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By: Tamara Quincannon (Guest Blogger)
How did you become a paralegal? Most people would probably answer that question by stating, “I went to college, obtained my BA/BS in “ABC” and then attended a Paralegal Program” or “worked in a law firm for several years and was promoted.” My story isn’t quite that clear cut.
I went to school and, yes, I completed my paralegal program, but my skill set was learned as I walked the path of life. I began acquiring the skill set I would need as a paralegal from other jobs I encountered along the way. This is how I became a paralegal.
I grew up on a farm as the middle child. Everyone did chores, so I developed a good work ethic – an acquired skill. Certain things had to be done first, those tasks took top priority (like feeding the animals, parallel: like taking care of the client) and the rest had to be done, but later. Prioritizing tasks and organizing the rest by importance – an acquired skill.
I had older siblings, so I listened and learned, taking it all in. I watched how they did things and then figured it out myself – an acquired skill. We fixed whatever broke instead of just going and buying new. Parallel this to entering a law firm, observing the lay of the land and figuring out how things are done, so you can work to get them accomplished. I was fascinated by how things worked. (It makes sense that I became a product liability paralegal.)
One of my least favorite chores happened to be helping bale hay; it was my job to wait in the haymow to pull the bales off the conveyor belt; sometimes the weight of the bales would knock me down. By the time the wagon was unloaded, there was a mountain of bales to stack and put in their place. (Can you see a parallel to clients sending you everything they have since the beginning of time in every imaginable format?) Putting them in the correct place the first time saved me from having to go back and rearrange them later. I knew another hay wagon would arrive soon, so I got a drink of water, put my gloves back on and stood ready; it’s just like when the next wave of client material arrives at the office. (They just remembered they had 60 more boxes in storage). As a farm girl, I learned how to sift the wheat from the chaff; so as I look at the mountain of client data, I was glad I learned how to figure out what’s relevant and what isn’t. Parallel that to pre-case assessment; glean everything you need the first time so you only touch it once – an acquired skill.
During my teen years, I had a job as an assembly worker; it was boring and tedious. I didn’t want to die from boredom while assembling widgets and watching the minutes tick by, so I figured out how to get the job done efficiently and streamlined the process. A lot of what we do as paralegals can be tedious, but if we set the process up early on, we can get quality work done efficiently and get back to the fun stuff. Parallel - I learned team work, planning and organizational skills – again, acquired skills.
Worst job ever; we all had one. My worst job ever was skinning mink. Please don’t send me Peta messages. I needed a job and it paid the bills. You’re probably wondering what skill I could possibly have learned that would benefit me as a paralegal from skinning mink. That job taught me that I can do anything, I mean anything, if I have to – perseverance, an acquired skill.
Through my college years, I waitressed; who knew carrying 10 dinners on one serving tray would teach me to organize my load, prioritize my steps and keep balanced? Every customer was treated as if they were my only one. Parallel to the legal world – every client should be treated as if they are #1. Exceptional customer service – an acquired skill.
My acquired skill set prepared me to be a good paralegal; my continuous learning makes me a better paralegal. So next time you find yourself wondering if your outside (and seemingly unrelated) job skills could benefit you in the legal realm, the answer is an astounding “yes!” After all, I did make it from farm, to a factory, to a restaurant, to skinning mink to pay the bills and eventually into a law firm - with more acquired skills than one could imagine. And you can too!
Tamara Quincannon, is a career in-house litigation paralegal who works at Joy Global Inc., an international mining equipment manufacturer. She is responsible for the product liability and toxic tort work, as well as other litigation that may arise. She enjoys the corporate legal environment because no two days are ever the same. Tamara is part of a team and has the opportunity to proactively help the business minimize risk and liability.
Hey TPSers, Do you have any interesting job skills you acquired from a previous position that are seemingly, completely unrelated to the legal profession? If so, tell us about it! The contest for the weirdest, acquired, paralegal skills begins….right now! (See that comment button – go hit it!)
We’ll see you on that coveted, paralegal holiday fondly known as: “Happy High Heel Friday!” Get ‘em spiffed up and out of the closet, people! (And for those of you who can’t do heels because you’re fellas - wear a cool tie, cufflinks or neat socks, and for those of you who can’t wear heels because your heels (the ones permanently attached to your feet) won’t let you – rock the jewelry loud and proud, ladies!)
One more day until the next, paralegal salute…