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Cindy Lopez: Founder of NJParalegal.com and Paralegal with the Law Firm of Charles M. Byrnes, Toms River, NJ

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<<"At the time, in New Jersey, there was a lot of legislation going on as far as what paralegals can and cannot do," she said. "And then it seemed like we were trying to get these monthly meetings together for the alumni, but everybody had crazy schedules. So I thought it would be nice if we had a way to network with one another. So I came up with the idea of Paralegal Press, which is a monthly newsletter for paralegals."

The newsletter eventually expanded into the website NJParalegal.com, a career resource for paralegals. The site currently has more than 1,000 subscribers in the New Jersey area. It is comprised of job postings for paralegals, an online bookstore, and articles geared toward paralegal job searching. Lopez writes many of the articles for the website and also serves as the publisher and editor of the monthly newsletter. She said about 30 writers contribute to the website. Most of the writers are paralegals, but a few lawyers and job recruiters have also contributed articles to the site, as well as to the monthly newsletter.



Additionally, Lopez has written articles for other paralegal publications, including Legal Assistant Today. She recently contributed an article to the magazine about avoiding legal malpractice as a paralegal. Lopez also recently completed a compilation of some of her articles.

"I just finished compiling what I'm calling the Paralegal Professional's Guidebooks," she said. "And there's three series. One is for paralegal wannabes, basically, and one's for paralegal job searchers, and one is for seasoned paralegals. And it's basically a short compilation of my articles based on those subjects, with little bonuses at the end[s], and I'm going to be offering them through my website."

Lopez currently works full-time as a paralegal for solo practitioner Charles M. Byrnes in Toms River, NJ. She has been with the practice, which focuses on matrimonial, estate, and probate law, for a year.

She also teaches a legal office assistant certification course one night a week at Ocean County College in Toms River.

Lopez discussed why she became a paralegal.

"In 1993, I decided to go back to school and complete college," she said. "I always had interest in the law. I saw a paralegal speaker at my community college, Dorothy Secol of Paralegal Services, LLP (a freelance paralegal service), who continues to be a role model for me, and I was inspired to continue my education and go for a paralegal degree."

In 1995, Lopez earned an Associate's Degree in Applied Science from the paralegal studies program at Brookdale Community College in Lincroft, NJ.

From 1996 to 1999, Lopez worked as a paralegal for two solo practitioners in the New Jersey area, dealing with matrimonial, estates, and commercial litigation.

"I kind of bounced between the two of them," she said. "They needed part-time, more help, and I was also starting a family, so it kind of worked into my schedule."

In 2003, Lopez began teaching at the Stuart School of Business Administration in Wall Township, NJ, where she taught law office practice and management, as well as web design and Microsoft Word. She stopped teaching at the school after three years.

"They were bought out by a medical school," Lopez said. "So they were phasing out the legal end of it. And at the same time, I was also working for the attorney (Byrnes)."

Lopez said she found her current job through the paralegal class she taught.

"While I was teaching, I was looking for speakers for my class," she said. "[...] And I went on the Bar Association website, and it said, 'If you would like an attorney to come to your school, fill out this form,' and so I did all that. And the law office that I currently work for contacted me and said, 'Oh, we were contacted by the Bar Association stating that you would like an attorney to come speak to your students.' [...] [T]he attorney didn't come, but the paralegal whose job I now have came. And she used to come every semester and speak to my students. And when she was leaving the law office, she contacted me to see if I knew a paralegal who was looking for a job because she knew I had the website, and we look for jobs for people. I said, 'Well, I'll tell you the truth. My teaching gig might be up here, so I'd be interested in the position,'" Lopez laughed. "So that's how I got the job."

Lopez said what she likes most about teaching is "sharing [her] knowledge" and that what she enjoys most about running her website is helping other paralegals.

In addition to job-search articles, the site also features articles on ethics, paralegal certification, freelance paralegal work, and specific areas of law, such as real estate and estate planning. It also has other helpful resources, as well as links for paralegals.

Lopez talked about what inspires her writing.

"I definitely get inspiration from my students," she said. "Because very often, as you can imagine, they always have questions and concerns about the profession, about job searching, about starting a job, about specific areas of law. And then [for] my website, I get inspiration from my subscribers because [...] everybody has the same concerns as the students. Plus, the seasoned paralegals want to know [about] things like ways to improve their skills, [ways to] improve their work product, situations that work, ethical concerns, salary comparison, [and whether] they [are] making what they should be making."

Lopez has become somewhat of a spokesperson for paralegals in New Jersey. She has speaking engagements throughout the state, discussing options for paralegal careers and the paralegal job market in the area. She was recently contacted by the Asbury Park Press to give her opinion about a New Jersey-based paralegal franchise company that's starting up. In July, she was featured in the New Jersey Law Journal, in an article about paralegal salaries, and her photo appeared on the front page of the publication's business section.

Lopez and her family live on the Jersey shore. She said she is a workaholic and doesn't really have time for hobbies.

"My hobbies are sleeping," she laughed.

She offered the following advice for students preparing to become paralegals:

"I always tell them to utilize all your connections," she said. "Utilize your professors and all of the tools that they give you while you're going to a school and when you graduate, in order to obtain a job. They usually have access to legal members of the community that can get [students] jobs. And [...] the professors are usually always attorneys, and sometimes they wind up hiring their students. So the biggest thing (and I know people hear this all the time, but in this industry I find it's really true) is networking. It's a small paralegal circle; everybody knows everybody, at least in New Jersey, anyway. You go to the conventions, and you get to know the people in the circle and in the group you belong [to] [...]. You not only get great information and knowledge, but you also gain a camaraderie amongst other paralegals that are out there."

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