By: Carmen J. Hunt (Guest Blogger)
Happy High Heel Friday, TPS readers! Today, we have something special to share with you. It’s a bit longer of a post, but we can assure you that it’s well worth the read! Today, we’re bringing a paralegal to the TPS floor who wears combat boots…well…at least she did! She now works as a Managing Trademark Paralegal for Major League Baseball Properties, Inc., in New York! She’s here to share some interesting insights with us between the U.S. Marine Corps and Paralegal Land! So sit back, take a moment to be grateful that you don’t have to lace up your high heels, and enjoy!
There are many traits, skills and attributes paralegals will never learn in a classroom. Commitment, intuition, dedication, discretion, leadership, confidence, motivation, endurance, loyalty…you get my point. All the things that reflect the kind of paralegal you ARE! Some people learn them with a paralegal mentor, some learn them with an attorney they work with on-the-job, some are still working on learning them and some may never learn them at all—for whatever reason. My paralegal traits came from a more peculiar source, a source most people would not expect—the Marine Corps.
It was the summer of 1985, and I was on a bus taking a twenty-something hour long trip on my way to Parris Island. After many hours of driving, I looked around the bus and all I saw staring back at me was exhaustion, apprehension and fear of what we would find there. I knew my eyes held the same exhausted terrified look, but it was too late to turn back.
We arrived around 2 a.m., and despite our fears, everyone fell asleep. As the bus stopped, the lights went on, and in rushed a swarm of the tallest, meanest, most intimidating looking drill instructors you can imagine. Screams shattered the silence: “Get off the bus! Now! Do it, quickly!” It took me a few seconds to register where I was. When I finally did, all I could think was: What in the world were you thinking????
Anything worth having is worth fighting for, and the title “Marine” was no exception. Boot camp is where I found out how much I was willing to fight, sacrifice, struggle and endure for something that truly mattered to me. It was by far the most physically, mentally and emotionally challenging experience of my life, but if I had a chance to do things over, I wouldn’t change a thing. Why? Because it changed me; it changed the way I looked at life and the way I lived my life going forward. The Marine Corps showed me I was capable of much more than I ever thought possible.
Boot camp gave me an improved version of myself, a self upgrade 2.0 – one that was more honorable, stronger, and more tenacious! It taught me a deeper sense of dedication, commitment, endurance and camaraderie. It rewired me to always think of my buddy and my platoon mates’ welfare before my own—their failure was my failure, my success, their success. Was it tough? Heck yeah! Did I ever think about quitting? About fifty thousand times a day—but I didn’t, and that’s what really matters. Isn’t it? The gas chamber didn’t break me. The swim qualification didn’t drown me. The tower and the crucible didn’t kill me. No pain, no gain.
In my six years in the Marines I learned a lot about a lot of things. I didn’t expect to learn anything I could use in my paralegal life. I could not have been more wrong. So here’s a short list of some rules I’ve “borrowed” from the Marines that I think ABSOLUTELY relate to paralegals. Once you read them, perhaps you might agree:
First to Fight. Marines have served in the forefront of every American war since their inception in 1775. They have carried out more than 300 missions on foreign soil. In many missions they were the first to be deployed, and so somewhere along the way they earned this reputation. When I hear this, I also think of all the exceptional paralegals that take the world by storm each and every day—just like Marines. I’ve had the pleasure to know or work with some of these elite paralegals. They are always the first ones in the middle of the “hot zone” and the last ones out. Call me selfish, but in a crisis, these are the paralegals I want on my team. The ones I could trust to have my back, to stay poised and collected when everyone else is in a state of sheer panic. That’s the type of first to fight paralegal I want to be!
Always have a plan. Marines never go into any situation without a plan—that’s just plain stupid and crazy, and more than likely, suicide. They don’t like to lose, so they don’t go in unprepared. Just like your attorney would never walk into court without having prepared his evidence, opening statement, etc., in other words, his plan of action. Why should you be unprepared and without a plan? You shouldn’t!! A paralegal with a plan will never have to say “I’m sorry” or “I didn’t know.”
Have a backup plan. The first one won’t work. Marines know that when you depend on mechanical equipment anything can go wrong, so they always have a back-up plan. If you follow only one advice in this entire piece, please follow this one. If I only had a dollar for every time this happened in my career! So please, be prepared, and plan, and then plan some more, because chances are, something is going to go wrong and your carefully laid out plans will be derailed by someone, somewhere, somehow. I guarantee it!
If it is stupid but works, it isn’t stupid. Sometimes when Marines are out in a crisis situation, they are forced to improvise and come up with crazy-like solutions—unless they work. Then everyone thinks they were great. Sometimes in the office, it’s necessary to think outside the box, and look for unconventional solutions to the problem. So yes, try them even if others think the ideas are stupid (and you are crazy). They won’t be laughing for long if they work!!
Never share a fighting hole with anyone braver than you are. A Marine must pick his fighting buddy with great care. Otherwise, he may never come home. The goal is not to die for your country. The goal is to defend its freedom and fight to see another day. If he teams up with a Marine who’s feeling braver than him that day, neither of them will come home. At work, you have to watch who you befriend, who you trust, who you rely on and team up with. Their ethics, morals and values may not your own. Not everyone you meet will look out for your best interests—in fact, the sad truth is most people won’t! Before you realize it, you’ll be caught up in a situation that damages your reputation and credibility. So never share a firm “fighting hole” with a paralegal less trustworthy, ethical or consistent than you are.
