now—there's such a variety of things that I get a broader view of the law, a wider range of clients; and I don't run the risk of burnout as much as other paralegals that work for a larger firm and only do one area."

In the future, Fitch hopes to go on to become an attorney, a feat he thinks will be aided greatly by the years he has spent working as a paralegal.

"I think most students going through law school are going in much younger than I am," he said. "They go in maybe with an idealized view of what an attorney is. I have been working as a paralegal…so I've seen more. I've heard the terminology, I've had to deal with attorneys and judges and courts and all that, and I think I've got a huge step up from at least first-year students going through school. [With] the paralegal training that I've had and the employment that I've had, I think I'll have a quicker, better grasp of everything than most of the other folks."

Fitch also feels that the experience he got working for a larger firm helped prepare him for a career as an attorney. While in his previous position, he worked with an attorney who was on the disciplinary board for the state bar and was responsible for doing everything that needed to be done to prepare him for hearings. He said this opened his eyes to the realities of what attorneys face on a daily basis.

The areas of law he is interested in practicing include estate planning, employment law, and contract issues. He said he'd probably steer clear of areas that involve a lot of dramatic situations, such as family law and criminal law.

"I'd rather stay away from all of that," he said. "I ran into quite a few issues with family law that tend to make it difficult. So, pretty much the simpler areas of law, the more cut-and-dried, the more people who definitely need help. And there isn't a huge amount of conflict involved; I'll probably stick with those."

Fitch's advice to paralegal students is to ask plenty of questions, be thorough when doing research, and always remember what made them want to become paralegals in the first place.

"It's so easy to get tunnel vision—whether it be on an issue of a client or a particular area of law or the goal of making money. If the student has a continued wide-eyed mentality, I think they'll go further," he said.

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