After nearly a year at the helm of the Legal Staff Support Group for the Consumer Attorneys Association of Los Angeles (CAALA), veteran GB&W legal assistant Sheri Dempsey is reflecting on the growth her team has achieved. “We definitely exceeded our goals,” said Dempsey who credits the successful seminars for the increase in interest. The group tripled its attendance at the annual CAALA Vegas Convention from 50 participants in years past to 150 attendants in 2018.
The four-person team, which Dempsey chairs, is responsible for organizing four local seminars a year. The discussion on ‘how to prepare a minor’s compromise petition’ had the most interest and drew the biggest crowd. “Anytime an attorney settles a case on behalf of a minor it’s a complicated and costly application process,” said Dempsey. “It requires specific expertise because the courts can easily reject the application if there’s a simple mistake.”
Paralegals and support staff are the backbone of every thriving law firm and need to have the most updated information on procedures and processes to assist attorneys in meeting filing deadlines. According to Dempsey, one of the most pressing issues that support staffers will face in the upcoming year is mandatory e-filing. While submitting documents online means less paperwork, there are more pitfalls if you don’t know your way around the program. The team has already lined up the Los Angeles Superior Court e-filing Supervising Clerk as a guest speaker at an upcoming event in March.
The informational gatherings are a supportive environment for staffers to ask questions, get advice and vent frustrations. “Many attorneys have expressed interest in attending these seminars, but we want to keep these groups exclusive to support staff, so they have a safe space to learn new information,” Dempsey said. One of the topics that she wants to address in the upcoming year is workplace sexual harassment. Like all industries confronting this problem in the post #MeToo era, law firms are not immune to harassment and gender discrimination.
Dempsey says the biggest challenge for the group is finding compelling topics that appeal to a wide range of experience levels for staffers at different types of law firms. “Some plaintiff firms only focus on pre-litigation work and for others, all they do is go to trial,” explained Dempsey who is busy planning the agenda for the final year of her two-year leadership tenure.
The key to keeping attendance growing is to have dynamic topics at the seminars and encourage more law firms to send their support staff members to the annual CAALA Convention. “There’s always something new to learn whether you’re a first-year paralegal or long-time legal assistant,” Dempsey says the best part of getting involved in the networking and socializing which makes learning more fun. “This experience has been very rewarding, I’m always learning something new”.