There are two national organizations that benefit the paralegal profession. The National Association of Legal Assistants and the American Alliance of Paralegals offer industry news and education opportunities to paralegals across the country. Local organizations, however, offer members invaluable benefits. One such organization is Palmetto Paralegal Association, which counts CompuScripts Court Reporters as a sustaining member. PPA is devoted to enhancing recognition, promoting professional development, and updating employment information within the paralegal profession in the Midlands of South Carolina.
Paralegals are distinguished from other legal staff by their education and experience, which qualifies them to perform work of a legal nature under the supervision of an attorney. But enhancing recognition of the profession can be a tall order when people are unfamiliar with the title. “When I meet someone for the first time and tell them what I do for a living, I often get a blank stare with no recognition of what that is,” said Linnea Hann, PPA secretary. “Or worse, they think I drive an ambulance! What I enjoy about PPA is the chance to connect with other paralegals in the community who understand my job.” That sense of comradery is echoed by PPA’s 2005 Paralegal of the Year, Tammie Pope.
“I joined PPA in 1990 and have been a member ever since,” Ms. Pope said. “For me the two most beneficial components of PPA membership are the networking opportunities with others in the legal profession and the training we receive at our monthly meetings and annual seminars. I love having the opportunity to meet other paralegals, attorneys, and vendors at our meetings whom I would otherwise probably never meet.”
The Palmetto Paralegal Association also works to enhance the recognition of paralegals outside the profession. Since its founding in 1988, PPA has worked to maintain relationships with law-related organizations, paralegal education facilities, and local charities. PPA has partnered with the South Carolina Young Lawyers Division at their annual Wills Clinic, collected Easter baskets for area children’s homes, and raised donations for Harvest Hope Food Bank. In 2013, the PPA hosted its first annual 50 Shades of Pink, an after-work social for attorneys, paralegals, legal support staff, law students and paralegal students from Midlands Tech, South University, and the University of South Carolina. This event had a dual purpose of raising breast cancer awareness among the legal community as well as raising funds for the annual Palmetto Health Walk for Life.
Another benefit of PPA membership is the opportunity for professional development. The organization’s monthly luncheon meetings offer members a convenient way to obtain continuing legal education credit and stay current with new developments in the law and issues confronting the paralegal profession. “The CLE opportunities have also been very helpful to me,” said Laura Hawkinson, PPA president. I have learned a lot over the years, but I continue to take away new information from every meeting and seminar I attend. PPA’s members have a wide variety of backgrounds and an incredible amount of experience. If I don’t personally know the answer to a question, I know that I can probably find someone in PPA who does. Being a member of PPA gives me an extra layer of support.”
Finally, PPA members have the benefit of receiving Midlands-area employment information. Local employers are encouraged to advertise positions with the PPA, and job listings are published to members via email and during monthly membership meetings. PPA also conducts a members’ salary survey at regular intervals.
With so many benefits of membership, it’s easy to understand why Palmetto Paralegal Association is still going strong after 27 years. “Being a part of a professional organization has allowed me to grow as a person and in my career by gaining knowledge through continuing education and networking with other professionals,” said Kelli Spinks, PPA president-elect. “A paralegal can be a vital part of a law firm or corporation, and our association is working hard to define what a paralegal is and is capable of, in order to make it a recognized profession in our state. It is important to me for the legal community to understand how to correctly utilize an educated paralegal and how we can benefit the legal profession.”