The Exclusive Newsletter for the Paralegal Community.

Interview with Author Charlsye Smith Diaz, PhD

The Legaco Express for Paralegals (LEX):

1. As the coordinator for Technical and Professional Writing at the University of Maine, what do you recommend to paralegals do to improve their writing skills?

Charlsye Smith Diaz:

Paralegals tend to be very good writers, but sometimes working alongside attorneys who had worked for three years in law school to sharpen their own writing skills can be intimidating.

First, recognize that some words like "notwithstanding" and "instant case" and "heretofore" are important in legal writing, but not when writing anything else. It’s important to learn to toggle between writing in the legal profession for other legal professionals and writing that occurs anywhere else.

Sometimes, you may be a terrific writer, but often you are not writing for, or even as, yourself. You are writing for a firm — and sometimes a specific attorney — who has a specific tone (and strategy) that needs to be used. Changes made to your writing (the dreaded red pen) often are not meant as a critique of your writing, but are meant to bring it in line with the attorney’s own tone or strategy. Try to take in the changes made to your writing and learn to use these strategies when writing for this attorney.

If you make repeated mistakes, such as confusing words like "then" and "than," or spelling the same words incorrectly, or formatting things improperly, try to use a cheat sheet when you edit. First, draft the document as you normally would and then go back through it, using your checklist, to find your mistakes. Eventually, you will no longer need the checklist, but everyone needs to edit their work.

The best thing to know is that we learn to write by writing. The more you write, the better your writing becomes.


2. How did you find your current job and what advice would you give to paralegals who are trying to land their first or a new paralegal job?

Charlsye Smith Diaz:

I work with many students trying to find their first job or a new job. The most successful do two things. First, they build experience in they type of work they want to do. Students who find success volunteer and then use that experience to lead to paid part-time work and then parlay that into a full-time job.

The second things the most successful students do is to see how their contacts might be useful. We give so much attention to networking these days, but I find it very interesting how an aunt or an uncle can be the most valuable contact for an internship or a job.


3. The legal world is changing more than ever. What do you think could be the greatest opportunities for paralegals in the years to come?

Charlsye Smith Diaz:

I have always believed that paralegals can write their own job descriptions and futures. I believe this now more than ever. A paralegal can have an excellent career as a paralegal or can change directions and do something else. The key is to remain engaged with the profession and always stretching to learn new things. It’s in the efforts made to learn that new connections and new opportunities are found.