Here at The Paralegal Society, we like to feature our members. We have launched a new series entitled: “Sketches of Our Society,” which will provide you with an up close, personal and professional look at various paralegals, students, aspiring paralegals and other legal minds that make our society so great. We hope you enjoy reading them as much as we do! Let the mingling begin…
Featured Paralegal: Eric Bleuel
Hails From: Greater Los Angeles Area, California
How long have you been a paralegal, what is your current title and what are your area(s) of practice?
I started working for an attorney in Newport Beach, California right out of college in 1992. I prepared bankruptcy petitions and assisted with civil litigation. In 2000, I got married and moved back to my home town in Ventura, California where I was fortunate enough to obtain a civil law clerk position with the Ventura County Counsel’s office and have been here ever since. Our office is unique in that we handle a wide variety of cases. Areas of law that I assist with include bail forfeitures, LPS conservatorships, CEQA issues, employment matters, and juvenile dependency, just to name a few. I mainly assist with trial preparation and document production.
Tell us about your educational background, i.e., did you attend “the school of learn or get fired” or a college? Also tell us about any paralegal associations you participate in, as well as any accolades or special honors you have received.
I attended the University of California at Irvine where I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Social Ecology and a specialization in Environmental Studies and Urban Planning. I graduated from U.C. Irvine’s paralegal program 2000. In 2011, I completed my Master’s in Public Administration through California State University at Northridge. Currently, I am an active member of the Ventura County Paralegal Association.
What made you become a paralegal?
Right out of college I answered an advertisement for a legal assistant position posted on the U.C. Irvine job board. It was kind of difficult in the beginning because I didn’t have any experience. But I worked hard and and found that the more I learned, the more I was able to contribute to the office. Eventually I just felt that this was something that I enjoyed and felt comfortable doing.
Did you face any challenges in trying to become a paralegal? If so, how did you overcome that challenge, and what advice would you give to others facing that challenge now?
Getting my first job was the easy part; doing the work was another story. Many of the challenges I faced were very unexpected. How do you fix a copy machine when no one is around? How do you serve a subpoena when the guy is running away from you? What do you do when your boss gives you an assignment and you have no idea where to start?
A lot of people chime in on LinkedIn and ask how to get a job as a paralegal. I’m no expert, but here is what I would tell them:
1) THE LIST – Make a list of every single law firm in your area. (And a few out of the area.) Check their website and find out who is the person in charge of hiring. Your goal is to get to this person.
2) GET OUT THERE – Get your one page resume, make 100 copies, and start at the top of the list. (And bring along a special super-duper brochure resume to drop it off at the firms that you are really interested in; you don’t want to waste your money on everyone)
3) USE YOUR CHARM – When you get to the firm there is going to be a receptionist that is trained to get rid of you. This is your first challenge. Don’t just drop off your resume (they will just throw it in the trash). Make the receptionist your friend (you have 1 minute to do this.)
Here’s how: “Hi, I know you are probably not hiring, but I’m looking for work and I was in the area and I thought I’d drop off my resume.” Look around the place curiously and start asking questions quick (but wait until you have their attention, if there are people in the lobby hang out until they are gone) “How long have you worked here? Do you like it? Do they hire very often? How did you get a job here? Is there a HR manager I can talk to real quick? Do you think I could make an appointment to talk to the person who does the hiring? Can I get a business card from someone?” Try not to leave without getting through to the person who does the hiring. When you do meet that person, say something like: “I know you’re real busy, I just wanted you to see my face, drop off my resume, and let you know I’m interested in working here even if you don’t have any openings right now.” Say something funny and get out of there.
4) RE-GROUP – After a gnarly day of doing this, make a report of how it went. Organize the cards you got. Make a new list of what you thought of each firm.
5) THE FOLLOW-UP – The next day or so, make your follow up calls. “Sorry to bother you. I know you are real busy but . . . I’m looking for work and I thought maybe I’d ask if you have any openings even if it’s just part-time blah, blah, blah.” Try to make an appointment to meet with them just for 5 minutes. That is the goal.
One time I went to a firm and they rushed me out the door saying, “Sorry we are not hiring!” Then the next day they called me (someone had unexpectedly quit) and I was working for that firm the following week. You’ve got to play the numbers and increase your odds of something like this happening. In my opinion, going to a handful of firms just isn’t going to work.
A great inspirational story is KFC founder Colonel Sanders. He knocked on over 2,000 doors before someone bought his recipe. Who knows; it might take you 2,001. I know it’s not real fun, kind of humiliating at times, and if you are shy like me it’s the last thing you feel like doing. The good news is, all you need is for one of them to give you a chance and when they do you’ll feel awesome.
