Profile: Cindy Lopez, Paralegal, Career Advisor, and Mentor
by Amie Peterson
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Cindy Lopez has a 20-year career as a paralegal, paralegal educator, paralegal career advisor, and social media writer. She currently works as a paralegal for a Florida based firm in their Jersey Shore office, where she assists with Super storm Sandy ("Hurricane Sandy") claims for homeowners and business that were devastated by the storm. She finds this area of law unique and rewarding because she feels that she is helping people put their lives back together after a major devastation.
Cindy's first law office job was in a law firm that specialized in commercial litigation and municipal law. Later in her career Lopez worked for a solo practitioner doing family law and trusts and estates. To her complete surprise she loved working in family law. She worked in this area of law for 15 years.
In 1995, Ms. Lopez obtained an Associates' Degree in Paralegal Sciences from Brookdale Community College located in Monmouth County, New Jersey. In 2005 she became certified as a MS Word Specialist from the business school where she was teaching. Despite the challenges being a full-time paralegal, raising a family, and caring for aging parents, she decided to pursue her Bachelor's degree, so in 2010 she returned to college part-time and she completed her Bachelor of Arts in History in July of 2013.
Cindy was born in Bronx, NY and was raised in Woodlawn, NY. She later moved to the Jersey Shore as a teenager. When Cindy has time off she enjoys being with her family and friends, going to the beach, reading, writing, traveling, and visiting historical sites.
Cindy's Career and Future Aspirations
Why did Cindy decide to become a paralegal? "I was working in a legal department of a music company and I went to a seminar at Brookdale Community College in Lincroft, NJ where they were launching their paralegal associates program. During the seminar there was a paralegal that spoke that inspired me. I still keep in touch with her to this day."
When asked what she finds most challenging about her job, Cindy said: "In my current paralegal position it's that I am the "go to" for three attorneys, a client services manager, and a disaster recovery director. In addition, the other staff members often come to me for guidance on procedures. At one time I could have several people that need something "now" and I would have to prioritize which is the most important and which could wait."
The most important lesson that Cindy has learned as a paralegal is to be flexible. She is asked several times a day to switch gears and drop what she is working on to work on the task that takes priority. This has taught her to prioritize and stay calm under pressure.
The best part of her job is helping people. She states, "No matter what type of law you are in you have to remember that your clients' are in a difficult time in their lives. Even if it is something like buying a house or adoption, it is both an exciting, but also a stressful time in their lives. If I can alleviate some of their anxiety for them, I always try to do so. I have found that the best way of doing this is by just listening."
What makes Cindy stand out in the legal field? "I have always believed in sharing and networking with other paralegals. In 2000, I saw the need for us to network and gain access to information about our profession, so I created NJParalegal.com and it's online newsletter, "Paralegal Press". Now that social media has such a presence in our lives, it has become easier to share and network with others in my field."
Ms. Lopez is best known for being a paralegal career advisor and educator. She has a knack for presenting the realities of being a paralegal while maintaining the importance of professionalism in the industry.
Cindy claims that the keys to becoming a successful paralegal are to be prepared to multi-task and to be able to anticipate the needs of your attorney, client, and department before it is asked.
When asked what advice she would give to someone who is new to being a paralegal, she said: "Expect to be challenged, expect to feel like you are not sure what you're doing at times, expect to work your brain muscles all day, every day. Learn to take a step back and take a deep breath so you can re-group when you are stressed. Ask for help when you can and remember that most times you will never be bored."
What would Ms. Lopez change about her field? "From my 20 years of experience as a paralegal, my 14 years as a paralegal career advisor, and my ten years as a paralegal educator, it seems that the main frustration for paralegals is inconsistency in what skills and education an employer requires and also in what they offer us for salary. Where I am in central New Jersey, the salary is not what the average paralegal in New Jersey or even in the nation makes. Paralegals draft legal documents and prepare files from start to finish and all aspects of a case in between. In addition, we are often running the office and usually do not get compensated as an office manager would."
She added, "Similarly, we are not all compensated on an equal scale, even within our own state. Salaries vary greatly as does requirements of an employer of the level of education and expertise they seek in a paralegal. Some employers require a four-year Bachelor's degree while some want a school certification, and others want a national certification that we can get through NALA or NFPA. The way I see it, the only way to level out the playing field is for us to become state certified or regulated."
Cindy's motivation to be a paralegal is that it is always different. She can manage her own caseload as she sees fit. She is not micromanaged, and in addition, she enjoys career advising and teaching others in her field.
Where does Ms. Lopez see herself in five years' time? "Continuing to teach and advise paralegals both online and in the classroom. Also compiling a book for paralegals based on my years of experience as a paralegal, career advisor, and educator."
If Cindy were not a paralegal what would she be doing? "Writing, teaching, and mentoring. Which I am also doing, but not full-time."
Family Matters, Community Service, and Legal Role Models
Who are the people that inspired Cindy and why? "As I mentioned earlier, the paralegal who spoke at Brookdale Community College many years ago inspired me to be a paralegal. She was a pioneer in the field and at a time when most people did not even know what a paralegal was, she called herself a paralegal and opened her own office as an independent paralegal working for several attorneys and charging them by the hour. In life, the people that inspire me are those with innovative ideas and those who find new ways to make their lives more meaningful to them."
When asked if she thought of herself as a mentor, she said, "Yes. As soon as I started NJParalegal.com 14 years ago, I realized that is what I was becoming, intentionally or not." This is what inspired her to teach.
Cindy is a member of several professional organizations and takes part in volunteer activities. She was a member of the New Jersey Bar Association's Paralegal Ad-Hoc Committee for a few years. She is also on the Board of Directors for Brookdale Community College's Paralegal Department and helped with their accreditation with the American Bar Association. She has also spoken at many seminars and conventions on matters of ethics, careers, and resume writing for paralegals. In addition to the above, she was a committee member of her town's school district, where she helped prioritize school repairs from 2010-2012.
Cindy has accomplished a lot in her career. What is next for her? "In 2015, I have plans to start a new website for paralegals that focuses on providing career information and advice, such as recent news regarding the profession, advice on job searching, resume consultations and creating professional social media profiles. I will also continue to work with Fairleigh Dickinson University's Paralegal Studies department to develop their career services for their students and alumni. I am also exploring new opportunities to work with continuing education companies and conducting webinars, seminars, and mentoring for paralegals."
Summary: Cindy Lopez offers advice to future paralegals and aspires to inspire others to work in the paralegal field.
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