Nothing feels better than using one’s knowledge, experiences, and talents to support another woman’s quest for success. Nobody knows this better than Lois Sutton, Esq. and Sandra Nasser Maxwell. Sandy progressed from being a part-time administrative assistant in Lois’ law office (Lois D. Sutton LLC) to having a full-time position as a certified paralegal with the firm in just two-and-a-half years.
Sandy’s Road to Success
This is their PROPEL mentorship success story.
After getting divorced in 2018, Sandy moved to New Jersey. Although she had an associate’s degree in music from Kingsborough Community College, Sandy never had the opportunity to use her training professionally. In 2019, Lois D. Sutton hired Sandy as a part-time administrative assistant for her law office, handling the front desk and performing other secretarial tasks.
“Last month, I completed my paralegal certificate program with honors as a member of Phi Beta Kappa, having maintained a position on the Dean’s list for the duration of my studies at Brookdale Community College,” gushed Sandy when asked about her journey.
The magic ingredient in this story is the power of mentorship and the role it played and continues to play. You never know when an opportunity will arise. Sandy began working at the offices of Lois D. Sutton, Esq., two-and-a-half years ago. If Sandy had not taken the part-time receptionist secretarial job at the firm, she never would have experienced this chance to change her life.
At 59 years old, Sandy continues to work hard to improve herself every day. She truly believes that her maturity and life experience brings value to her employer. “I’ve learned to go out of my comfort zone to succeed in life. For me, it meant adding school to an already busy schedule.” Sandy is happy that throughout this journey she made sure to be there for her family, although she did have to minimize her social life. “I was working two jobs and going to school. I was driven to reach my goal because I knew once I finished my training and could begin working in a professional capacity, I would be able to support myself AND continue to be there for my two grown sons and daughter-in-law.” In other words, the hard work was well worth the sacrifice. Sandy contrasts her vision of the future with what it felt like to be newly divorced and financially vulnerable. “It was a constant struggle, juggling jobs and trying to make ends meet. Today, I feel accomplished. I’m a professional and I love the security of knowing I can support myself,” she says.
“I cannot commend Sandy enough for her diligence and persistence in reaching her goal,” says Lois, her employer and mentor. “I am grateful to PROPEL for enabling and empowering her to do it. I am proud of Sandy and look forward to her continued growth in the paralegal field,” continues Lois.
Lois Sutton Steers Community Women to Paralegal Field
Lois Sutton is a sole practitioner in New Jersey who brings four decades of experience to her legal practice, both academically and professionally. She specializes in wills, trusts, estate planning, probate, real estate, and business law. Lois earned her Bachelor of Science at Brooklyn College and graduated Magna Cum Lauda from the Rutgers School of Law-Newark, after she had married and had her first two children. Lois held positions as in-house counsel for what is now Wells Fargo Bank, was the Endowment Director for Jewish Federation of Monmouth County, and worked as an attorney for several well-established law firms before opening her own legal practice eleven years ago. Her experience has allowed her to successfully represent the interests of generations of community families with a wide range of legal needs. Lois acknowledges the support of her husband and family throughout.
“I’ve been trying to steer community women into the paralegal profession for years because it’s a lucrative, very rewarding career and many times it can be structured with flexibility in mind,” says Lois.
Paralegals are in high demand in New Jersey, New York, and elsewhere. Being a paralegal is a dynamic profession. A paralegal can work part-time, full-time, or per diem, in an office or remotely. The paralegal is typically the first person a new client speaks with, maintaining this relationship, often meeting with the client and making sure the client is kept informed and the file is moved forward expeditiously. A paralegal has many responsibilities: handling the court and appointment calendar and deadlines, maintaining the files, and reviewing and preparing documents and other materials under the supervision of an attorney. “If Sandy doesn’t do her job, I can’t do mine,” says Lois.
An experienced paralegal can build her own practice or service providing support for other law offices and even supervise other paralegals. As Lois further explains, “A paralegal can also specialize in the type of law and office that interests her most: fast-paced litigation in a large firm, real estate and contracts for a solo practitioner, and everything in between.”
Mentoring as the Magic Ingredient
So, how did Sandy go from getting hired as a part-time receptionist-secretary to become a full-time paralegal? MENTORING is the answer. Lois says that when she first hired Sandy, she immediately recognized her aptitude. She was intelligent, inquisitive, conscientious, had a great phone manner and client rapport, and she was eager to learn and acquire new skills. With the retirement of the office’s long-time paralegal, Sandy was positioned to make the move.
Lois truly enjoys being a mentor. Over the years, she has met with and guided many community members interested in becoming lawyers, paralegals, and legal assistants. She finds immense gratification helping a person move forward. Therefore, it was natural for Lois to encourage Sandy to engage with PROPEL. The rest, as the saying goes, is history.
For her part, Sandy is thankful and appreciative. She describes her mentor as being generous and informative, sharing in-depth context that helps her understand what is behind the tasks she is asked to perform. “I come to the office every day with a smile on my face, ready to proceed with the work at hand,” says Sandy. She says the work is never routine, which keeps the work interesting and fulfills her desire to keep learning new things. She especially enjoys assisting clients, building rapport, and keeping them updated. Mentorship plays a continual role in this relationship because Sandy is new to the profession. A portion of their daily interactions as lawyer and paralegal is specifically and intentionally dedicated to mentorship.
PROPEL’s Mentorship Program Is a Game Changer
Thanks to a grant that PROPEL received from the UJA Federation of New York, PROPEL’s “Weaving a Network: Women Helping Women” mentorship program was established. The goal of the program is to help women in a variety of professions to form these mentorship relationships, to support each other, and to expand their career opportunities. Supervised by PROPEL’s educational consultant, Gitta Neufeld, the first groups are actively engaged in team-building and mentoring. Lois believes that this new mentorship program at PROPEL will have an enormous impact on our community. “The hardest thing about identifying and traveling down a career path is finding a mentor,” says the attorney. “PROPEL’s mentorship program is a game changer.”
“I am very excited to be part of this initiative and look forward to using my experience and contacts in the legal world to benefit our mentees,” states Lois. And as for Sandy, she says, “Bless PROPEL and the new Mentorship program. PROPEL made this positive change possible.”
If you are interested in joining PROPEL’s cohort of mentors in PROPEL’s “Weaving a Network: Women Helping Women” program or being paired with a mentor, please email PROPEL at Info@thePropelNetwork.org.