Herzing instructor Paula Callaghan has long been a key figure in the Ontario paralegal industry.
Licensed in 2011, she has spent many years running her own practice, training paralegal students, and pushing for greater recognition of what the profession has to offer.
Recently, her efforts earned her the 2022 William J. Simpson Distinguished Paralegal Award from the Law Society of Ontario!
We spoke to Paula to learn more about her career and the work she’s done to mentor and support the next generation of paralegals.
Here’s what she had to say.
Q. Paula, can you share a bit about your professional background?
Paula: I was licensed as a paralegal in 2011 and worked for a criminal attorney for a year before going into private practice.
In Ottawa, we have what we call the County of Carleton Law Association (CCLA). I started the paralegal committee there back in 2014, and I have made great advancements for the paralegal membership. I am actually the first elected trustee of the board of directors of the CCLA, which is typically lawyer domain.
I advocate for the paralegal profession within the association and throughout Ontario. I’ve always maintained my contact with and involvement in the governance of the profession. I’m always trying to advance the recognition of paralegals in Ontario and build collegiality between lawyers and paralegals.
I started teaching with Herzing back in 2016, and I’ve been the paralegal program coordinator for both the Ottawa and Toronto campuses since October 2021.
I won the CCLA Paralegal Award in 2021. And then the treasurer called me a couple weeks ago and told me I’d won the distinguished paralegal for the Law Society of this year, the William J. Simpson Distinguished Paralegal Award.
Q. What inspired you to become a paralegal?
Paula: Before I got married and had children, I was actually in the medical administration field. But one of my children was born with a bad heart condition, so I was not able to work.
When he got better, it had been a long time since I had been out of school. The plan had always been to go to law school when I got married, but life gets busy making other plans, right?
So I took care of my son, and when he got better and was a teenager, I needed to do something for me. Paralegal training seemed like a good fit at the time. I was 48 and going back to school.
Q. What are you most proud of accomplishing in your career?
Paula: I think I’m most proud of achieving everything I wanted for paralegals within the CCLA.
When I started, the association didn’t have an award for paralegals, only lawyers. And paralegals weren’t allowed to vote for our trustees, even though we were valid members. I got all of that changed.
I also take pride in the students who go on to be licensed paralegals. I kind of feel like a proud mother as my chickens leave the nest and go on to have success. I contributed somehow to making them good and professional.
I’ve been in court and heard a judge say to my former student, “So where did you go to school? Who was your teacher?” And then when they mention my name, the judge says, “I knew it right away.”
That’s a proud moment.
Q. What was it like starting your own paralegal practice?
Paula: What I found most eye-opening is the running of the business part of it. Even though in our practice management courses we teach you how to do a business plan, in reality it’s a lot of work.
It’s not 9 to 5. Once I’ve done all the substantive stuff for my cases, there’s all the accounting business that comes with my practice.
When you first start out, you spend hours and hours because you’re constantly putting your case together and searching case law. And I said to my students yesterday that while it used to take me five hours to find the leading cases, now I already know what they are because I’ve been doing it repetitively.
I started at home and was able to build my practice enough to rent an office. And it became word of mouth from client to client to client. And that’s how my practice grew.
Mentorship is huge in this business when you first start out. I was fortunate enough to have really good mentors. So my first pleading was like, “Oh, can you take a look at this for me?” And they were like “Yeah, sure, no problem.”
It’s about building camaraderie within the profession and not seeing everybody as competition.
Q. What advice would you give to a student who was considering the paralegal program?
Paula: Believe in yourself. Don’t be afraid to take on a new challenge.
I just had this lecture with my students because they’re starting their first substantive course in the program. I said, “This is all a new language for you. You’re not going to get 100 per cent in this course, so don’t expect it. Don’t put that stress on yourself.
“We will get you through this. This is all new, and I’m here to help you.”
I often equate it to when I went back to school when I was 48 years old. There were times when I sat there and cried thinking, “I can’t do this.”
There were many days I thought of quitting. But then I finally hit my stride, and my marks went up.
If I can do it and graduate with honours, so can you.
LEARN MORE ABOUT THE PARALEGAL PROGRAM
Herzing College’s paralegal program is designed to fully prepare you for licensing in just 12 months.
You get comprehensive training in all aspects of law covered on the licensing exam and learn about running your own practice. You also complete an internship in a legal setting.
Our grads have been hired by several organizations throughout Ontario, including Bekiaris Law Firm, Smart & Biggar, Al Martin Associates, and the Department of Justice.
Click below to get complete program details and chat live with an admissions advisor.