Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Paralegal Profile: Laura Szychowski

Education, experience, and dedication come together for Laura Szychowski, a paralegal with 18 years of experience in Buffalo, N.Y. Beginning as a products liability paralegal in the late 1980s, Szychowski not only has almost two decades of experience, but also holds three degrees. In her off hours, Szychowski can be found promoting the paralegal profession through her local association, crafting, or spending time with her family, something she treasures.

Her interest in law began during her high school years. She took a business law class, which she loved. In college, Szychowski participated in every aspect of mock jury trials, which served to fan the flames of her legal career interests. "[I was] playing the roles of the attorneys, witnesses and jury, and it was fun," she said.

Szychowski originally wanted to teach political science, but the siren song of a legal career pulled her into what would be a fulfilling career as a paralegal. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Legal Studies and Political Science from the State University of New York at Buffalo in 1988. Career services at SUNY Buffalo encouraged graduates to become a part of the paralegal profession, and through a headhunter, Szychowski found her first paralegal job. Two years later, she earned a paralegal certificate from Adelphi University in Garden City, N.Y. Not one to shy away from challenges, that same year, Szychowski also received her graduate degree in Political Science from SUNY Stony Brook.

Currently, Szychowski is employed by Phillips Lytle LLP, a large statewide firm founded in 1834, with offices in Buffalo, Rochester, Chautauqua (Jamestown and Fredonia), Garden City, Albany, and New York City. The firm consists of over 170 attorneys and 40 paralegals, along with other support staff, totaling 450 people among its offices.

Working out of the Buffalo office, just across the bridge from Canada, Szychowski aims to keep her goals "simple." In her career, she wants to achieve three things: to be a respected paralegal that produces quality work product, to mentor young paralegals, and to help promote the paralegal profession.

Throughout her career, Szychowski has achieved her first goal, evidenced in the progression she has seen in her career with her assignments. "As junior paralegal, most case work was organizational, and fact gathering. As a senior paralegal, case work is substantive – such as drafting pleadings, reviewing case facts, digests of deposition testimony, assisting with preparations of motions, and participation at trials," she said.

Being a senior paralegal has also helped her achieve her second goal. She enjoys mentoring young paralegals and teaching them all of the skills that she has learned over the years. In fact, some of these young paralegals inspire her a great deal. "I am open to learning new things, and appreciate the experience of seasoned trial attorneys, other paralegal colleagues, and new paralegals that have enthusiasm and bright ideas," she said.

Szychowski works on her third goal through her position as Bar Liaison for the Western New York Paralegal Association (WNYPA). In this position, Szychowski develops and maintains communications with the New York State Bar Association and local bar associations, in order to create a mutually beneficial relationship.

Gaining experience means having the opportunity to create notable accomplishments, and Szychowski's experience, along with her dedication, has allowed her to literally win cases. In one matter, she spent six months compiling and rearranging raw data into a database format in order to calculate damages on a commercial case. Her hard work and commitment were well-rewarded, according to Szychowski. "The re-arrangement baffled the opposing counsel, and won [us] the case," she said.

In another matter, Szychowski faced her most challenging assignment: setting up an off-site office in a hotel conference room for an out-of-area trial. "I felt like a hotel concierge," she said. The challenge did not faze Szychowski, however. She was able to ensure that the room had computers, printers, desks, chairs, phones, food, and land lines -- everything necessary to create a home base for the legal team. In addition, she kept track of 40 boxes of exhibits and ushered witnesses in for trial preparation.

Over her career, Szychowski expected more regulation and/or licensure for the paralegal profession. With regulation comes recognition and respect, but most jurisdictions have been slow to adopt formal procedures for regulating paralegals, and the interest in such programs seems minimal. The slow progress has frustrated Szychowski, and she is "disappointed that the recognition and interest for regulation of the paralegal profession has been slow to develop."

But, knowing what she knows now, would she become a paralegal all over again? "Definitely," said Szychowski. "I love being a paralegal and enjoy my profession and job." She is proud of her profession, and she delights in her work.

Szychowski, 42, unwinds from her rewarding but demanding job by listening to jazz music, reading, watching a family movie, or playing family games. She has been married for three years, and she loves playing with her young son, Ryan. Spending time with her family and friends is important to Szychowski and is one of her favorite things to do outside of work.

She is also an avid crafter, especially when it comes to scrap booking. Szychowski is also an accomplished cook, eager to try new tricks in the kitchen. "I love to collect cookbooks and try new recipes," she said.

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