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Pioneer Paralegal Blazes Trail
[by Regan Morris] One of the ﬁrst paralegals in the country, Carole Bruno studied at the prestigious University of West Los Angeles School of Law Paralegal Program. She has worked in litigation and law ﬁrm marketing and recently started writing full time. Her fourth book on paralegals is due out early next year. LawCrossing talks with Ms. Bruno about the paralegal profession.
Carole Bruno is interested in the details of paralegal work, the secrets and techniques behind the best paralegals. For her fourth book on paralegals, Ms. Bruno has sought out the best paralegals across the country and created a panel of four expert judges to decide on the final 15, who will be profiled in her book, “ Lessons From the Top Paralegal Experts: The 15 Most Successful Paralegals in America and What You Can Learn From Them.” Ms. Bruno has narrowed the playing field down to 20 paralegals and is writing summaries to send to the four judges: Teri Cannon, an attorney, paralegal educator, author, and Dean of the John F. Kennedy Law School; William P. Statsky, attorney, paralegal educator, and author; James Wilber, Altman Weil law office management consultant; and Gary Melhuish, the paralegal administrator with Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobsen LLP, who was profiled here on LawCrossing last week. “It’s going to be a very unusual book because there’s nothing like this,” she said. “It’s not just going to be a success story about these people, but it’s going to be their secrets of how they do their work.” The book will be sold in bookstores and will focus on major areas of law and will be published by Delmar Learning, a division of Thomson Learning Inc, and will be released next year. “So a person who is a student or an experienced paralegal can pick up some tips and
techniques and hidden secrets from these people. So essentially there’ll be a chapter about each expert, each paralegal expert,” she said. “And for someone who is not sure they want to be a paralegal, you pick it up and get a good idea of what it’s like.” Ms. Bruno, who is now 62 and has been writing full time since 1999 from her home in Northern California, posts news about the book and judges on her website, www.carolebruno.com. She also takes preorders for the book through the site. She initially wanted to go to law school, but her now ex-husband felt threatened by the idea, and she compromised by becoming a paralegal. She still has the Los Angeles Times article about the “new profession” and growing ranks of paralegals. Ms. Bruno started writing about 25 years ago when she was president of the Georgia Association of Legal Assistants, now known as the Georgia Paralegal Association. While president, she received a form letter from a publisher saying there was a need for a national paralegal handbook and would she be interested in writing one. The letter had been sent to association presidents across the country, and Ms. Bruno knew it would be a competitive field. She felt she had little chance of getting the contract. But she gave it a go, sending in a short biography of herself, an outline, a sample chapter, and a table of contents.
sandbags tied to her legs. “That’s what they did then. They weighted down my feet, I guess, to pull down my back,” she said. “I said, ‘Oh yeah, I can really celebrate now!’” Eventually she did celebrate. Ms. Bruno took six months’ leave of absence from work and taught herself to write. She had written for paralegal newsletters but felt she needed more training. She read a lot of books about writing and wrote the Paralegal’s Litigation Handbook, which was published in 1980 by Prentice-Hall Inc. Later she wrote the Standard Legal Secretary’s Handbook, and the second edition of the Paralegal’s Litigation Handbook came out in 1993. She has also dabbled in fiction and hopes to do more fiction writing in the future. “But it’s hard; this comes easy to me.” Ms. Bruno went back to work in a litigation firm in Atlanta after writing the book in 1979 but said she felt frustrated in the job because she felt she had risen to the top and had nowhere left to go. A few months later she quit and started a paralegal temporary staffing company, which had been her dream since her time at the university. Her company, Legal Support Services Inc., was the first of its kind in the United States. “My concept was to hire out temps but, quite
She planned to celebrate if she got the contract. She got it. Only the celebrations were muted because she found out she’d won while in the hospital with a sore back and
frankly, I am not a business person and I didn’t manage the finances very well,” she said.
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She hired some paralegals as recruiters but said they lacked experience, and she was struggling to raise her teenage children and run the business. “After about a year, I cried but I had to close the doors,” she said. “It wasn’t something I wanted to do, I found out.” She then started doing seminars across the country to train paralegals, giving lectures at universities and hotels. With her first book, Prentiss-Hall had flown Ms. Bruno to New Jersey, and she said the vice president of the company and others there taught her a lot about marketing. That experience paid off. In 1986, Ms. Bruno became the first in-house law firm marketing director in Georgia with the firm Arnall & Golden. “I joined the National Association of Law Firm Marketing Directors. And that was a lot of fun because our firm joined a group of law firms all over the country called UNILAW,” she said. “What these firms did all together all over the country was they shared networking contacts. So in other words if you were a member of this UNILAW and you had a potential client, somebody in another state, that wanted a law firm, and one of our law firms was in UNILAW, we referred them.” She did that for two years and then moved to Honolulu to be near her first grandchild; she now has five. While in Honolulu, she worked in marketing at a country club but said she missed the paralegal field. “And then I decided to retire and just write and go back to my paralegal roots,” she said. “Basically my loyalty is to paralegals, and the profession has grown so incredibly fast. It’s just amazing.” She says the number-one quality needed to be a good paralegal is assertiveness.
“I just wrote an article for the Paralegal Reporter on how to increase your salary of up to $10,000 without changing jobs,” she said. “A lot of people used to have to job hop in order to get a raise. Nowadays if people just assert themselves--you know, keep track of what they’ve done during the year and keep a binder of their accomplishments--they can get a raise.” She said attorneys can be tough to work for, and if a paralegal is not assertive, they will struggle to advance. “I don’t mean aggressive. I just mean stand up for yourself and ask for what you want,” she said. “They can’t be a mouse; they can’t be a doormat. If they stick themselves in a room and just manipulate documents and organize documents, that’s what they’ll do forever. And they’ll end up being just totally bored if they’re intelligent at all. And I just assume that they are if they got into the profession.”