Jennifer Smith-Sutphin’s Journey to Becoming a Paralegal

Jennifer, a woman with blond hair, wears a black blouse.By the Communications Committee

Jennifer is a Certified Paralegal in North Carolina and South Carolina and has been a paralegal for 25 years. She also received her Advanced Certified Paralegal Certification in Trial Practice, Land Use, and Real Property through the National Association of Legal Assistants. Jennifer attended the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and received her Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice in 1998. She is a Manager of Legal Services with the Office of the City Attorney in Greensboro, North Carolina. She has worked there since 2010.

What are your major duties as a paralegal?

There are a lot of duties performed in my job. I handle all high-level Human Resource matters. I manage daily activities such as coordinating tasks between multiple personnel to ensure tasks are assigned, tracked, and completed in a timely manner. I supervise three senior paralegals, one paralegal, one electronic records librarian and all roster positions. I also work with outside parties for the purchase of furniture, equipment, supplies, storage, and office renovations. I develop and administer the office budget and review and approve financial transactions. I am responsible for maintaining several fiscal and year-end reports for the Finance Director regarding outside litigation fees for budgetary and tax filings. I process and track invoices from outside legal representation. I coordinate and prepare contracts initiated within the office and am the manager for multiple software systems. Additionally, I manage incoming public records requests and records retention schedule(s).

I am also responsible for performing paralegal duties such as preparing periodic and special reports and a variety of legal documents and pleadings, title searches, legal research, and litigation assistance. I serve as the office liaison for IT, Wellness, M/WBE, Benefits Assistant, and Employee Resource Group(s). Lastly, I direct, train, motivate, and evaluate assigned employees in compliance with federal, state and local laws/regulations and Human Resources policies. I provide guidance to ensure employees become more effective with programs/methodologies and grow in technological and procedural efficiencies.

What’s one thing you’d like to see the NCBA Paralegal Division do or accomplish for its membership?

Research ways that paralegals can be elevated in the profession by providing examples of various or alternative career paths (based on certifications, experience, education, etc.).

How did you choose the paralegal field?

I have always enjoyed the legal field. I knew that based on my lack of athleticism that being in law enforcement would be a stretch. I decided that I could be involved in a different way by working as a paralegal.

What do you do to relax (and why)?

Relaxing does not come easy for me. This is something that I strive to do better in the future. For now, I am most relaxed when I can take a long walk or do something with my dog.

What would you tell someone who is thinking about becoming a paralegal?

That it is a great career and you will have a wide variety of areas that will be open for you to explore. There is the possibility to become a subject matter expert in a particular field such as civil or criminal litigation, corporate law, employment law, family law, real estate, and the list goes on. The potential for growth is increasing through various paralegal levels and management opportunities. The paralegal community is very supportive, and you will have excellent resources both personally and professionally throughout your career.

What do you think will change in the paralegal field over the next five years?

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the increase in states approving limited licensing.

What sort of trends do you see in the legal field that will bring change in the near future?

Artificial Intelligence and technology are rapidly changing and paralegals need to stay up to date with the latest developments to help guide their attorneys, peers, and office staff. Through AI, paralegals could be instrumental in initiating new approaches to how things can be done more efficiently within the office.

What do you do when you aren’t working?

I enjoy spending time with my dog, family, and friends at the beach.

Is there anything else you want Paralegal Division membership to know about you?

I have had an opportunity to explore human resources as part of my current position. My employer encouraged and supported me in becoming a certified HR professional by obtaining my PHR, through the HR Certification Institute and IMPA-CP, through the Public Sector HR Association.

The Paralegal Division Blog is managed by the Division’s Communications Committee. Via the blog, the Communications Committee provides information written by attorneys, paralegals, and other experts designed specifically for paralegals in the areas of substantive law, ethics, technology, paralegal practice advice, and more. If you are interested in signing up to submit a blog post on a future date, you can do so here. When you are ready to submit a blog post, you can do so by using this form.

You may also wish to participate in the Division by using our virtual suggestion box to submit suggestions/ideas to the Division Council, nominating a paralegal for Paralegal Spotlight, or completing the Paralegal Spotlight Questionnaire if you are nominating yourself. If you are interested in volunteering with the Communications Committee, please contact the Communications Committee Chair at [email protected]. If you are interested in joining other division committees, you can review a list of committees and sign up here.