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Heather Cantu works as a senior paralegal for Walters Gilbreath, PLLC. When she first became a paralegal, she had to work her way up from a receptionist and legal assistant in small or solo offices. By doing this she was able to work in a variety of legal fields including family law, criminal law, civil litigation, bankruptcy, securities, insurance subrogation, and personal injury.
Heather says, "Being able to experience those different fields were priceless in the fact that I was able to learn a wealth of knowledge and choose the field that I enjoyed most."
Heather attended Fort Hays State University with plans on majoring in broadcast journalism and a minor in music. Shortly after starting classes she changed her focus to law. Although she was not able to attend law school, she transferred to Hutchinson College and focused on Paralegal Science. She is a Certified Summation End User and an Administrative user. She is also currently working on obtaining her Civil Litigation Board Certification.
Heather was born and raised in Marion, Kansas. She lived on a 60 acre farm with her four brothers and sister. When she is not working she loves to sing, read, learning technology, and working out. Heather also enjoys watching football and spending time with her family.
Heather's Career and Future Aspirations
What motivated Heather to become a paralegal? "I decided to become a paralegal because I wanted a career that would not only support my son, but would make him and my family proud. I didn't want to feel like I was going to work without a greater purpose," says Heather.
When asked what she finds most challenging about being a paralegal, Heather says, "That's an ever changing question. As you advance in your career, those things that are challenging become less and less. The most challenging thing I have faced is finding the right fit and the right home in which to fulfill my career. Your relationship with your attorney and colleagues is extremely important. Being able to work in an environment that suits your needs and provides the challenges you look forward to is worth its weight in gold."
The most important lesson that Heather has learned as a paralegal is no case is ever the same and that there is never an answer to every question. She states, "You must learn to deal with each individual case and client as thought it is the only case you are working on. This helps keep the client happy and your checks and balances in place."
There are many things that make Heather stand out in the legal field, but the most important are her thick skin, professional manner, and superior organizational skills. She believes that her extensive knowledge of various computer programs make her an invaluable asset to the legal field.
Heather is best known for her expertise and knowledge in technology. She has a knack for figuring out new computer systems and likes to know everything about the systems so that she can teach others.
Many want to know what the most interesting experience she has had while working as a paralegal. Heather states, "One of the biggest and most interesting cases that I have worked on was a Ponzi scheme. I was given the responsibility of going through thousands of boxes of evidence and in doing so, I found one of the case's most important pieces of evidence. It was an amazing feeling to know that my experience taught me where to look and what to look for."
What does she believe are the keys to becoming a successful paralegal? "It's important to understand the changing technologies the legal field offers today. By keeping up with the changing atmosphere and staying apprised of important topics in the legal field, you continue to grow as a professional and to make yourself indispensable as an employee. Be open to constructive criticism - it only makes you better. Also, be personable, friendly, and professional. Your relationship with the paralegal and legal community is important for you, your attorney, and most importantly for your clients. However, the most valuable thing I have learned to be successful is to be organized. You have to be organized every day in order to prioritize and not miss important steps. Granted, as always, mistakes will be made. The legal field can be extremely fast paced, but in the end, I believe this will be your most important trait."
What advise would she give to a new paralegal? "Develop a thick skin. Know and understand that you are going to make mistakes. All you can do is learn from them and move on. In this position, it takes time to learn everything. You don't wake up knowing the answers to client's questions or how to draft discovery responses."
Is there anything Heather would change about the paralegal field? "I believe the paralegal field in my area is a thriving professional group of very networked individuals. There are so many bright paralegals that really help give their attorneys credibility. I would change the technical knowledge across the board. Many attorneys and seasoned paralegals are opposed to change. They believe that the way they have done things is the only way or the best way. Change is only fear of the unknown. There are so many advances that have helped the legal field become more efficient and easier to manage, it will just take time for everyone to be on board."
The best part of Heather's job is the daily purpose and challenge that she is part of. She is happy to day that although family law is not the field she thought that she would end up in, she has been very blessed with the opportunities that come along with working aside Jake Gilbreath. She loves the daily challenges, clients, and the feeling of going to work with a higher purpose.
Where does Heather see herself in five years' time? "I see myself continuing my current employment, being board certified in two fields, and continuing to advance in her career."
If Heather were not a paralegal what career path would she take? "Honestly? I would be a hairdresser. I know that seems way off to the other side of the scale, but it was something that I was very interested in and I thought would be fun. I'm thankful I made the better decision. Nothing against hairdressers, but I couldn't be on my feet all day like them!"
Family Matters, Community Service, and Legal Role Models
Who are the people that inspired Heather and why? "This may seem cheesy, but Erin Brokovich is one of my inspirations. Her story of struggle and triumph mirrors some of my own life and it's interesting to see and read the respect she earned because she loved her job and believed in her clients and her purpose."
Heather considers herself a mentor because she is always willing to help those who are new and need guidance. Whether it is a new attorney or a legal assistant, She believes that she possesses knowledge that will help further their career.
Many wonder if Heather is a member of any professional organizations or volunteer activities. She is involved in Women in E-Discovery and a member of the Paralegal Division of the State Bar of Texas. She aspires to be involved in several paralegal associations upon receiving her Civil Litigation Certificate.
What's next for Heather? "I'm a young professional. I still have a lot to learn every day and a lot to accomplish in my life. I never know what's next or just around the corner, but I do know, that whatever it is, I will make the most of it and learn from whatever the experience provides."
Summary: Heather Cantu is offers advice on what makes a successful paralegal.
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