Ten years ago, my favorite southern belle, Shelby (a/k/a Julia Roberts) lit up the big screen portraying a woman that I, for one, had never heard of. As a result of her performance, everyone in America got a taste for the paralegal profession’s sexy, mysterious and seemingly thrilling job description. The year was 2000 and Erin Brockovich had stolen our hearts.
Hollywood had created an illusion of intrigue, suspense, passion and the notorious tug of war wherein good triumphs over evil, the big company crumbles, children are saved, the mother dies to protect them and Erin Brockovich gets a big fat check. Sitting in first “Introduction to Paralegal Studies” course at the local community college, I just knew that I, too, would soon be sneaking into secret file rooms to discover smoking gun documents for which my boss (and the entire town) would be forever in my debt.
And then I got a gig as a Paralegal.
Within two hours of being on the job, my fantasies were viciously ripped to shreds. I spent my first morning learning how to create a WordPerfect macro to print bates labels and my afternoon two-hole punching correspondence. Somehow I don’t think I’d be getting an Oscar nod anytime soon. What happened to my grand ideas for saving the innocent and sticking it to the man? After a few weeks in, I was seriously considering demanding the community college refund me for that Tort Law course which I obviously would not be using anytime in the near future.
Over the course of my career as a paralegal I have learned many things:
I’ve learned that original stock certificates are priceless and that attorneys’ handwriting mimics that of some of the most notorious serial killers to date.
I’ve learned that the most important thing I can do in my job is to keep 712,423 documents organized, indexed and housed in one file room and that I should never, under ANY circumstances, count a federal holiday while calendaring responses to Requests to Admit.
I’ve earned an honorary certification as a copy repairman and have recently considered submitting my application for a stunt artist as I have mastered the art of delicately balancing 7 boxes, 2 laptops and a cup of coffee on one dolly while wearing heels.
I’ve learned that this job is not always pretty.
At some point, you will find yourself in a situation like I was once in: Outside a Courthouse on a cold, January morning, unpacking a Tahoe filled with bankers boxes, briefcases, a projector, and a portable screen, left alone to lug it all inside and through security as your bosses hurry into the building bundled warmly in their wool coats.
You will swallow your pride and call a clerk’s office three times to ask the same question, three different ways and yes, the clerk will speak to you as though you’re a moron.
You will fetch everything from coffee to dry cleaning to your bosses wife’s dog from the parlor and you will get to experience what it’s like to not eat lunch for 4 days straight.
You will make mistakes and hold back tears as you tell your boss that you accidentally filed a complaint without the exhibits attached.
All of these things WILL happen ~ and then some. Sounding too good for you yet?
Fear not as while you’re busy perfecting of all of these seemingly un-glamorous jobs, you will also become a mind reader, a computer genius, a forward thinker, a confidant, a source of information, a point person and the most organized human being on the planet. You may not realize you’re becoming these things until it smacks you right the face but trust me when I tell you will begin to change.
Working in the trenches as a paralegal will not just get your hands dirty, but will expose you to worlds that you never imagined being immersed in. You will no longer be just a paralegal. You will become an expert on oil companies, timber cutting, land development at the shopping mall, the inner workings of a bank and what happens to a child’s skin when a cigarette lighter’s safety device is installed improperly.
There will be times when you will wish that you did not know certain things ~ like how many times your insurance agent emailed his mistress or that when Social Services took your clients child, she was drunk as a skunk, had cocaine in her purse and a toddler in the front seat of her car.
I once had someone tell me that some of my articles weren’t particularly “pleasant”, which highly offended me because A) I’m southern and B) my mother happened to raise my brothers and I a wee bit on the sensitive side (just ask our significant others). Feeling a little pessimistic, I perused the comments I’ve received in recent months and it got me thinking: Some of my articles aren’t pleasant but by God, they’re real and from the looks of things, every paralegal, legal assistant and legal secretary from Illinois to Florida to Arizona has either thought or felt the EXACT same way.
Welcome to the paralegal profession. This gig isn’t as glamorous as many (ahem….my mother) likes to imagine but with the right background music, the payoff is something straight out a movie.
As the theme song crescendos, I sit perched at my desk, 31 years old, single, childless and often times wondering where my life is going and how this journey is going to turn. And then, I realize that I’m living it right now. The fantasy? There’s no glamour. The reality? Wouldn’t change a thing.
About the Author:
South Carolina Litigation Paralegal.
Thirty-something in age.
Tech savvy, but loves the smell of paper.
Thinks inData’s Trial Director is better than bubble gum.
Loves things that are three-hole punched, redaction tape, peppery red wine and complaining about opposing counsel.
Always seeking tips, tricks, ideas, rants, raves and all things legal!