Being a paralegal often comes with a lot of stress. What’s your favorite way to handle the stress?
EAT! No, just joking, you got to remember that it’s just a job. You are still you. If you love surfing, go surf. If you love knitting, go knit. If you love to lock yourself in the closet and listen to your ipod or read books, do that.
Whatever your “thing” is don’t forget that it’s what makes you – you, and it’s what you love. Find your passion and practice it. The more the better.
What are your secrets for being successful? In life? At work?
Yikes! I was hoping someone could tell me that.
Well, I know goal-setting is important. Have you ever heard of a “Vision Board?” It’s where you cut out a bunch of pictures from a magazine and paste it on a board with a caption that symbolizes your goals. The key is to set goals, write them out, have performance measures set against those goals, and Just Do It!
Michael Phelps had his secret goals on the inside of his locker that he looked at every day for 4 years. We all know how that turned out.
What particular task in the paralegal world is your least favorite?
I hate confrontation. I hate when people are angry. I hate when I have to confront an angry person. But in the legal field it’s unavoidable. Otherwise there wouldn’t be any lawsuits and we’d be out of a job.
What particular task in the paralegal world is your favorite?
I love preparing presentations for trial and documents for production.
When I was in the first grade we used to use strips of colored paper, scissors and glue to make these long chain links that we would decorate the classroom with around Christmas time. I loved taking the time to cut the paper, glue it to make a ring and then add another . . . and another . . . and another. It was the only time I can remember when I voluntarily stayed after class to finish something. When it was all done and we strung the chain from one side of the room to the other I’d look at it and go, “Wow, I did that!”
I get the same feeling when I create a PowerPoint that goes up during trial or I deliver exhibit binders that I assembled to the arbitrator and opposing counsel. It’s nice to work hard on something go “Wow, I did that!”
If one of your good friends had to decide whether to become a paralegal or some other professional, what advice would you give? Why?
Well, it depends on which friend. It’s definitely not for everyone. You are not going to make a million dollars a year working as a paralegal. You are going to have to be able to take orders from someone. You are going to have to take the back seat when it comes to making decisions. And you are going to have to take on a lot of stress when there are big cases going through the pipeline. But, if you are like me, and like to work behind the scenes, it’s not a bad job.
Some people go to work and have to dig a ditch with loud stressful noise all around them. That’s not for me. I guess it depends on your personality and how interested you are in the legal field and working in a legal environment. Sometimes it can be a lot of fun.
What’s the funniest thing you’ve ever done as a paralegal?
Well, I don’t know if it was funny, but one of my best moments was walking into a courtroom with a 10 foot projection screen under my arm and seeing the opposing attorney’s face when he realized that we were going to show a PowerPoint that was just going to destroy him. And we did.
What’s the proudest moment that you’ve had as a paralegal?
I was very proud to complete and file the very first e-brief at the Court of Appeal in downtown Ventura (at least that is what the clerk told me.) I worked very hard over a period of 9 months hyperlinking cases, statutes and briefs to each other. I had to double and triple check thousands of links and make a CD display case that would explain how to use it. It was the most labor intensive project that I had ever worked on by myself. A definite “Wow, I did that!” moment.
What’s your craziest story stemming from your experience in the legal world?
The longer I live the crazier things get. I can’t think of one particular story that would interest everyone. Just the overall nature of the way legal proceedings end up. You think you are going to win, then you lose. You think you’ll lose, then you win. You work your tail off preparing for trial and then they settle on the courthouse steps. I’ve learned not to get too upset over things out of my control. But sometimes . . .
If you could do it all over again, what would you change, and why? What wouldn’t you change, and why wouldn’t you change it?
Oh man, I would change a thousand things, if I had only known. But I can’t, can I? You can only look back and go – OMG! I learned my lesson on that one. I won’t do that again!
If I had the chance, I would have saved more money, been nicer to the people I love, tried to be happier and not worry so much. But I’m human and I accept all the things that have happened and that I have done. I’m happy how everything worked out. Life is still hard though. I wish I could clone myself to get more things done.
If you were teaching a paralegal class in your area of practice, what would it be? Why is it so important?
My passion lies in making PowerPoint presentations and preparing bankruptcy petitions. Someday I’d like to teach a class in either of those areas.
Presentations are important because most of the time they are done in a way that is just plain boring to the audience. I’d like to teach others how to make them more interesting and effective. The goal of making a presentation is to communicate information to an audience so that they can remember and apply it.
