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PROFILE

Profile: De Dishman, paralegal, Schroeder Law Offices, Portland, OR, and NFPA Secretary and Director of Operations in Western water fight [by Regan Morris] While world attention focuses on various battles for oil, people have been fighting over water for decades, and fights for water rights are likely to increase as demand for the precious commodity increases. LawCrossing speaks to De Dishman, a paralegal who works on water rights and acts as Secretary and Director of Operations for the National Federation of Paralegal Associations. De Dishman is an accidental paralegal. The

and water in particular. Ms. Dishman, who

rights, you also have to learn about water

Secretary and Director of Operations for the

has been a paralegal for 18 years, also spe-

storage, well construction…it’s just a whole

National Federation of Paralegal Associa-

cializes in commercial litigation, real estate,

new area, and there’s a lot going on with

tions had worked as a title officer for an

creditor’s rights, and construction law.

water. When you’re a rancher or Indian tribe, there’s never enough water.”

insurance company for 10 years when one of her clients asked if she would work for him

“I usually change jobs every four or five years

as a paralegal. The client was a debt-collec-

to learn a new area of law,” she said. “I pick

Most of her clients are ranchers, and she is

tion and foreclosure attorney. Ms. Dishman

out the area of law that I want to learn and

now working on water-rights cases in Oregon

accepted the job and discovered a career she

kind of have an idea of what law firm I want

and Nevada.

loved.

to work with and which attorneys.”

Her work as a title officer was relevant to

She says working for four attorneys at Schro-

also represent irrigation districts or water-

the paralegal profession. She was an expert

eder is much less stressful than working

control districts and help them to form a

in researching property-the chain of title,

in a large firm. She joined Schroeder from

district,” she said. “You know people have

whether all loans on the property had been

Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt, which has

been fighting over water for a hundred years.

paid off. After researching a property, she

about 150 attorneys, and prior to that she

And in some areas, say Nevada, you have

would write reports for the company’s at-

worked for Stoel Rives, which is one of the

different seasons of irrigation, and so people

torneys advising if an individual needed to be

biggest firms in the Northwestern United

want to make sure that they get their water

served and if there were liens and encum-

States.

when they’re supposed to.”

were useful to her paralegal career, and the

“I actually enjoy both, but I’m really enjoying

Ms. Dishman, a car buff who owns and has

rest she learned on the job.

this because it’s a little less stress filled not

restored three 1967 Camaros, advises new

working for 30 people in one day,” she said.

paralegals looking for work to get a foot into

“We primarily represent ranchers, and we

brances attached to the property. The skills

a firm any way they can--even if it means

Unlike many paralegals today, Ms. Dishman, 48, learned all her paralegal skills on the job.

Ms. Dishman has been active in the Or-

starting as an assistant.

egon Paralegal Association throughout her “Usually if they’re hired without the parale-

“When I started out in this field, there really

career, serving on the organization’s board

wasn’t the opportunity for paralegal educa-

of directors and as a delegate to the NFPA

gal certificate, they start out and they’re a

tion that there is now,” she said. “I have

conventions. She is also a board member

receptionist or a project assistant for four or

friends that came up the same way that are

of the Portland, OR, chapter of Women in

five years and then move up the ladder,” she

about the same age, and we kind of feel like

Construction.

said. “It doesn’t hurt getting their foot in the door by not being a paralegal and to look at

we’ve pioneered the profession so that there are paralegal programs and those opportuni-

She said water law is something she con-

different ways to get their foot in the door,

ties now.”

sidered for a long time and felt it would be a

like being a project assistant at a large firm.

good fit with her construction background.

You learn an awful lot, and they’re usually willing to move you into a paralegal position

Schroeder Law Offices is a small firm that specializes in water rights. Ms. Dishman

“It was something new I wanted to learn,”

joined the firm in 2003 because she was in-

she said. “In some ways it ties in with the

terested in learning about environmental law

construction because, aside from water

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after you’ve been there a couple years.” And people with paralegal certificates but no

continued on back


PROFILE

on-the-job experience may want to take a secretarial job, she said. “It’s been my experience that larger law firms don’t necessarily hire paralegals straight out of school,” she said. “They usually want somebody with a little experience under their belt. So that way if you can get your foot in the door and get that experience, it’s usually the best way to do it.” And if you want to learn a new area of law, take some classes through NFPA and look for new jobs in that area. Ms. Dishman researched attorneys for whom she’d like to work months in advance of submitting her resume to particular firms. She would meet attorneys at professional seminars and networking events through the NFPA and the Oregon Paralegal Association. “And then I would determine from the presenters which attorney I would most likely want to go to work for,” she said. “And then when an opportunity would present itself, I would submit my resume. But it wouldn’t be like I’d decide today that I am going to do this tomorrow. I did my research over the course of a year to a year and a half.” Although she loves rebuilding her Camaros with her husband, Ms. Dishman said she never considered a career restoring cars. “I have one that I’ve had since I was 16, and I have two others that we’ve purchased over the years,” she said. “It’s really hard, and if you keep it as a hobby it’s fun, but if you do it as a career, it’s not so fun anymore. We just keep them and enjoy them.”

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Profile: De Dishman, paralegal, Schroeder Law Offices, Portland  

De Dishman is a paralegal of Schroeder Law Offices in Portland and NFPA Secretary and Director of Operations in Western water fight.

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