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Profile: Susan Ippoliti, Litigation Paralegal, Harter, Secrest & Emery LLP, and National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) Vice President and Director of Membership

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<<Susan Ippoliti says she gets bored easily. So she gets involved—a lot.

The litigation paralegal with Harter, Secrest & Emery is the Vice President and Director of Membership of the National Federation of Paralegal Associations. As a paralegal for just eight years, Ms. Ippoliti has been on the board of both local and national legal associations and advises people who want to get ahead: 'join the club.'

Not just any club, but The National Federation of Paralegal Associations or a local association. Part of Ms. Ippoliti's current NFPA role is to recruit new members to the association, which she says is a perfect haven to learn new skills and meet peers and possible mentors.

The day Ms. Ippoliti joined the Paralegal Association of Rochester, or PAR, in 1999, she became a member of the group's board. And now at just 29, Ms. Ippoliti holds a senior leadership position on the NFPA.

"Networking is really a big part of this profession. The day I became a member of the Paralegal Association of Rochester, I became a member of the board of directors. So it really happened overnight," she said.

Through PAR, Ms. Ippoliti said she found out about her current job with Harter, Secrest & Emery, found a mentor, and learned crucial leadership skills.

Ms. Ippoliti, who has experience with plaintiff and defense litigation in various areas, including construction, asbestos, personal injury, and medical malpractice, teaches courses on leadership through the NFPA. While she credits the organization with developing her leadership skills, she was a born leader.

"I've always been this way. I've always been very active," she said. "I sort of take the bull by the horns and I run. I get bored very quickly, so I like a constant challenge. I enjoy the challenges."

Ms. Ippoliti became a paralegal the old fashioned way—through on-the-job training. While studying at St. John Fisher College in Rochester, Ms. Ippoliti had a local internship with the District Attorney's office.

"It was great," she said. "I just wasn't really sure that I wanted to be a lawyer, but I wanted to be in the profession."

When she graduated from college with a bachelor's degree in political science, Ms. Ippoliti answered an ad in the newspaper for an entry-level clerical position in a law firm. It wasn't her dream job, but she knew it was the right profession. She started applying to law schools, but realized she didn't want to become an attorney. She was learning on the job how to become a litigation paralegal, a fast-paced area in which she excels.

Ms. Ippoliti has now been with Harter, Secrest for five years. She got that job through her mentor—something she feels every young professional should have.

"I have two pieces of advice: the first is find yourself a mentor, a mentor who is a senior paralegal. Someone who can help you and guide you," she said. She met her mentor through PAR, and then the woman mentioned an opening at the law firm.

"I think it's a little intimidating at first, but then all of a sudden you realize you're in a really good place full of really good people that can offer you so much in terms of advice and knowledge, and you really have to latch on to that," she said of asking for a mentor. "She actually said to me in passing one day that there was an opening. She just dropped a little carrot, you know, and dangled it and said 'you know, you really ought to check this out.' And so I did, and that's how I made it here."

Before taking on a national role in an organization, Ms. Ippoliti notes it is important to consult your employer and make sure you can count on their support.

"It's really been a whirlwind. I do travel more than I anticipated," she said. "Before you do something like this, you really do have to sit down and literally have a conversation with your employer and make sure they're behind you and will support you. In my position, you have to travel a bit more, because I have to go out and recruit people, and I get asked to visit various associations quite often."

Ms. Ippoliti's other crucial piece of advice is to ask questions. Or as she puts it: "You really have to know what you don't know."

"It's something that I say a lot to people and they look at me and go 'huh?' But it's really important to understand that it's okay to not have all the knowledge early on. And even later on, there are some paralegals who are 25-year paralegals who are asking questions," she said. "You have to remember that you're acting on behalf of the client. You don't want to find out when it's all completed that it's done incorrectly. You really have to know what you don't know."

Harter Secrest & Emery LLP

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