ann pettigrew, camaraderie, change, educate, education, encouragement, helping, inspire, jamie collins, jennifer macdonnell, karen george, kathryn gordon, licensure, mariana fradman, mentors, mentorship, motivate, movement, networking, paralegals, the paralegal society
By: JAMIE COLLINS
You know what? Four months ago, The Paralegal Society (“TPS”) did not exist. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t even a glimmer of a thought in my mind. It didn’t exist in the truest sense of the word. TPS is what I would consider a spontaneous dream, one that came to me on an otherwise seemingly normal day. It unfolded at a rapid pace and evolved in a rather expeditious fashion, from vision to creation, through the planning stages of “what” “whom” and “how” and into a full-blown reality…as you sit there in your chair today… reading this very post. I’ve had a few TPS members ask me for “the story” behind TPS. So, how did it all begin?
First I’ll tell you a bit about me…
As many of you may know, I am a Litigation Paralegal and have worked in that capacity for the past fourteen years. I handle predominantly personal injury and wrongful death cases and do a lot of trial work. I have to tell you that I love my job. For me, it is a labor of passion and my true calling in life. There is nothing else I would rather be doing professionally. Society can officially stop asking me if I want to become an attorney! The answer is no.
I have always enjoyed writing. A paper to write for a class? No problem. For me, that meant I had absolute control over my grade. I loved the art of taking words, crafting them into a body of work and luring my reader into whatever it is I wanted to share with them. Peddling ice to an Eskimo…that was me. I’m a paralegal and a writer. That’s my background.
Now back to the story…
It all began on a Sunday. I was at College Park Church in Indianapolis, Indiana. It’s the first church “home” I’ve ever known during my life – and it took me 35 years to find it. It’s a place where I often found myself personally and spiritually inspired. This particular Sunday had started out like any other normal day in my life, but at some point during that church service – things changed.
The Pastor, Mark Vroegop, gave a sermon about people living up to their full potential. It was an eloquent and profound message. It really moved me. In essence, his message was: “it is your duty to live up to your God-given talents and abilities.” I heard those words and thought to myself: “Well, I’m doing a lot with my life. I have a great career, a great family and am doing pretty well, but living up to my full potential? Probably not.” When I actually stopped to think about it – I knew I could do more. It was in that very moment that my life changed.
You see, after that particular Sunday, things began to jump out at me. It was like I had professional opportunities put directly in my path and I took notice of them. For purposes of this “story,” we’ll just stick with those that are somewhat related to TPS.
After “that” Sunday, I managed to meet three of the top paralegal editors in the country. In fact, I met two of them on the same day. What are the odds of that? Really? They came straight across my path. I currently find myself writing a litigation column for Chere Estrin that is featured in KNOW: The Magazine for Paralegals. I also occasionally write as a guest blogger on The Estrin Report.
Ironically, the same day I met Chere, I was approached by another Editor-in-Chief that asked to feature me in a competing paralegal magazine. I was truly flattered and humbled by the proposition. However, due to my newly landed writing gig with Chere, it simply didn’t work out.
Here enters TPS…
This friendly editor and I chatted, learned more about one another and discussed the paralegal profession at length. We were both very passionate about the legal field, education and all that is “paralegal.” I heard these words exit my mouth: “I love to write to educate, motivate and inspire paralegals. There really needs to be more camaraderie between experienced paralegals and new ones. The only way that is ever going to change is if enough of the nearly 300,000 paralegals in the country start to care and there is some kind of a movement to change things.”
After that phone call ended – those words resonated deeply within me. Why would I tell someone else what needs to happen for the profession? What if that “someone” actually had the gumption to do what I had suggested? Why couldn’t I do it? Why couldn’t I start something? I could. I would….start something.
The LinkedIn connection…
I joined Linked in just a few months prior to this exchange, in March of 2011. I had read a countless number of posts by new paralegals (and even some experienced ones) that were having a great deal of difficulty securing employment. They were frustrated.
I also came across posts from many newbies that were annoyed because they had no idea “how” to actually perform paralegal job duties after earning their coveted paralegal degrees. The chat rooms were peppered with these types of exchanges day in and day out; different people with the same stories.
I got the feeling that many of the paralegals in the chat rooms were completely terrified to post comments in the paralegal forums due to fear of criticism. Some of them even admitted it in private exchanges with me. On occasion, I would also see a string of conversation that involved bullying. Instances where a paralegal was belittled by a paralegal peer (or two) that had already made their way up onto the paralegal mountain – only to kick at others down below. I always tried to offer words of support and encouragement as often as I could and jumped to the aid of an attacked newbie when I could, but how much it helped, I wasn’t sure.
It seemed to me that the paralegal profession, in general, was failing to properly welcome the newbies. There was no welcome wagon. In many ways, our profession was actually discouraging them. Newbies regularly heard that it would be nearly impossible to find a job; impossible to learn to do the job; and implications proffered that it would be next to impossible to network with experienced paralegals – the ones that were up on the mountain. Not many paralegals seemed to extend an olive branch.
All the newbies really wanted was to fit in with the experienced paralegals, to learn from us, and network. Yet, not many people were really helping them. What? Why? It made no sense. There were certainly plenty of talented, friendly and successful paralegals to be had in the paralegal forum…some truly amazing people. The majority of paralegals in those rooms were helpful and friendly. Yet, camaraderie seemed to be lacking across the board. The newbies and less experienced paralegals were crippled in fear. They were too scared to post and nervous to reach out. Wasn’t that the whole point?