I don’t prepare bankruptcy petitions anymore, but when I did I had a lot of fun doing it. Bankruptcy is form driven and I just like to fill out forms. It’s like making the paper chain in the first grade.
What things have you learned about yourself over the years as a paralegal? How have you personally grown?
It’s amazing how 10-20 years can go by in just a blink of an eye. Just yesterday I was single and living in Newport Beach without a care in the world. Now I’m married with three young kids and it seems like the weight of the world is on my shoulders. What have I learned about myself? Good question.
I asked myself that very question about 6 months before my 40th birthday. I was actually happy about turning 40 and I wanted to kind of reflect on all that had happened to me but I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t keep the order of events straight in my head. I was leaving things out. So I decided to write everything down. I wasn’t trying to write a book or autobiography or anything; I just wanted to start at my earliest memory and go forward. I wrote everyday for about 3 months until I finished. Wow, what an experience! When I was done I could tell there were certain themes that kept coming up and in the end everything boiled down to family, work and surfing. Not very exciting is it? But I’ll tell you once I was done writing I felt like the biggest burden was lifted off my shoulders. I felt like I could breathe again. There it was, my whole life on about 50 pages of paper. I was able to turn 40 and really focus on the future knowing what my past had been like and meant to me.
Anyway, my point is – everyone should do this at some time in your life. Just write everything down you can remember in the order that it happened and then look at the big picture. It’s hard and it’s easy not to finish. But when you do finish you will feel awesome. You will also have a permanent record of “Who You Are. . . Really” (see Jamie’s August 2011 blog entry)
What does The Paralegal Society mean to you? How have you, or how can you, benefit from being a member? Please share your thoughts with us!
So far the Paralegal Society has been really cool. Jamie had a vision, she acted on it, and so far she has lived up to the hype. It’s got to be hard running this thing. I mean everyday there is a flood of e-mails and information that I couldn’t keep straight. But I’m very grateful that she does it. My goal in joining LinkedIn was to try and network with other paralegals, so I could get my questions answered. So far it has been a great forum for doing this. I’ve had numerous questions answered that I otherwise would be searching for on Google and coming up short. The human aspect of it is also something that is hard to describe. It’s like the discussions make you think and grow as a person.
What major accomplishments and accolades would you ultimately like to see listed on your paralegal obituary when the time comes?
I’m real interested in presentations right now. What makes them interesting and what makes them boring. I’d like to be the go-to guy when it comes for developing PowerPoint presentations for the courtroom.
What are your three top professional goals at this time?
1) Master the art (and science) of presentations
2) Participate in Ventura County Paralegal Association events
3) Increase the efficiency in creating my work product.
What is the most difficult situation you’ve ever overcome (personal or paralegal)?
My kids are my biggest challenge right now. I have a baby, a 2-year-old and a first-grader. It’s like I have to talk 3 different languages when I go home. There is constantly something going on. I rarely have time to think. Sometimes going to work is the only break I get. When the last kid is asleep and everything is ready for the next day I’m crashed out (that is . . . until the baby wakes up)
What makes you a unique person?
I guess I look at myself as someone who works hard, spends time with his family and enjoys sports. I’ve been in a number of triathlons, master’s swim meets and ocean swims over the years. My dad participates too. It’s nice to have my mom and my family rooting for us at these events. It’s given us quality time together and allowed us to travel. I also like going out to eat afterwards.
What is the most unique life experience you’ve had to date? Tell us about it.
Gosh, these questions are getting tougher. Ok, off the top of my head, I guess the best day I had was May 1, 2011. I had been working really hard at my job, I had been taking good care of my family and I just needed a break. So I scheduled a snowboard trip to Mammoth Mountain with my good friend from high school. On that particular morning the weather was just awesome. The air was crisp, the sun was out and you could see for miles. The snow was absolutely perfect. There were no crowds and I was just happy to be there. It was around ten o’clock in the morning when my friend spotted Arnold Schwarzenegger on the chair lift ahead of us. I didn’t believe him at first, but when we unloaded the chair, there he was just standing in front of us. My wife is really into celebrities so I knew I had to get a picture to prove it.
We skied right up to him and asked him. I thought he would say no. But instead he said in his thick Austrian accent “Ab-so-lutely” This was right before the scandal hit. It was probably his last good day before becoming front page news. Arnold was way cool that day and talked to us for awhile. He made us laugh and then just skied off down the other side of the mountain. We were like, wow that was pretty random. Anyway we just had a great day snowboarding in perfect conditions.
