Jessica Kubiak is the Senior Paralegal in the Domestic Relations department of Phillips and Mille. She also is the president of the Cleveland Association of Paralegals (CAP). She was kind enough to sit down with me and tell me a little bit about herself and her paralegal profession.
Q: So how long have you been a paralegal?
A: 16 years
Q: Where did you start out?
A: First job in a law firm was a small four person firm and they did all kinds of law. I quickly found out that I did not like asbestos work. I didn’t center my career on family law when I first started, but I got a taste of it. I graduated from Lakeland Community College with an Associates Degree in Paralegal Studies, and I am going to Cleveland State to finish my English Degree.
In my first job, I got introduced to the CLAD system, because of all of the asbestos work at the time. I then went on to become a child support enforcement officer for 6 years. That skill set helped me when I got my next job in a small law firm where I did focus on family law.
Being a child support enforcement officer taught me so many things. I know the ins and outs of the system. When I call over there, I know what screen they are looking at, I know the terminology, the guidelines, and all of that helps me get my job done. Attorneys find that very useful because it’s not something that they generally are as familiar with.
Q: How long have you been OSBA certified, and what made you want to get that certification?
A: I got my OSBA certification in 2011 in Family Law. First, one of the attorneys I worked for had brought it up at one point, and I think it was newer at that time. You had to have at least 6 years of experience at that point, and I only had four, so I was short on experience. I didn’t know if OSBA would consider my time as a child support enforcement officer, but when I contacted them they said that it absolutely qualified. So I signed up to take the exam.
I have no idea what I was thinking, but I signed up to take the exam and the review course down in Columbus right after having rotator cuff surgery! I thought I’d be able to drive myself, it would be all good…no way! I was in a contraption, it was crazy. So I just got the materials and studied off of those, took the test, and then four weeks later I found out I had passed. I was so relieved!
Q: Was the exam very difficult?
I would say that it definitely requires study. The experience that you have at your job definitely plays into it.
There was a question that I’ll never forget, it was about common law marriage which was gone in the late eighties or early nineties. I was so excited about it because we were actually handling a case that dealt with that exactly. Some of the things I had to really study were legal research (I don’t do legal research all the time), citations and a couple of other things that I had to refresh myself on. So I would say study hard, but your work experience definitely helps you with the whole thing.
Q: As a certified paralegal what does your day generally look like?
Right now I work under one attorney, but she is out of our office 3 days a week and in the office 2 days a week. So usually the first thing I do when I come in is check my emails because if she has worked late, I’ll have some to-dos from her. The next thing I do is check the calendar to see what is going on for the day and what I’ll need to get ready, my to-do list of what I need to do on cases. I prioritize the to-do list and I’ll check her calendar for upcoming cases and everything that we will need to prepare for that. I handle all of her phone calls that come into the office when she isn’t there. There are a lot of phone calls and emails that are exchanged between her and me about things we need to do or get done. The nice thing is that I sit right outside her office, so I can answer most questions. We have empty space that I could have if I wanted, but sitting outside of her office, I hear every conversation that she has. I know when she talked to the client, and what the conversation was. I also handle getting documents together and down to the courthouse. I also help with the firm’s in-house collections, which is not a top priority for me, but if I have any time where there isn’t a lot of domestic work to do, or my attorney is in court and won’t need me right away, then I’ll work on the collections. I have also been helping with the firm’s marketing and website.
Q: You wear a lot of hats!
A: Yes! Definitely a lot of hats, but the majority of my time is spent on domestic relations, making sure my attorney has what she needs. I schedule everything like hearings on the calendar and docket them, make sure all of the documents are together and we and the clients are prepared. I talk to the clients who have never been to court before. I prep them regarding what to wear (business casual, not jeans) where to park, what to bring, and what they can expect.
Q: Do your clients find it overwhelming sometimes?
A: Yes, they do. It can definitely be overwhelming, but we try and help them through that. A lot of my job is actually hand holding. I get a lot of calls from emotional people, especially in cases involving kids. So a lot of it is talking the client down from that ledge, letting them know that everything is ok, not to worry, we have it taken care of.
Q: Are those calls emotionally taxing?
A: I like to help people, which is one of the reasons that family law was attractive to me. And in family law, I really feel like you need to disconnect. I have to leave my emotions outside of it because I have to be able to help the attorney think logically as to how to resolve the matter. So I’m not going to get wrapped up in ‘Aunt Mabel’s antique vase that was hidden and now I can’t find’ or the dog. Those are things that I have to get them to step back from and realize that it’s not important right now; I’ll tell them that I’ll make a note for the attorney but let’s really focus on getting this important thing done. Things like getting the kids to counseling or what you need to do to move out of the house – I try and refocus their energies where they really need it. It is hard because I’m tearing years of your life apart, I know that it’s hard. I’m equipped to take those phone calls on because it frees up the attorney to focus on what she needs to and get the situation resolved.
It can be really hard though. There are some days when I go home and say, “Ok, I don’t want to hear anything from anyone for ten minutes!”
Q: So is it hard to keep that separate from your house?
A: No, not at all. At my old firm, I did have one client who would call overstep their bounds. He somehow got my cell phone number and would call me at all hours – 10am, 1am. It took the attorney that I worked for to put him in his place and tell him he could not call me outside of work hours. I set my time at home as time with my family, not the time for answering work calls that are never an emergency.
Contact Jessica Kubiak at email@example.com . She can answer any questions that you may have about the Association.
This article was written by Michelle Cady-Cook. She is the Director of Marketing and part owner of Cady Reporting (a WBENC company). She is a sustaining member of the Cleveland Association of Paralegals, and is currently serving as Chair of the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association Green Initiative Committee and Chair of the Follow Up Committee for the National Network of Reporting Companies (NNRC). She has been officially involved in the legal community for over 10 years. Within the framework of Cady Reporting Services, she partners with locally owned court reporting firms across the country to continually improve the practice of litigation.
Cady Reporting Services is located at 1468 W. 9th St. Cleveland, OH 44113. Our court reporters and videographers personally serve the state of Ohio, and we daily schedule court reporters and other litigation support services through our partners in the NNRC. The National Network of Reporting Companies is your personal connection to coverage wherever and whenever you need it.