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Here at The Paralegal Society, we like to feature our members. We recently launched a 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…
SKETCH OF TPS MEMBER: Rachel E. Duvall
HAILS FROM: Columbus, Ohio
How long have you been a paralegal, what is your current title and what are your area(s) of practice?
I have been a paralegal for 12 years. I am currently a paralegal and our firm practices Plaintiff’s personal injury, medical malpractice, premises liability, product liability, and probate work. Probate is a new area for us, and I really love it!
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 am a proud graduate of the School of Life. I’ve learned all of my legal training on the job. I had some pretty decent computer skills when I started, and I’ve managed to streamline or better organize some areas of our practice that makes it more efficient. Which is good since it’s just myself, the attorney, and his wife, who is our part–time office manager!
What made you become a paralegal?
Pure, unadulterated chance. I was looking for a career change when I had an 18 month old and my employer expected me to work 12 hour days, from 3:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. I answered a two–line ad for a receptionist and discovered it was actually more of a legal secretary job. I LOVED it from the first minute.
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?
Let’s see…challenges…when I started, I didn’t know what a pleading was, or what a statute of limitations was, so I had to learn a lot and learn it quickly. Fortunately for me, the attorney I worked with was an awesome teacher and quite patient. My advice to those of you just beginning your careers – ASK QUESTIONS. If you do not understand something, continue to discuss it until you do. One of the things I love about our profession is that there’s always something new around the corner. I can’t remember a time I didn’t learn at least one new thing a week.
Being a paralegal often comes with a lot of stress. What’s your favorite way to handle the stress?
During business hours, I’ll take a walk in the park across the street from our office. It’s really hard to stay upset when surrounded by the calm of nature. Additionally, I have an 18 month old great niece who loves to blow bubbles. It is plain impossible to stay stressed blowing bubbles!
What are your secrets for being successful? In life? At work?
Make sure you have your priorities straight. For me, that means my family comes first. My attorney is the same way. At work, it’s getting things done when I tell my attorney they will be done, and anticipating what I can to make it easier for him to practice law.
What particular task in the paralegal world is your least favorite?
Transcription. If I’m not careful, I can fall asleep, sitting up straight at my desk, with my fingers still typing, while listening to my attorney’s voice on the tape.
What particular task in the paralegal world is your favorite?
Hmm…let’s see……dealing with clients, drafting documents for my attorney’s review, going to the courthouse to meet with a magistrate or judge (especially in probate cases, those guys are REALLY helpful)…just about all of it…with the exception of transcription!
If one of your good friends had to decide whether to become a paralegal or some other professional, what advice would you give? Why?
Make as many friends as you can in that field. That way when you have a question that has you stumped, you have a large resource pool to go to for the answer! Case in point: We recently started an estate with property in Florida. A TPS member in Florida steered in the correct direction to find out how to transfer the real estate in Florida since it’s a little different than here in Ohio.
What’s the funniest thing you’ve ever done as a paralegal?
I don’t know about the funniest, but the most embarrassing thing I’ve ever done was send what was supposed to be a range of value letter to our client to an insurance adjuster as part of a settlement demand package instead. Yikes! Fortunately for me, the adjuster was a good guy, we were trying to settle the case before the end of the year, and he negotiated it fairly, telling my attorney what his range of value was. The adjuster said it was only fair since he knew ours. We got that case settled and I’ve never had another moment like that one.
What’s the proudest moment that you’ve had as a paralegal?
It’s hard to pinpoint just one. I always have that “we did it” feeling when we settle a case, especially if we’ve gotten a good settlement for the client (those are becoming as rare as a $2.00 bill). I get that feeling when I send my attorney off to a deposition armed with questions I know will help make our case. Or when he heads out to trial with his trial notebook and litigation briefcase.
What’s your craziest story stemming from your experience in the legal world?
I was working alone in the office one afternoon in the middle of the summer. One attorney was in court; the other was at a luncheon meeting. Our office manager hadn’t made it into the office yet. An elderly gentleman came to the door and rang our doorbell. I answered it, and he asked me where to obtain a copy of a birth certificate. Since it was extremely hot outdoors, I asked him into the office while I explained where the local Department of Vital Statistics was. When I finished explaining, he said thank you.
He started to turn around to leave, but instead took one step forward and started to sway on his feet. I tried to get him over to a chair to sit down, but he collapsed onto the floor before he could get there. He was unresponsive. I was in the office alone, so it was either call 911 or start CPR. I called 911. The squad got here about 3 minutes later. They started CPR, loaded him onto a stretcher, and took him to the nearest emergency room. My attorney got here about 5 minutes after they left and took his fiancée to the emergency room to be with him. Unfortunately, he didn’t make it. We have a copy of his obituary taped to the wall near where he fell. If that’s not crazy — I don’t know what is.
