BY: KAREN GEORGE, FRP
I read a lot of discussions on LinkedIn started by a lot of aspiring paralegals. Some of them are already studying to become a paralegal, while others are thinking about it. Some say: “I’ve decided to be a paralegal… I think.” I respond with encouragement and advice. However, most recently, I read a post that made me think a little deeper. Instead of advice or encouragement, I offered my definition of a paralegal; and if you fit that definition, than Paralegal is the profession for you.
I have watched the Paralegal profession become what appears to be: The Profession of Choice. Since I have worked as a paralegal “for quite a while,” I ask myself: “What are these people hoping for? What compels them to choose this profession?”
If what you seek herein is the definition of a paralegal from NALA or NFPA or the ABA, you can find those definitions in many articles, discussion posts and on the websites of those associations. Instead, what I offer here is the true heart and soul of what makes someone “a paralegal.”
To begin with, paralegal is not a “vocation” one assumes or a profession one strives to ascend to, it is a calling. Paralegals are special people, with a special heart and rhythm to their souls. Paralegals have an innate desire, a self-driven compulsion if you will, to help their fellow humankind. Paralegals are NOW, Greenpeace, the NAACP, Consumer Advocates; they are the mechanics and orchestrators, the defenders of a cause.
Paralegals care about the client and their problem, they want to use their knowledge, their training and their experience, to help someone: in trouble, buy a house, start a business, get divorced correctly, or to take care of an elderly family member. Paralegals are similar to nurses; we help people when they can’t help themselves. Instead of medicine, we help with our training and knowledge, to help the attorney fight the battle with all that is available to right the wronged. Paralegals work long, hard hours; they miss family time and events. They work under pressure and they do it all (and much more) not just for the money, but for the love of doing what they think is right.
So, if you feel the “calling,” if you feel you fit what I describe above, then paralegal IS the profession for you. However, if you see a paralegal career as a way to make a lot of money, get to go to court, or simply an alternative that doesn’t require as much money and time as it would take to become an attorney, then go elsewhere…seek another profession. You won’t be happy and more importantly, you won’t serve the client well.
Sometimes people joke about how much I care about a case. I am often told: “You can’t get that way, it’s just another case.” But it isn’t “just another case” for the client, it’s their life, their money, their children, their elderly parent; it is something that matters to the client. We have been retained through our attorney, our firm, to execute our jobs as best we can for the client.
I tell my paralegal trainee to look at each assignment not as one more task. Instead I ask her: “What would you do, how hard would you try, if it were for You? That’s how hard you need to work on the assignment, as if it were for you or someone you loved. The client doesn’t know how to do what we do. We are retained to fight for them as strongly as hard as would for ourselves.” Always remember, every case is personal to the client.
So, if you feel you fit what I describe, then a paralegal career is for you. Do all that you can to learn as much as you can, to be the best paralegal you can be – for the client.
Always remember…if you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life.