When we got back to the hotel we were exhausted and were watching the TV. That was the day they announced that Bin Laden had been killed. We were in total shock. We were glued to the set for like two hours. Then we had a late dinner of spaghetti and lasagna at my favorite restaurant until we were absolutely stuffed. For just one day I didn’t worry about my work or family or anything. I should have bought a lottery ticket that day.
What is your most life-defining moment to date?
The whole get married and having kids #1, #2 and #3 all were life changing moments. Anyone can attest to that. I’ve surfed some pretty big waves in Kauai (well it was big for me at least) and snowboarded some great days in Mammoth that I will always remember. Getting my Master’s degree was huge for my confidence. Being my son’s soccer coach has been very challenging, but also very rewarding. Every once in a while though I take a walk on the beach and just breathe in and out and try to remain calm and try and decide where do I go from here? But, I think my true life-defining moment has yet to happen. (Maybe it’s this article!)
What is your most life-defining “paralegal moment” to date?
Being a paralegal to an attorney or for a law office is like being the utility player on a baseball team, or being “Radar” on that TV series “M.A.S.H.” You got to be able to do it all. Run the errands, draft the pleadings, file the papers, fix the computers, interview the clients, do whatever it takes to get the job done. And then do it again and again and again. My life-defining moment as a paralegal was when I was able to say, “Yeah, I can do that” or “I’ve never done that, but I know I can open a book or call a friend or ask a question on LinkedIn and figure it out.” Confidence in your ability to problem-solve and get the work done without complaining about it is every paralegal’s purpose in life.
If you could choose any meal for your “final supper” here on planet earth, what would you choose? Is there a specific memory tied to your selection?
After I got married, and moved back to Ventura, my sister-in-law got cancer. I decided one way I could help out was to cook Spaghetti for her and her family on Mondays. It’s been 10 years running (she now has cancer for the third time) and rarely do we miss a Monday Spaghetti night. It’s fun to get together with them. Our kids get along well and we all love Spaghetti. But my absolute favorite meal is steak and lobster with a baked potato, but I only order it on my birthday and special occasions.
Very few people have never experienced a setback in life. What setback(s) or extenuating circumstance(s) have you dealt with in your life thus far and how did it/they make you stronger? What did you learn from them? How has it changed you?
Gosh, setbacks seem to be a daily occurrence. Just recently, my wife’s mother got real sick and was close to dying so my wife had to go see her. With very little notice I found myself alone with the three kids for three whole weeks. After freaking out for about an hour, I said to myself, you know take this opportunity and use it to bond with them. I took time off of work and we did all sorts of things together. We even took a trip to San Diego and went to Legoland. It was tough, but we did it. The house was a mess when my wife got back, but we had a great time. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Not sure who said that but it sounds good.
Robert Fulghum wrote a book entitled “All I Really Need to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten.” If you were six years old, but had the same knowledge that you have now, what would you do differently?
I would know that I can think for myself and that just because someone tells you something doesn’t mean it’s true or is something that you should do. I also wouldn’t have worried about all those things that I had no control over.
Anything we failed to ask that you would like us to know about you?
Not really. But I would like to take the time to thank Jamie for asking me to complete this questionnaire. It is truly an honor. This endeavor (TPS) that you have undertaken is nothing short of amazing. Not sure where you get your inspiration and ideas, but your passion for doing this really shines through. Please keep it going for all us paralegals that would like to exchange stories and ideas. It helps fuel my own passions and gets me through one more day. Thank you.
**Note from Jamie: Eric provided the coolest picture of him and Arnold Schwarzenegger with his responses, but I wasn’t able to paste it in to share it (unfortunately) due to my lack of blogging expertise with regard to copy/paste jobs on non-web hosted pics. [Insert paralegal sad face here ]. It was cool!
We’d like to say a special thank you to Eric for taking the time to share this fantastic and candid profile with us (and for making the Founder tear up while reading your feedback regarding TPS). We truly enjoyed learning more about Eric, didn’t you TPS readers? He tells the best stories! I’ll never forget his “10 Minute Mentor” story. If you missed out on that one – it’s because you aren’t a member of our LinkedIn group for The Paralegal Society. You should join! All friendly paralegals are allowed! Do you meet the criteria of “friendly?” If so…what are you waiting for? Join us! We’d love to get to know you better!
Please feel free to share a thought or leave your feedback by leaving a comment! We’d love to hear from you, TPS readers!
(Now go join our LinkedIn group!!!)