Based in Las Cruces, NM, Brewster is an expert in trademark and intellectual property litigation, and as a result, she often works for law firms in Silicon Valley. She's willing to go anywhere, and she's been many places.
"There are very few people in my position who have over 5,000 actual trial hours," she said. "So when people are in a bind and they don't have people to support a trial, they call me."
A paralegal for 27 years, Brewster spent most of her career in Santa Clara (CA) County. She has freelanced several times over her career, often joining a law firm for the duration of a big case and then picking up a new case as soon as the trial's over. Freelancing allows her to work on big cases, then spend time at home.
"In my other life, which is where I am now, we have a toy store. My husband runs the toy store when I'm running around doing what I'm doing," she said. "I go where the trials are. So in particular, trademark and intellectual property litigation, that can take you anywhere in the United States, although the lawsuits for patent infringement are usually filed perhaps with companies in Silicon Valley, which is where I do most of my work… The trials are generally in Delaware, although they can be in San Francisco in any one of the federal courts."
Trials are in Delaware, she said, because many of the companies are incorporated there.
Brewster recently took on a job with Redwood City, CA-based firm Ropers, Majeski, Kohn & Bentley to shut down a repository of documents from a case she originally started working on in 1994. The case had a repository of several-million documents, and Brewster's job is to conduct inventory on the documents, notify the numerous parties who have documents there, and then hire an imaging company to scan and store the documents. She can do some of the work at home.
Brewster said she did not intend to hit the road as a career choice, but cases started demanding the travel, and she didn't mind.
"It wasn't intentional to begin with, but the cases started requiring that; and since I have a real independent husband and my son was raised, it just seemed to evolve," she said.
When she moved to New Mexico from California, she planned to work for firms in New Mexico and across the border in Texas. But the California firms kept calling "with offers that I couldn't refuse."
She was once sent to the Philippines by a law firm to look at a facility for offshore coding.
"The defense steering committee just wanted to know that it was going to be able to handle our needs and that security was going to be sufficient to where we wouldn't have to worry, and all of that was true," she said. "It was a wonderful experience. The people were wonderful. They're all extremely well educated and have an incredible work ethic in the Philippines, so it worked out beautifully. We gave them the project. That was quite lucrative for the company."
Brewster was president of the Paralegal Association of Santa Clara County in 1993 and 1994. Then she became president of the California Alliance of Paralegal Associations (CAPA). Then she got involved with the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) as its ethics chair and then professional development chair. She has also served as NALA's treasurer, secretary, and second vice president.
"And I'm about to try to get reelected to first vice president at our conference in July in Kansas City," she said of NALA's conference celebrating its 30th anniversary this summer.
When Brewster started doing paralegal work, there were no paralegal schools. She started working for a judge in El Paso, TX, doing some real estate work. Then she joined a law firm as a secretary, working her way up to paralegal (although they didn't use the title). When she moved to California in 1980, she joined a law firm as a secretary and was quickly promoted to paralegal.
"I think the attorneys realized that the work that some of their secretaries were doing was billable, and that was how the paralegal profession kind of evolved," she said. "I loved it. I worked for a law firm at one time who wanted to put me through law school, and I didn't want to go to law school. The paralegal profession is different from being a lawyer, and I really, really like the difference."
Brewster has advised several paralegal schools on curriculum. Despite years of solid work experience, Brewster decided to get her paralegal certificate in 1983 from West Valley College in Saratoga, CA.
Education is key to success as a paralegal, she said.
"I would contact a national association and get a mentor if you can," she said when asked what advice she would give new paralegals. "Join your local paralegal association; get a mentor; and if there aren't any formal education programs near you, contact NALA. They have some wonderful programs online. Keep your educational requirements up with your state requirements. California is very stringent. So are Texas and Florida, but for the states that aren't, don't let that stop you from keeping on top of your game."
Freelancing is only for the experienced. If you do intend to freelance one day as a road warrior, Brewster said don't work for too many law firms because you run the future risk of losing work because of conflicts of interest in a trial.
"If you get out of paralegal school and you qualify to take the national exam to be a Certified Legal Assistant, that is the first step down the road of professionalism and prosperity in this profession," she said. "I'm telling you, you can make a lot of money and you can be very, very happy. There's not a day that I don't wake up thanking God that I have this job. I love my job."
- See Top 10 Reasons Most Law Firms Have No Idea How to Hire and Evaluate Patent Attorneys for more information.