By Ellen Zacarias
Here at SDPA we are thrilled to present our Paralegal Q&A Series! Each Paralegal Q&A Series post will feature a paralegal answering questions about their career path and the type of work they do.
Our goal is to showcase the variety of individuals, areas, and working environments in the paralegal field. To students, prospective and working paralegals, there are many possible paths, and this is a chance to take a look at what's out there.
Robert Nguyen, Paralegal at the DA’s Office
Robert Nguyen is a paralegal at the District Attorney’s office in North County San Diego. He spoke at my paralegal graduation ceremony at UCSD Extension back in 2016, and his wise and candid remarks about the type of dedication it takes to be a paralegal has stuck with me throughout my career. For this Q&A, I asked him questions on his career path and his advice on getting a government job.
For his headshot, he presented the following, which bears an uncanny resemblance to him:
Photo above: Robert Nguyen
SDPA’s Paralegal Q&A with Robert Nguyen
Where do you work? Which department?
County of San Diego, District Attorney’s Office in regular channels.
How is your office organized? Work space?
The paralegals are assigned cubicles because office space is reserved for attorneys.
Which paralegal program did you attend? How long did it take you to finish the program?
I graduated from the UCSD Extension Program in September 2008. I was a part-time student and completed my program in 9 months.
What were you doing before? Tell us about your life before you decided to become a paralegal.
I worked as a teacher’s aide in a special education class. I was in the education career, but not able to complete my student teaching for reasons.
Why did you choose to become a paralegal?
I transitioned into the legal field as I was unable to move upward in my education career.
Was there a person in this field who inspired you? If so, who?
How’d you get started in your paralegal career? How did you get/find your first job?
I interned at the District Attorney’s Office after graduating my paralegal program. After several months of volunteer work, I applied for a position at a civil litigation firm by online research (Indeed.com).
Which was your favorite class in paralegal school and why?
I think it was Tort? My memory is fuzzy, this was over ten years ago.
What have you applied the most that you learned in paralegal school?
Play nice with others.
What is something that you learned post-graduation (outside of school)? (Skill, technique, piece of wisdom, software, how to do something, etc)
Electronic filing in PACER in US District Court and Bankruptcy Court.
Why did you join SDPA, and why do you stay?
Initially I joined to get networking tips and the MCLEs. I’m staying for the occasional MCLE that I’m interested in attending.
Describe a typical day at work.
Be crabby in the morning, check VM, check e-mail, check fax machine, save phone notes. Answer phone calls, continue to be crabby until noon, work on items inside my inbox. Engage with attorneys when necessary.
What is the most challenging part of being a paralegal? How do you deal with stress?
Tactfully disagreeing with an attorney’s decision and carrying out the same instruction you disagree with. I don’t deal with stress well, so usually I’ll bottle it up and get a headache later.
What do you think is the future of the paralegal profession? What are some trends you’ve noticed in the paralegal profession?
We have a future because we get things done, little things and big things. My viewpoint is isolated as to trends since I work in government and we're not known for being trendy there.
It can be hard to acquire experience for paralegal positions, especially as an entry-level paralegal. What are some tips you have for someone who is looking to find a job as a paralegal?
1. Timeliness with tasks and assignments
2. Efficiency with the firm’s resources
3. Don’t hurt anyone’s feelings*
4. Be prepared
*certain exceptions may exist; confer with your supervisor
Many paralegal students express an interest in working with the government. Do you have any advice on how to find a government paralegal position?
It's really tough to get into a government job. A simple thing to do is to sign up for notices when there is a job posting for that position. That way the candidate can apply to take the civil service exam for it. A harder suggestion is, apply for a lower ranking position and work at a lower rank, then work your way up. That tip is not for everyone. It does mean working for less pay than a paralegal with the anticipation that you'll be eligible to apply for an opening potentially in the future. Lots of ifs.
That was very informative. Thank you for sharing with us, Robert!
Stay tuned for our next Paralegal Q&A! If you are a SDPA member and a working paralegal, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to participate.