Thursday, February 26, 2009

Paralegal Profile: Nita Serrano, RP

Being a paralegal is a second career for many in the field, and the transition is often jarring as the new paralegal works to apply skills from her previous career to her budding legal career. For Nita Serrano, RP, a paralegal at Morgenstern & Herd, P.A. in Tampa, Fla. with almost 13 years of experience as a paralegal under her belt, her switch from the medical field to the legal field was not without its difficulties, but she has learned to navigate her career map and has found confidence in her skills as a paralegal.

Serrano had always been interested in the law, especially criminal law, but she began her professional life as a Certified Health Unit Coordinator in the Emergency Room/Trauma Center and Maternity Ward for two large Tampa Bay hospitals. Seeking more of a professional challenge, Serrano researched several career paths before she decided on becoming a paralegal. When she went to register for her paralegal courses, she overheard a student speaking with his advisor about a criminal law class. An admissions officer allowed Serrano to sit in on a class, and she was able to evaluate the criminal law course, which was taught by a state attorney. Serrano graduated from Florida Metropolitan University with an Associates degree in Paralegal Studies.

Despite her interest in law, Serrano was anxious about making the switch. "When I started out, I thought going from the medical field to the legal field would be next to impossible," she said. However, her previous medical career served as a bridge to her new paralegal career, especially since her first paralegal job was with a medical malpractice defense attorney, according to Serrano. "My medical background helped me tremendously, and when I was looking for a full time paralegal position, I got the first interview because of the medical background," she said.

Like most new paralegals, Serrano was nervous when she started her first job, but found that the longer she was in the field, the more confident she became. "When I first started working as a paralegal, I was green and was very shy and self conscious about my work, [and] I was afraid to ask questions and even more afraid to make a mistake," Serrano said. "Over the years, I have learned that there really are no dumb questions. I am no longer shy and quiet, and I am much more assertive now than I was 13 years ago. I am very confident in my work and feel that I am respected in the legal community. I have actually had attorneys call me up and ask me about statute of limitations and what I think of a particular case."

Serrano is confident now that she has made the right career move. "I absolutely love being a paralegal," she said. "I love a challenge, and I like to work with people and help people out." She notes that "[e]very day brings a new challenge, but that is one of the things I love about this career, [that] no two days are the same."

Her role models have played a part in her career success, and Serrano credits close friends who have been paralegals for many years as those role models. "[They] have provided me with great advice and guidance," she said.

Now working in civil litigation, personal injury, medical malpractice, and nursing home negligence in a small law firm with only two attorneys, Serrano also ran a successful freelance paralegal business for nearly five years. She considers that one of her most memorable career accomplishments. Serrano was the recipient of the Tampa Bay Paralegal Association's Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam (PACE) scholarship in 2006, and on March 16, 2007, Serrano took PACE and successfully became a Registered Paralegal (RP) through the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA).

Serrano's experience as a paralegal has taught her valuable lessons to help her produce quality work. "I learned several years ago to make a list of the '6 Most Important Things to Do' each day, [and] I still make a daily list of things to do. Sometimes there are more than 6, but I rank them in order of importance and carry over whatever I did not complete that day," she said. "I have also learned to repeat things back to an attorney to make sure I understood directions and what she wants done. I have completed projects the way I thought was logical, only to find out [that] he or she actually wanted it done differently, so when doing something the first time, I will show her how I am setting up a particular project early on so I am not wasting time redoing it later." Serrano also prides herself on her ability to find the proverbial needle in the haystack, the key document that sometimes the attorney overlooks.

Even with all her current success as a paralegal, Serrano still hopes to further her education and earn her Bachelors degree. In the meantime, she is an active member of the Tampa Bay Paralegal Association (TBPA), serving as the Second Vice President - Membership Chair, Luncheon Chair, and PACE Ambassador. As Chair of TBPA's Membership Committee, Serrano handles recruiting and retaining members, including distributing applications, sending retention and welcome letters, and speaking to members and non-members about the benefits of becoming a TBPA member, among numerous other duties. As the Luncheon Chair, Serrano is in charge of planning the association's monthly luncheons, from coordinating the menu to disseminating the information to TBPA's members. Serrano also served on the Planning Committee for the 2007 NFPA Annual Convention, which was held in Tampa in October. In addition, she is also a Florida Registered Paralegal under Florida's new Florida Registered Paralegal program and a member of the Florida Justice Association, an association that strives to protect the rights of individuals and consumers and hold corporations accountable to a high standard of ethics.

Serrano is married with three children. To supplement her income, instead of going the traditional Tupperware or Avon route, she launched her Gold Canyon business, stemming from her love of candles. Her debut party as a Gold Canyon Independent Demonstrator was on March 9, 2008, and she has found that being a Gold Canyon Independent Demonstrator has fit nicely around her full-time paralegal job and her family's schedule. In addition to candles, Serrano sells decorative home accessories, personal care products, and fragrances as part of her Gold Canyon business.

With her myriad of activities, full-time paralegal position, part-time business, and busy family, free time may seem scarce, but Serrano is an avid reader, and she takes advantage of Tampa's temperate climate by swimming on a regular basis. Her favorite time is spent with her family, though. "There's nothing more important to me than the time I spend with my family – watching my children play in the backyard, enjoying a quiet dinner with my spouse or everyone sharing popcorn during the latest animated DVD release," she said.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.