By: Jamie Collins
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of participating on a panel for the newly launched paralegal program at Marian University in my hometown of Indianapolis. Marian University is a phenomenal school. It holds a special place in my paralegal heart because I attended college there immediately following high school.
There I found myself, entering the same parking lot and walking down the familiar corridors I had passed through so many years ago. Until that moment, the long, well-lit hallways painted in a neutral shade, and the boxy, square shaped stairways were a distant memory in the periphery of my paralegal mind. Once I entered the building, it all came rushing back to me…the memories.
While I was excited to sit on a panel consisting of 7 reputable attorneys and 2 paralegals, admittedly, it was also a bit intimidating. Could I have done this early on in my career? Absolutely not. I would have been enveloped by fear and ran in the opposite direction as fast as my little paralegal legs could carry me! However, 14 years of working in the legal field alongside many brilliant attorneys will do a lot for a person, so there I sat, in a classroom filled with eager, adult paralegal students that were ready to hear about our experiences and expertise in our given areas.
The panel was seated at a long L-shaped table at the front of the room. I had to chuckle because they had me, as the plaintiff’s litigation/trial paralegal surrounded by defense attorneys on either side of me – they were both extremely nice guys, but nevertheless, they were from “the dark side” — for you newbies — that’s code language for “the defense.” (I’m sure they refer to my side as the dark side as well, but this is my blog post, so they get to be the dark side!)
The students had a lot of intelligent questions about what we do in our respective areas of law and the inherent ins and outs of working in those areas. There came a point when the conversation seemed to shift and was geared primarily toward commercial and transactional work and how fabulous it was to work in those particular areas. While I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with that line of thinking (we all have our preferences), litigation was being referred to in general terms, as “conflict.” Litigation and trial were starting to take a back seat. That’s when it happened.
I found myself in a situation that sparked a memory regarding a former Oprah episode that I watched long ago. In that particular episode, Madeleine Albright, the first woman to become Secretary of State, was the featured guest. Oprah asked Madeleine if there was ever a time when she felt intimidated as the only woman present at the often intense United Nations’ meetings. I’ll never forget her response. She paused for only a moment, and stated that there certainly were many times when she felt intimidated. She then went on to say: “but then I realize that if I don’t speak, the United States doesn’t speak — so I speak.” I found that statement to be so profound. Her participation went beyond just her…it extended to something bigger, something greater, something grand, something worth representing…the United States.
So, in that classroom, in that moment, I channeled my inner Madeleine Albright. I realized if I didn’t speak, then the litigation and trial paralegals didn’t speak, the area of law I am most passionate about didn’t speak, why I love what I do wouldn’t speak. It would simply be swept under the classroom rug and written off as “conflict.” So I did it…I spoke…a lot. I conveyed my passion for what I do, how I love acting as a liaison to my clients, for the countless hours I spend in trial preparation for the sake of an important cause, for the time I spend away from my family consumed by something greater than myself, for what brings me the highest level of professional satisfaction I have ever known: litigation and trial work. In that moment, Jamie Collins became Madeleine Albright, and she spoke…a lot.
Following the panel, one of the female attorneys told me “I was very impressed by you. I really was.” (Thank you Susan). So, I guess I did Madeleine Albright, the panel and the trial paralegals proud…and managed not to sound like a babbling moron, which is always a big plus.
I felt inspired to write this post because I wanted to share Madeleine’s lucrative advice with you. As a paralegal, no matter what area of law you work in or what type of firm, there will come a time in your career when you will need “to speak” or someone, something, be it a cause, a project, a strategy, a case, an attorney’s reputation, a firm’s reputation, your reputation, an ultimate outcome or a client’s life…will be at stake…and… if you fail to speak…the cause, the strategy, the case, the reputation will not speak. Therefore, you MUST speak.
So, the next time you find yourself in a “Madeleine Albright moment,” I hope you’ll fondly reflect upon this blog post, find a glimmer of personal courage in that moment, and channel your inner Madeleine, so that the quintessential “something” that is at stake will have a voice…and that voice will be yours.
“The only courage that matters is the kind that gets you from one moment to the next.”
– Mignon McLaughlin
Do you have an example of a “Madeleine moment” in your own paralegal life? If so, please leave a comment! We’d love to hear about your experience(s).
I’d like to extend a special thank you to Marian University for allowing me to participate on the panel for their paralegal program! It was a fantastic experience that leaves me looking forward to next semester!