The easy way is always mined. Remember the expression your mother used to say, “Nothing worth having comes easy.” Well, Marines believe that too. This is just their military way of saying that exact same thing!! If something is too easy and you know it’s not supposed to be, then trust your judgment and double check it. Obviously, something has to be wrong. The point to this is USE YOUR COMMON SENSE. Always, every time, for everything!! There should never be a situation where you ask, “Do I need to use common sense here?” I guarantee you, the day you fail to question your common sense, or take the easy way, that’s the day you’ll step on that mine.
Anything you do can get you shot, including doing nothing. On my way to boot camp someone suggested we shouldn’t volunteer for anything. It was supposed to help us do less PT (pushups, running in place, sit ups, you get my drift). Surprise! I did more PT sessions than the ones that volunteered. The lesson…always try to do your job to the very best of your ability. Instead of 100%, shoot for 110%–the worst you’ll be accused of is being an overachiever. Take calculated risks when you know they’re right. With a good strategy, chances are good you don’t end up a casualty.
Don’t draw fire, it irritates people around you. It’s fair to say no one likes being shot at and Marines are no exception. Anytime a Marine does something to draw enemy fire to himself he’s going to severely impact his relationship with the Marines around him—that’s why he makes sure not to do it!!! As a paralegal, try to consider those you work with, so that nothing you do negatively impacts their wellbeing or the job. What do I mean? No one likes taking the heat for someone else’s mistakes. If you mess up, own up to it and fix the situation. Don’t let anyone else suffer the consequences of your mistake. Both your boss and your colleagues will respect you for it, and they’ll also know they can trust you to be a stand up person too.
Never leave a Marine down (or a man behind). A simple, but sacred rule. If a Marine is wounded or down, other Marines will always do their best to ensure his safe return home. Should you think about applying this rule as your colleague sits working tirelessly, long past everyone has gone home for the night? How about if the paralegal next to you is drowning in work, while you sit there bored and oblivious, playing Bejeweled? We are so accustomed to thinking as individuals that it might not occur that you should offer a helping hand to your colleague.
During boot camp, everyone got paired up into teams of two. Me and my buddy, we had to learn to be one synchronized team. If my buddy couldn’t get on line in time for the DI’s, it was my responsibility to make sure she did, otherwise I would be doing her PT. As her buddy, I had to make sure she was just as prepared, uniform squared away, rack (bed) made, shoes polished, rifle secured, as I was. She had the same responsibilities towards me. Her success was my success and her failure was my failure. Before long we were thinking about the other person before we thought about ourselves. Paralegals could definitely benefit from this unified way of thinking and team mentality too.
There is a reason why the Marine Corps is one of the most elite fighting forces in the world. They have discovered the power of uniting people behind one common goal, of making individuals care about more than just themselves. The Marine Corps understands that when you know someone else is depending on you, you will pull from deep within yourself to accomplish what needs to be done. You will walk the extra mile, run that extra minute, do that extra push up, just not to fail that person or even that platoon counting on you. Just imagine what paralegals could do if they came together and applied similar principles based on their common goals. It’s an awesome feeling knowing that there is someone you can trust always guarding your back.
Most people outside of this profession have no idea what it takes to be an outstanding paralegal. In fact, unless you educate them, they will remain clueless. I’ve been on both sides of the fence, and I can tell you…paralegals are like Marines in many ways. Paralegals are honorable, extremely dedicated, committed to their work and their profession and they’re gutsy. But just to be clear, I’m referring to a particular type of paralegal. I’m referring to that paralegal that willingly goes above and beyond the call of duty to finish a job and do it right–to the paralegal who never settles for second best. They are the ones who set the standard of excellence that others strive to achieve, including me! Those paralegals represent the best of their profession, the most elite. Every day they earn their title with effort, honor, dedication, commitment, and endurance. They are a force to be recognized and reckoned with. It is those outstanding paralegals that remind me of the hard charging, motivated and dedicated Marines I trained with in Parris Island.
So yes, I learned a lot about being a paralegal in the Marine Corps. Could I have had an easier teacher? Absolutely! But I rather “enjoyed” the experience, and given the option, I wouldn’t change a thing.
Carmen J. Hunt is an experienced paralegal, mom, avid reader and proud Marine veteran living in Westchester, New York. She is the Managing Trademark Paralegal at Major League Baseball Properties, Inc. responsible for MLB’s trademark enforcement and anti-counterfeiting program worldwide. She has over 20 years of experience in the field of Intellectual Property. Carmen is a graduate of New York University (SPCS), holding a Diploma of Paralegal Studies (ABA-Approved) and an Associate of Arts degree. She is also a 2011 graduate of Fordham University, with a Bachelor of Arts (cum laude) degree in Organizational Leadership.
We have to admit, we didn’t see this one coming, but we sure enjoyed learning of the similarities between the Marine Corps and the paralegal world, didn’t you? Who knew? Thanks to Carmen, not only for defending our country as a former marine, but for taking the time to share this fantastic article with all of us at The Paralegal Society! You are a paralegal’s paralegal, Carmen. Semper Fi.
TPS readers – Are you aware of another paralegal comparison that seems a bit outside the box? Maybe another one we won’t see coming? If so, we’d love to hear it, so please feel free to leave a comment! We especially love hearing from you on days that end in “y” and “Happy Friday” is certainly no exception!
Now get back to that fighting hole, otherwise known as your firm (and have a terrific weekend)!!