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?
I wouldn’t change a thing. The experiences I have had along the way have made me who I am, personally and professionally, and I am quite content with myself.
If you were teaching a paralegal class in your area of practice, what would it be? Why is it so important?
Reviewing Medical Records. You have to be very careful and read every word of every page of the record. Sometimes there is information in the records that your client didn’t share with you that might be detrimental to your case.
What things have you learned about yourself over the years as a paralegal? How have you personally grown?
I have learned that at work, I am an organized person. At home, not so much. I have learned how to relate to others better.
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!
I love TPS. The members are always ready to help out with the answer to a question (thanks, Karen George!) or with moral support or just to talk.
What major accomplishments and accolades would you ultimately like to see listed on your paralegal obituary when the time comes?
That I was a good worker, faithful to my employer, and that I treated everyone I encountered with dignity and respect.
What are your three top professional goals at this time?
I really have only one. I would like to take our state Bar Association’s test to become a Registered Paralegal.
What is the most difficult situation you’ve ever overcome (personal or paralegal)?
When my husband of nearly 15 years passed away in October 2008, leaving me with our 12 year old daughter. Fortunately for me I have a huge, loving family who have always been there for me.
What makes you a unique person?
I am always looking for the silver lining to the cloud. I truly believe that nothing is so bad that there isn’t something good in it somewhere!
What is the most unique life experience you’ve had to date? Tell us about it.
That would have to be when I gave birth to my daughter. Everything became about her that day.
If your friends were to tell us about your worst quality(ies) what would it/they be?
I have a tendency to daydream and it happens even when someone is talking to me. I am not a very patient person by nature. I try to take care of everybody.
If your friends were to tell us about your best quality(ies) what would it/they be?
I am a very good listener. I try to take care of everybody. I enjoy meeting new people.
What is your most life-defining moment to date?
There are five: the day I married my husband in 1993; the day my daughter was born in 1996; the day my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000, the day my husband passed away in 2008, and the day my mother passed away in 2010.
What is your most life-defining “paralegal moment” to date?
It has to be when I called from the hospital while my mother was having surgery to make sure an arbitration brief had been sent out, since it was due the same day. Not to fear, the intern working that day and our office manager had it taken care of.
What are three unusual facts about you?
1. I love to fly – I don’t even mind the lines at the security checks too much!
2. I can read a 400 page novel in a single night. If I’m not interrupted I can read it in about 3 hours.
3. I love listening to Celtic and traditional Irish music.
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?
Salad, medium steak, baked potato with butter, and the softest bread you can find. It’s my absolute favorite meal of all time. If I was getting a chance to chose the last thing I’d eat, that would be it.
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?
I wouldn’t define my husband’s death as a setback. It was a shock, yes, and very painful. Fortunately for me, I had my daughter to take care of. And I have my family, especially my older sister. Jack (my late husband) and I had discussed the matter many times. He was several years older than I, so it was not unexpected that he would pass before me. We just didn’t expect it to be when he was only 47 ½ years old. I deal with it in the way he asked me to – by going on and living, taking care of our daughter, and being there for the rest of our families when they need me. I’ve learned I’m stronger than I thought I was and that I can take care of not only myself, but my daughter, as well.
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?
Again, I wouldn’t do anything differently, because I would be a different person than I am today. And I like who I am today.
Anything we failed to ask that you would like us to know about you?
My mother passed away from breast cancer in 2010 after a 10 year fight. She was an amazing woman who, right up until the end, was always more concerned with what she could do for others than what she needed for herself.. She was one of my best friends for as long as I can remember. She is my hero and role model.
We’d like to extend a special thank you to Rachel for taking the time to share a “sketch” with us at The Paralegal Society. Her profile definitely illustrates that grit, perseverance and determination will get a person far, even in the most unfortunate of circumstances…and there is always a silver lining if you attempt to look for it. (Okay, maybe a silver lining doesn’t come standard with the “dark clouds” a/k/a keepers of the misery in the legal world, but definitely all the other clouds)!!
We’re so glad you found your place in the paralegal world (and TPS) Rachel! You are one terrific lady. It’s our honor to feature you.
We feel like we truly know a lot more about Rachel as a person and paralegal now — don’t you TPS readers? Please feel free to leave your comment(s) below…