Friendly paralegals to build a bridge…
I thought about all of the kind paralegals I had encountered in the paralegal forums on LinkedIn during the previous three month period. I had an idea! The newbies needed a lifeline; they needed mentors. The friendly, successful, experienced paralegals needed to build stronger networks. Paralegals needed a place where they could interact, chat, bounce ideas and establish a sense of camaraderie. Everyone could stand to benefit from an awesome network of friendly paralegals and the valuable information that would flow from such a group. If no such group existed, I could start it.
I needed mentors. I knew exactly who some of them were from the very beginning. I spent the next week deciding which paralegals I wanted to bring into my inner circle for this new endeavor. The first on the list? Karen George, FRP. Karen always had a kind word to offer. Always. Now, in reality, she may have wanted to secretly bang her head down onto her desk while dispensing the same advice to newbies over and over and over…but you never saw that come through in her posts. Karen was top shelf; absolutely high caliber. There was no better candidate. She became my first mentor partner.
Shortly thereafter, Jennifer MacDonnell sent me a random e-mail one day, asking if she should renew her Notary Commission or not. I didn’t know her at all, but her warmth and love for the profession shined through in her written exchanges with me. I liked her…a lot. A close friendship formed very quickly. She became mentor number two.
Admitedly, I had my eye on Mariana for awhile. As the President of the New York Paralegal Association, she ran her group and ran it well. There was no negative energy in her forum. She wouldn’t allow it. I knew she was right for the job as I watched her exchanges with her fellow New Yorkers. Mariana became mentor number three.
By this time, TPS was a full-blown concept in my mind. I knew exactly what I wanted it to look like, to feel like…to be. I posted a question seeking information about trademarks and who responded? Kathryn Gordon from Chicago, and in entered TPS mentor number four. As a corporate paralegal, Kat was very knowledgeable and went above and beyond normal bounds to explain the nuances of trademark law to me. It also happens that she is very savvy with IT and software issues. Perfect! Kat entered as TPS mentor number four.
Things just fell right into place. People just fell right into place. I had an idea, lots of ambition and a crew of believers…and they “really” believed. Granted, when I told non-legal people about this venture, they gave me the “huh” look. They probably thought I was nuts! However, all legal minds that I shared the TPS concept with seemed to really latch onto it. The name came to me instantly. It needed to be a paralegal community, a forum…a society. The Paralegal Society. That was perfect.
Our motivation was further fueled by one another. You could just feel the excitement and anticipation for the cause radiating off of our e-mails to one another. I felt like the time for TPS had truly come. The profession was ready for it. It was going to become a reality. Zero to TPS in three short months!
Ann Pettigrew recently joined our ranks as a TPS mentor. With her thoughtful, inspirational and creative posts, we just couldn’t help ourselves! If you ever find yourself in need of a good rally speech – Ann’s your paralegal.
On August 14, 2011, the TPS blog was officially launched. Hello world…. it’s TPS! Several days later, we officially launched our related “social club” on LinkedIn. A special thanks to our first “social club” member – Oliver Gierke! When Oliver asked to join the social club, it was completely blank…and I mean blank! We have since managed to fill the room with lots of interesting conversations, inspirational thoughts, words of advice and helpful articles – all thanks to the help of our fabulous social club members! It is a truly amazing group of paralegals from all across the world. Yes – the world! We have members from the UK, Israel, Hawaii, China, Canada and Dubai. We find ourselves inspired each day. You can feel the energy radiating from our social club. We’re ready to make a difference. We’re hoping to make a change.
That one Sunday had literally shifted my entire life. I had met the top three editors across the country in a period of 2 days; thought up the idea of TPS; pulled together an amazing core group of ladies from all across the country; and established a new paralegal forum. If you ask me if I am living up to my full potential now…I’d have to say I’m pretty darn close! I feel like I’m doing what I was meant to do and I’ve never been happier.
So here we find ourselves. Me…typing this post…and…you…now reading it. We are a little over one month in and the TPS blog has seen over 3,900 hits! We have 122 members in our social club on LinkedIn! It’s truly remarkable. We’re onto something big, and we’re so glad you want to be a part of it!
What can one paralegal do? Quite a bit. What can ten do? Quite a bit more. One hundred can do considerably more. What can thousands of paralegals do? That remains to be seen…but I say anything we truly want to do for our profession. A heck of a lot for paralegal education, licensure and camaraderie all across the country. It’s a new day. It’s all on the table and we are all in the driver’s seat. We just need to envision what needs to change for our profession and work together to make it happen. We can. We will. We hope you’ll join us.
The truth is, The Paralegal Society does not work without all of you. Every single paralegal that follows TPS is a vital and essential contributor to our cause and a valued member of our paralegal society. The experienced paralegals provide support, help and encouragement, and the newbies come in search of a little help and knowledge as they make their way up the paralegal pyramid. TPS is your blog. It’s your social club. It’s your friendly paralegal network. It’s a soft place to fall; a place to let your hair down. It’s your opportunity to do something great. The Paralegal Society is for all of you – with all of you. We’d have it no other way.
“There is one thing stronger than all the armies in the world,
and that is an idea whose time has come.”
– Victor Hugo