Why Did I Become a Paralegal?

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01Aug2011

Why Did I Become a Paralegal?

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By Jamie Collins

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I currently work as a Litigation Paralegal in arguably one of the most renowned personal injury firms in the State of Indiana. Our firm’s founder, Louis “Buddy” Yosha, has earned legendary status during his impressive career as a trial lawyer, which has now spanned more than four decades. He is a fierce and dedicated advocate for the injured and has garnered himself a reputation as a witty, “tell it like it is” attorney. He is a formidable foe and a real pit bull in the courtroom. He has been featured on the cover of The Wall Street Journal and in other well known publications, including Forbes, The New York Times, and Cosmopolitan. He has assembled a team of brilliant legal minds to work alongside him.

I find myself in a nice window office, staring at my flat screen television with cable, at a job I love, and I cannot help but wonder: how did I get here? I can tell you it was certainly not by chance or coincidence. Rather, it was through the creation of my own personal tapestry, one woven tightly together by threads of luck, fate, and a culmination of strategic, professional choices which I made as I navigated the paralegal waters of my career.

One day, not long ago, I found myself staring at my computer screen while perusing one of the “Paralegal Network” forums on LinkedIn. My eyes became affixed upon one seemingly simple, yet inherently complex question that was posted by Karen George, FRP, a respected colleague. One simple and thought provoking question: Why did I become a paralegal?

Whew. This is a tough question and one that has taken me some time to ponder over. The reason I initially began in this field is not the same as the reason that I choose to remain a paralegal. I started out answering phones and wanted a “professional” job, so I sought a position at only law firms and medical offices. As luck (or fate) would have it, I was hired by a small personal injury firm. My role grew into that of a paralegal over the six years that followed at that firm. From there, I branched out to another firm where I remained for six years, honed my skills and learned some additional areas of law. There are so many reasons I love being a paralegal. Yes, it remains true that I love having a “professional” job and one that comes with a one-word title that conveys exactly what I do when I utter the word “paralegal.” It is certainly a respectable position and one that is earned over time with advanced knowledge, skills, and expertise. Then there is always that memorable moment where the verdict is being read and you go into a bit of a “fog” and your hearing somewhat “goes out” and renders you unable to fully comprehend what is being said –when in reality, you know your hearing is just fine, you just care so much about the outcome that it “fogs” your listening abilities.

The job has so much to offer. There is so much to learn and every day is different, as is every case. Sure, there are some mundane tasks (there always are), but there is so much diversity that boredom is difficult to come by.

It is a job that involves daily sprints and weekly or monthly marathons. When it comes down to it, there is nothing more satisfying than standing up for a client whose adversary is a big company, police department, or some other textbook Goliath in the legal arena. Then there’s slipping key notes to your lead attorney during an opposing witness testimony, quietly at first, and then, once the jury takes notice of the smoking gun testimony you help to elicit, tearing the notes intentionally more loudly and placing them in front of your attorney with intent, as you watch the jurors’ faces and know they can’t wait to hear the next question that will be read off of that paper…comments written by you to help seal the deal.

There’s satisfaction in knowing that in that court room on that day at that time, you and your firm left it all “on the floor.” There was nothing you could have done any better. You executed everything that came your way like a tactical legal assault ninja. It is truly the highest level of personal satisfaction and gratification I have ever known as a human being.

Granted, these glory days which I speak of so fondly are sparse. They are few in number and far between. On most days, I am doing the “real” paralegal work that needs to be done: pushing paper, organizing files, speaking with clients, potential clients, attorneys and court staff, creating pleadings, medical chronologies, demand letters and discovery, all while attempting to navigate a minefield of deadlines and managing to keep my boss organized and sane (i.e., looking for the keys to his BMW when he loses them, locating “missing” documents, and for all practical purposes, making sure he is where he is supposed to be when he needs to be there). It’s a tall order. One not always associated with a lot of “glory.”

No one ever won an award for finding the keys to a Beamer. Yet, these tasks remain of the utmost importance. Cases are won, in large part, by what we, as paralegals, do each day. We do the work. We are in the trenches. We lay the foundation that great cases are built upon.

I guess, when it comes down to it, I stand ready and willing to do what I must do for the 349 days per year that are required to earn my proverbial golden ticket to the 10-16 days that I will likely spend at trial in any given calendar year.

Some of the greatest moments of my professional career have occurred in the courtroom. It is a grandiose place, a place where one can truly engage in the pursuit of excellence. Put simply: it is where I was meant to be.

Once you have had an opportunity to fully participate and partake in the final fruits of your labor as a paralegal and reaped the personal satisfaction and rewards that come along with it, there is no going back (even on days when your job may mirror what is portrayed on “The Devil Wears Prada”). Being a paralegal is in the fabric of who I am as a person…and a paralegal I will remain.

My story is just one of many. We, as paralegals, have each written our own chapters in the book of life. These chapters tell an interesting story of where we have been thus far in our legal careers and provide some foreshadowing as to the paths we will walk in the future.

Jamie Collins is a senior level paralegal working in a small firm in Indiana.  This article originally appeared on The Estrin Report blog.

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