Perfectly Paralegal® Spotlight with Michael Hamrick, FRP
Mike works in civil litigation, primarily in employment defense, but gets all sorts of side projects researching information for the City Commission. He has also had the pleasure of responding to FBI subpoenas and associated public records requests. He thoroughly enjoyed a temporary opportunity at the police department, working with the Police Legal Advisor. Before onboarding with the City, Mike worked as a paralegal for the State of Florida Department of Environmental Protection Office of General Counsel’s Enforcement Section doing civil and administrative litigation, enforcing environmental laws and administrative code rules. Mike is registered as an FRP with the Florida Bar and serves as a Guardian ad Litem for the Second Circuit.
How long have you been a paralegal and how did you get started?
13 years, after graduating with a BS in Legal Studies and getting a job at DEP.
What is your official title and what areas of law do you primarily handle?
Paralegal, primarily employment defense but a little bit of everything, being in municipal government.
Do you have a college education, and if so, what type of degrees or certificates do you have?
Degrees: UCF-BS Legal Studies, Flagler-BA Accounting.
Do you hold any paralegal designations or certifications, and if so, which ones?
Fla Bar FRP, since 2008.
Do you think that a formal college education or paralegal certification is important or beneficial to those in the paralegal field?
I think education is important. Especially as competition and availability of programs has increased and continue to do so. Most entry-level jobs that I see prefer bachelors but it could be because I live in a college town. I think for people holding certificates or associates, it is important to get certified to stand out because you’ll likely be competing against people with bachelors and masters degrees.
What is a typical workday like?
No day is typical. This place can be a zoo!
Do you work a pretty regular schedule or do you frequently work overtime?
Regular hours for the most part, unless gearing up for hearing/trial or case management deadline. I entered into a comp time agreement, so any overtime is converted to leave.
What is your favorite part of your job?
I like the special research projects that I get from whatever thing the Commission is interested in or some unforeseen issue a citizen brings up. For example, I got to research working dogs, specifically goose-chasing dogs because a citizen wanted to run his Australian Shepard off-leash to chase geese away from his yard and along the private golf course fairway that he lived. This citizen’s neighbor complained about the dog being off-leash.
Anyway, this brought up an issue with our animals as a couple of departments have working dogs such as police and parks. In fact, our Parks uses dogs to clear our municipal courses and have in the past used goats for vegetation management. We had to make sure our code provided exemptions for working animals.
My research led me to find a franchise business called the “Geese Police” that started in New Jersey, I believe. Anyway, the National Mall uses the same or similar contractor to clear geese from the greenspace and pools at the Mall.
The research also led to Migratory Bird Act and the fact that Canadian Geese are a protected species but that people/organizations can apply to UFWS and the state’s FWC to take nests when they become a nuisance. Some geese stop migrating. The use of working dogs to chase geese is not prohibited but the key is to prevent the geese from nesting. In order to do that the dogs have to work a property for a couple of weeks to get the geese to relocate to a more desirable area with less threat.
So my favorite part of the job is the chance to become sort of a like an expert on a really niche topic for a brief period of time.
What is your least favorite part about your job?
Discovery and doing tons of work to prep for a hearing or trial and then the case settles. I don’t mind the settlement but would have rather not have had to do all that work for no reason.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
Staying focused and on track. Keeping priorities in check, as we get pulled in a million directions daily and sit in cubicles which I find distracting in and of itself.
Do you ever travel for work?
Looking back at your career, are there any experiences in particular that stand out or are particularly memorable?
There are three that stand out. One was where I had to find a single page registration form in massive stacks of papers that were on shelves and were almost as tall as me and at least 8 feet long; somehow, I got lucky and found it on the second day.
Two was where I had to find an engineering standard that was referenced in an administrative rule but for some reason we no longer had a copy. I contacted a librarian and was basically told that it wasn’t going to happen. Despite that, I found a library that had a copy of the standard and reached back out to the librarian, asking if we could do an interstate, interlibrary loan. In both instances the attorney gave me an award, haystack and librarian slayer, respectively. Third, was when I had to fess up about a huge mistake. I was sick over it and couldn’t sleep, so I called the attorney that night and explained. It could have been a huge deal but turned out fine and the attorney appreciated my candor.
How have you grown in your role from previous years?
As we’re recognized as being proficient, we get more and more work piled on.
What skills are most valuable for a paralegal?
Grammar and creativity to think outside the box to find an answer.
How competitive is the paralegal job market?
I think it is really competitive, especially now that schools and training programs are cropping up everywhere and that there are no real, standardized requirements to limit entry into the profession.
Are you a member of any national, state or local paralegal associations? If so, which ones?
I am a member of the Paralegal Association of Florida, which is a NALA-affiliate and currently serve as Treasurer of the Big Bend Chapter. We are hosting PAF’s Spring Seminarin few weeks – April 13-14th.
What benefits do you feel you gain from being a member of paralegal associations and what advice would you give others about joining?
Just do it! I think the networking alone is worth it as you will find out about jobs that are not yet, or do not even get, advertised. Additionally, you will meet all sorts and develop a few friendships. It is also pretty easy to get involved and the leadership skills that you gain and continually try to improve can’t be obtained from reading or studying.
What suggestions would you give someone new who is trying to enter the paralegal profession?
Attain the highest level of education you can afford. Be careful as to the program you choose. I am not saying that you need an ABA program but be discerning because there are so many fly-by-night private companies in the education game now. Plan to get a certification if you end up with a certificate or associates.
What suggestions do you have for someone who is trying to advance their career or remain marketable?
Join a local association. Be involved. Volunteer. I should follow my own advice: Peer review your resume, LinkedIn, interviewing skills, and lock down your other social media. Diversify your skills, particularly soft skills like communication, writing, and public speaking. I also like business-related courses and leadership talks.
Is there anything you want to share that we haven’t covered?
I love Linda but I really love Michelle. LOL! But seriously, work hard, play hard. Life is too short to take yourself so seriously. Travel more. Make a goal to say “yes.” I think there is a lot of validity to the saying that you can tell a lot about a person in how he/she treats service staff.