Alumni Spotlight: Ja’Mar Montgomery, Retirement Disability Specialist for San Diego County

As is the case for many of our students, 2015 graduate, Ja’Mar Montgomery, is not the first in his family to pursue a legal career.

While in college I was uncertain of what I wanted to do and my father suggested looking into the legal field. My grandfather, Alpha Montgomery Sr., was a probate court judge in San Diego and my grandmother, Katherine Lewis Montgomery, was an attorney for the military. So the legal field has been in my family and bloodline for years and I soon realized this is the area that I love and enjoy.

The San Diego native obtained a bachelor’s in Criminal Justice and master’s in Criminology from San Diego State University prior to attending the evening Paralegal Program at USD. He began his legal career as a student worker for the Family Law Division of the El Cajon Superior Court, followed by 8 years in private law firms, prior to returning to the public sector as an Executive Legal Assistant for both the city and county. Ja’Mar is now a Retirement Disability Specialist with San Diego County Employees Retirement Association (SDCERA). His work involves investigating disability retirement applications, interviewing applicants and witnesses, reviewing medical records and personnel records, and presenting recommendations to grant or deny applications to the Board of Retirement.

While working for the city, Ja’Mar realized he would need a paralegal certificate to continue advancing. Following some research, he decided on USD. After completing the program, with honors, he was given increased responsibilities and a pay raise.

With USD’s reputation and flexibility to take evening classes it was a no brainer! My work allowed me to adjust my schedule to take evening classes, and the City also provided tuition assistance making my decision even easier.

As many students before him, Ja’Mar remembers Patrick O’Laughlin as his favorite instructor.

I enjoyed the way he taught because he made the material understandable and used real life experiences to help us understand how the laws are applied in real life scenarios. I also enjoyed the “mock trial” we had which enabled us to formulate an argument, strategy, and responses to opposing “counsel”. He was also HILARIOUS!

His favorite classes included Criminal Law, particularly the defense side, and Legal Research & Writing. This is also the class he notes as being most beneficial in his career.

Prior to entering the program, I had never stepped foot into a law library…It was very challenging but I enjoyed learning how to conduct legal research using written materials and knowing where to look/start your research…In my current position I am required to not only research the law, but also apply the law and write recommendations to the Board of Retirement. None of the classes in the program focused on disability law or pension/retirement law, but the tools and skills I learned have enabled me to succeed in my current position. I am confident that no matter what position I have, the skills obtained from the USD paralegal program will prepare me to succeed.

Working full-time while attending evening classes made time-management a challenge, but he advises current students to resist the urge to “just go through the motions”.

Really try to understand and grasp the material. The best part of the program is that you will be exposed to several different areas of law and even if certain classes are not of interest, what you learn can still be applied to whatever field you choose to go in to. To this day I still refer back to some of my notes and materials that assist me in my current position. Also, really key in on your ability to write clearly and concisely.

Ja’Mar cites his legal research and writing abilities, along with his ability to learn multiple tasks and work quickly and efficiently, as keys to obtaining his current position.

The legal research and writing class has definitely helped me in my career. My position requires a lot of research, investigating, and writing. Our written recommendations are presented to the Board of Retirement so there is a high standard of quality that must be met…As part of the interview process I had to submit multiple writing samples to determine if I could write at the level and quality necessary for this position.

A typical day for Ja’Mar involves interviewing new applicants, investigating current cases, discussing potential issues with the disability team, and preparing cases for presentation to the Board of Retirement.

My favorite part of my current position is the independence and freedom I have in how I process and investigate my case load. The majority of my investigation includes reviewing medical records, which can sometimes be in the thousands of pages, searching social media, and requesting/reviewing surveillance films on individuals.

Prior to joining SDCERA, Ja’Mar knew very little about disability retirement law but soon found the work to be very interesting and meaningful.

My biggest motivation is the ability that I have to help our members who are going through a very difficult time in their life. There is nothing more rewarding than the “thank you” I hear time after time from our members.

The work becomes challenging when Ja’Mar has to balance his personal feelings about a case/client with his responsibility to the County.

My greatest challenge is handling conflicts when I personally feel a case should be approved and handled a certain way, but because of the evidence and law I have to recommend the case be denied. My cases consist of County employees who have become permanently incapacitated from working and are dealing with very difficult physical, mental, and/or financial situations. At times it is difficult on a personal level, but as an SDCERA employee I have a duty to protect the fund and base my recommendations on the law, not personal feelings or beliefs.

Ja’Mar plans to continue growing in his career at SDCERA, noting a wide range of legal opportunities as an advantage of being a county employee. A member of the San Diego Paralegal Association, Ja’Mar regularly attends MCLE courses and networking events and highly recommends SDPA or other legal membership to new graduates. He also suggests utilizing social media, LinkedIn and Facebook, to connect with other legal professionals and employers. In his free time, he enjoys playing basketball, reading, and listening to true crime podcasts.

If you’re a graduate of USD’s Paralegal Program and would like to be featured in our Spotlight, please send an email to amcginley@sandiego.edu.

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