Paralegal Studies graduate weathered the superstorm

By Kenna Caprio

When Hurricane Sandy slammed into the New Jersey coastline on October 29, 2012, Christy Mangone of Manahawkin, N.J., had already enrolled and started classes in Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Paralegal Studies Program.

“Financially, me being able to become a paralegal kept my family in our home and our business afloat,” she says.

Before going back to school and recovering from Hurricane Sandy, Mangone worked as a stay-at-home mom and supported her husband’s popular and family-friendly local Italian restaurant, Bella Christina’s Trattoria.

Christy Mangone
Paralegal Studies graduate Christy Mangone with daughter Christina. (Photo courtesy of Mangone)

After the storm, life changed. Although the Mangones only lost power for just over a week and sustained no heavy damage or flooding to their home or restaurant, save for a tree falling and breaking a window at the eatery, they lost business and inventory. Big time. Bella Christina’s sits on the edge of a development that was “destroyed,” says Mangone. “We’re very lucky to not be on the water, because people we knew forever were gone. Just gone and evacuated. Some of them still aren’t home.”

Once the superstorm hit, Mangone and her husband cooked as much of their food inventory as possible, knowing that Bella Christina’s would have to remain closed for an indeterminate amount of time. They wrapped up the prepared food and donated it to the National Guard and local police on duty and churches housing displaced families. “We lost a lot of inventory because everything we had left over went bad. Even if it hadn’t, they cut the gas lines (to prevent wind and water damage), so we couldn’t cook anything after that.”

Ultimately, the Mangones “lost 70% of business for about a year and half,” she says.

Luckily, a fateful Google search had brought her to FDU. Looking for a new and different challenge, Mangone decided on the Paralegal Studies Program because she could take night classes at the University’s Monmouth County Graduate Center in Eatontown, N.J., only an hour north of her home. And, even more importantly, she noticed that the program is approved by the American Bar Association.

“The program taught me — more than just topics, subjects and rules — how to think. You learn how to become part of the legal team and know what you’re talking about.”

She explored specialties from litigation to criminal, corporate and family law. “The program gives you a well-rounded opportunity to learn what field you might like. I’m attracted to litigation because it’s more exciting to have courtroom action.”

Before she even completed the certificate program, thanks to word-of-mouth at the restaurant and a strong résumé crafted with help from paralegal studies staff, Mangone found a job at a local firm.

She concentrates on family law, criminal law, divorce and estate litigation work, alongside the litigators or trial attorneys that she works for. “I spend a lot of time on the phone with clients. I’m dealing with all different kinds of people and emotions. They don’t look to the lawyers for the emotional part — they look to me to break it down for the attorney. This is not a 9-to-5 job; it’s much more than that.”

Sharpening her people skills at the restaurant has come in very handy for Mangone. “My job is a lot of talking. I spend a lot of time networking in probate and family court.” When she’s not forging connections with clients, law clerks, paralegals and other law professionals, Mangone handles the lawyer trust account and bookkeeping, including billings for the office, and drafts motions and court notices.

Learning how to think like a legal professional “makes you feel confident in your job, yourself and what you’re doing,” she says. “It’s benefitted me in my job, in terms of respect. They’ve been lawyers for 25 years, but they will ask me questions. I don’t think that I could do my job this well without the program.”

As for the post-Sandy recovery, Mangone says it’s happening, it’s ongoing and that Manahawkin, “is coming back, slowly but surely. Some people who owned their house outright, but didn’t have flood insurance, walked away. Without flood insurance they were lost. Other people continue to get money and rebuild.”

Business is back at Bella Christina’s, too. “We had an excellent summer. Things have been more stable since then. We’re very grateful for that,” she says.