By Tom Barnard, 2019 IndyBar President, Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP
If it takes a village to raise a child (quite true in my family’s experience), it takes a team to litigate a case or close a transaction. Paralegals are key contributors to a highly-functioning legal services team.
I’ll share my own experience. For more than 20 years of my practice, I had the pleasure of working with one of the smartest and most conscientious people I have ever met—our indispensable paralegal, Penny. Penny was a former special agent within the criminal division of the Internal Revenue Service, and in that role she was armed with a government-issued firearm, provided presidential protection for President Reagan and other top elected officials and tracked down tax evaders and interviewed witnesses. Civil litigation was tame in comparison, but she brought her organization and crime-fighting tenacity to our team. I quickly learned that she had command of every document, every deadline and every witness. If we needed to know who said what, in which document and when, Penny would know.
Penny is now retired and enjoying well-deserved time with her husband, kids and grandkids. But Penny’s impact on me and our firm persists. Through Penny’s efforts, I realized the incredible value of paralegals. She taught us how to best take advantage of paralegals. She proofread letters to perform fact-checks. She found and interviewed witnesses, created evidence spreadsheets and served as the information hub for our team. Penny’s excellence demonstrated to us that professionals without law degrees can be instrumental members of a successful litigation team.
This year, after considering many extremely well-qualified paralegals, the IndyBar has selected Melissa Hathaway of Lewis Wagner LLP as the 2019 Paralegal of the Year. Melissa was nominated by the venerable Robert Wagner, a legendary lawyer who recently celebrated 50 years of practice in law at our Practice Milestone Celebration last year. Melissa has worked in the legal industry for 32 years and has practiced as a paralegal at Lewis Wagner for 25 years. According to those who work with Melissa, she sets the standard for paralegals.
Melissa’s path to her profession began in high school. She attended a career day and was impressed by a speaker who proclaimed that there was a “ninety-eight percent need” for paralegals in Indiana. She and two friends enrolled in Ball State’s associate degree program for legal administration and she has never looked back. According to Melissa, she couldn’t have picked a better profession for her personality; “it is who I am,” she recently told me. She explains that she has an investigative personality and enjoys being involved in her cases from “top to bottom.”
One of Melissa’s favorite aspects of her paralegal role is investigating and uncovering facts she knows will be needed as the case progresses. She takes pride in anticipating relevant information and making sure each team member has it at the earliest possible date. Melissa never wants to say, “I don’t know,” when one of the team members asks about the existence of relevant information. She revels in the team aspect of her cases and has enjoyed working with many attorneys and legal assistants at Lewis Wagner. We should all be so lucky to have a paralegal of Melissa’s caliber on our team.
Melissa tells me that she is extremely honored to receive the Paralegal of the Year Award and that her 88-year-old mother will be in attendance when it is presented to her on May 29. For all the reasons mentioned in her nomination form, and for her 25 years of excellent paralegal service, Melissa’s mother will no doubt be very proud of her daughter’s accomplishments.