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Todd Frankel: Paralegal, Reed Smith, LLP, Los Angeles, CA
by Charisse Dengler
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<<"I really like looking at data and numbers and organizing things on a large scale," he said. "There's still a lot I don't know about the law, and so every day is really a learning experience for me. I enjoy that sense of discovery."
"I knew I wanted to go into litigation, and I knew I wanted to be in a very large firm," he said. "My history is all in boutique businesses. I decided part of my career change was going to embrace a much larger employer with more resources, and I was looking for a team environment."
Frankel first started looking toward the law as a second career after he was involved in a dispute over a proposed development in Mount Washington, where he lives. He said the situation led him to view law as a very civil process, and it was then that he started thinking about law school. However, as a husband and father, he felt overwhelmed at the prospect. He later began considering the paralegal profession at a friend's suggestion.
"I found out that I could go through a paralegal program that was approved by the American Bar Association [and] that the paralegal world is an evolving, up-and-coming profession. And it's kind of coming into its own," he said. "I discovered this was a legitimate professional activity—being a paralegal—which I didn't know until I started looking into it. I mean, you think about being a lawyer—that's a white-collar profession—but as I researched more, I found out that paralegals are really integral to the way a law office functions."
Frankel told himself he would enroll in the paralegal program and try it out for one semester, and if he didn't like it, he'd quit. However, he ended up loving it.
"I like working with smart people," he said. "Attorneys here, I've found, are incredibly intelligent and very creative problem solvers. I'm always challenged. There's a lot I don't know."
Frankel, who worked as the Chief Photographer at the Los Angeles Business Journal before becoming a paralegal, said his previous position taught him valuable skills that he has carried over into the legal field.
"I became very good at managing my time and knowing what I wanted out of an assignment when I got there so I wouldn't have to dilly dally very long," he said. "I was able to think fast on my feet, and being able to juggle a lot of things at the same time has helped me tremendously in a busy law office."
The way Frankel found his job at Reed Smith is pretty interesting. After trying out legal recruiters and not getting any results, he decided to try networking through the Los Angeles Paralegal Association (LAPA). Frankel, who first joined LAPA only because Cal State L.A. gave student discounts for membership in the organization, had lunch with a member of the board in order to talk about getting more involved in the group.
That discussion led to Frankel's co-chairing of LAPA's October 2004 conference committee, during which he claimed he must have impressed someone with his organizational skills and responsible personality. His co-chair later alerted him to an opening at Reed Smith, and he has been there ever since.
"I credit being in front of paralegals who know what works in a big law office and kind of impressing them and creating a little bit of buzz so that when something came open, I heard about it," he said.
"Senior paralegals that work with these volunteer organizations have their eyes out for good people they can recommend to their law firms; and if you behave professionally, do good work, and show that you can give back to the community, chances are you'll hear about things," he said.
Currently, Frankel is LAPA's Executive Vice President; but after the reigning president unexpectedly resigned, he took over the presidential responsibilities.
He encourages paralegal students to get involved in a professional association, for both the continued education benefits and the networking opportunities.
"I think people who are of like mind and purpose need a place to congregate, and so LAPA tries to provide that," he said. "I didn't seriously want to get involved until I was way out of school and thought of it as my last resort, but I would tell paralegal students to join as a first resort—to get the newsletters and start reading about who the players are and how you can get on a committee and get in front of the senior paralegals who ultimately make hiring decisions."
"Student paralegals don't really understand that. They're not sure who makes hiring decisions at a law firm. They just want to get through their program, but as I've found, senior paralegals have a lot of influence on who gets in," he said. "I would also suggest that students keep and maintain a binder about the area of law they think they want to go into and start collecting reading material and review the reading material often."