I’ve been thinking about how to encourage paralegals to become independent and enjoy the benefits of owning a legal services business, and I was fortunate enough to have a conversation with Kerry Spence, a certified paralegal and registered Legal Document Assistant (LDA). As one of the first paralegals certified in California by the American Bar Association, Kerry has been both a pioneer and a leader in her profession. She has worked for some of Northern California’s most respected trial attorneys, and has been in private practice since 1982 providing services to the public (People’s Legal Docs) and to attorneys (The Paralegal Offices of Kerry Spence). She also teaches other paralegals how to operate a successful Paralegal/LDA business, and operates Spence Consulting for Legal Professionals. She inherited her love for the law and making it accessible to all from her father, well-known trial lawyer Gerry Spence.
We asked Kerry to talk about what she enjoys about being an independent paralegal/LDA, and where she sees the profession going in the next 10-20 years.
What do you enjoy most about being an independent paralegal?
I enjoy helping my clients through stressful situations in a compassionate and cost-effective way, and making their legal options less confusing. My goal is to be their advocate and restore them to wholeness as best as I can.
Why is being an advocate for people important to you?
I think I was born that way! My whole family has always fought for the underdog – my father, my siblings, and my aunts and uncles. My dad used to take me with him to the court room; the seed was planted in fertile soil and just grew in me. I found my passion is making the law accessible to people. It belongs to us, after all, yet so many people can’t access it, either because they can’t afford a lawyer or because they can’t find one who will take their case. I decided to pursue my passion by becoming a paralegal, and have been happily doing this now for 40 years.
For some of those years I worked for attorneys. The role of paralegals was designed to reduce the cost to clients by using them to do certain tasks at a lower cost per hour than the attorney would charge. Unfortunately, there are some attorneys who use their paralegals to do a lot of the work, but charge their clients the attorney price. This caused me to see the need for people to have access to independent paralegals who can do a lot to reduce costs, and who can also refer clients to attorneys for legal consultation on a limited basis, when needed.
Would you give us an example of a particularly satisfying case where you were able to help your client?
I had a case just yesterday involving a woman who is going through mediation with her husband. She could not afford a lawyer, so she came to me for help. In one hour, I helped her organize her documents and helped her come up with a strategy, which was to use an attorney/paralegal combination. Working with an attorney for legal advice on a limited basis, and a paralegal to assist with the court documentation helps cut costs tremendously. She had been unaware that she could hire an attorney just for consultation purposes. I was glad that I could ease her burden somewhat by providing her the help she needed at a cost she could afford, and to do so in a supportive way.
These days, about 80% of all divorces are done by self-representation. But the legal system really batters people because they don’t know how it operates or what documents they need; and they don’t know what resources are available. This is where an attorney/paralegal team can really make a difference in helping people to create a divorce agreement where the rights of both parties are protected.
Where do you see the paralegal profession going in the next 10-20 years?
I predict a boom for paralegal jobs in attorney offices, due to downsizing the number of attorneys in the offices to save costs. As for independent LDAs, there is a great need for them, but many paralegals can’t see themselves as entrepreneurs and feel they must be under an attorney’s supervision. However, if they can break out of that mindset, there could be a great future for them running their own legal documents businesses. Currently there are only a few thousand LDAs in California, so the need is definitely there. With 80% of the people going through the family law court system trying to do it on their own, the market for a way to get assistance at a more affordable cost than an attorney is huge.
I feel grateful every day that I can get up and go to work, and do something that touches peoples’ lives to really make a difference for them. I love helping them to make sense out of everything – that really keeps me going. The law is lacking compassion – and I want to change that by making compassionate connections with my clients.
Are you a paralegal who would like to earn a good living helping people get through divorce in a peaceful and cost-effective way? You are invited to visit our website to learn how you can do just that with your own divorce legal services business as part of the Divorce With Dignity Network! Why not check it out today?
The author of this blog is not an attorney and the information contained in these blogs should not be considered legal advice. The information provided here is based on the experience of the author and some of her clients whose actual names are not mentioned. Do not hesitate to seek the advice of an attorney if you have any legal questions.