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By: Jamie Collins
As one who started out in the field with no experience or legal background and only a bit of college under my belt, I quickly became a makeshift learner and masterful adapter. You threw punches, I rolled with ‘em (figuratively speaking, of course). Along the way, I encountered a boss or two that was a wee bit intimidating. Oh, who am I kidding? In the beginning, they were all intimidating – all the esquires – each and every one of them. My anxiety around them, and especially around a perceived “scary” attorney was at an all time high – like there’s a pipe bomb in the building level of high. They were downright intimidating until you got to know them, learned the tricky legal jargon they spoke, and recognized the fact that they were really just regular human beings who possessed small, rectanglar badges which served as reminders of their greatness.
Did I ever want to run, you ask? Only every single day. The only thing that kept my rear firmly planted in that seat was a desire to become more than I was. It was a shot at a lucrative career. I could wear suits, know stuff, and have a title. It was going to take more than a few dozen internal, paralegal-near-death experiences to hold me back. I had things to learn.
There were many times early on in my career when I wondered what in the world I must have done to deserve such a scary and intimidating boss? Then over time, I began to realize that the intimidating attorney wasn’t really an arch nemesis after all, he was, in actuality, the world’s biggest crash course on self-improvement and paralegal empowerment a girl could encounter. What more could you ask for in a boss?
I’ll never forget when we first switched our son to private preschool. He went from a good friend and babysitter we knew well to a “real” daycare facility. I dropped him off one morning the first week, and went to visit him later that day at lunch time to see how things were going. I walked through the door and that’s when I saw it: my little, 14 month old son attempting to sit at a table with a half dozen, other, little toddlers, in an organized fashion, and making an effort to hold a spoon and shovel food into his little mouth. I was amazed. I had absolutely no idea he was ready for such a feat as self-feeding at the tiny people table, when he could barely walk. Yet, there he sat, with those cute, little pudgy fingers wrapped around a white, plastic spoon with a big, happy, but slightly unsure smile pasted across his face. In all honesty, I was just waiting for him to topple over sideways. Yet, his presence at that table and my presence in a law firm, seated next to an intimidating esquire, weren’t really so different after all.
I could have waited a million years without ever “doing” that – the scary boss venture. Had I not been forced into the situation, just as Gavin was, perhaps I never would have worked for an intimidating/scary boss and the kid never would have eaten off of a spoon. Truth be told, I would have ran…fast…as heck…in the other direction. Yet, I was ready. Just as Gavin was ready. And my esquire was certainly ready to teach me and introduce me to the paralegal I was destined to become with his steadfast expectations, high standard of excellence, borderlining perfection, and lack of warm and fuzziness factor. It was all business. It was a living, breathing, learning, hands-on education. It was an opportunity, and it was all mine for the taking.
So, I took it. I spent years working under various attorneys who taught me darn near everything I know. One taught me I could become independent and work with very little direction or explanation. He also taught me that a lovely yellow Post It with a “J” on it stood for “Jamie – figure it out.” And I did. Lastly, I learned that an attorney I may not care for, and who may not care for me (at least in the beginning) can make one heck of a team.
Another attorney for whom I worked was a former English/Journalism major (um, way handy for a future writer – little did I know at the time). She helped me hone my writing and formatting skills. If a space was off or a title wasn’t in perfect proportion on the page, it was reprinted. We sure did go through lots of paper, but what I learned was a lot more than how to single handidly take down a rainforest. It was to adhere to a high standard and personal code that borderlined perfection. It’s something you really can’t shake and it remains with me to this day. Often, my standard for formatting and appearance of documents is higher than that of the attorneys. I’m sure you can relate. It’s what we do. We strive for perfection.We sometimes fall short, but find ouselves sitting in the land of excellence, regardless. I believe these attorneys were preparing me for what would come next — the most scary/intimidating boss of all time – the kraken (“krah-kin”). Perhaps you’ve met one…if not, perhaps you will.
He didn’t mean to be, he was just a very busy executive with many companies to run, including a thriving law firm. He had very little time for converation, personalties or other non-essential formalities or means of communication. He would become my ultimate teacher via the old “intimidation” method, intentional or otherwise.
Through our daily interactions, I learned to only communicate “meaningful” information to him. Let’s face it, when you only have 5 minutes with someone per day (at most) you learn to make ‘em count. And I did. I learned who he wanted to talk to, how he liked his forms, his lunch, his mail reviewed as I watched him sort through it, how to act fascinated as he took a telephone call (or twelve) as I waited, and a grand array of other useful, paralegal skills. There are many times when an attorney will ask you to do something and it seems like such an incredible time waster, but I learned to remember that it was his world, and if he wanted to pay me to sit and watch him read mail or take 3 phone calls in my presence, I would be the world’s most fantastic, “mail-opener watcher” or “phone call listener” to ever grace the doors of a law firm.
As most of you know, the attorney-paralegal relationship is much like a ballroom couple learning to dance as a team. You try to learn how not to step on one another’s toes (or at least not as often) and with enough time and experience, you eventually become swift and seamless, legal, ballroom champions who dance through the halls of the law firm flawlessly, and effortlessly. This takes time…and effort. It is certainly easier with some attorneys than it is with others – a/k/a the kraken.
Most of the kraken don’t mean to be scary or intimidating, they just are. In many cases, it’s more about your own, personal insecurity in your job skills or your seemingly infererior position on the law firm totem pole from the onset, than it is about anything else. It is normal for newbies to fear the kraken. Heck, it’s normal for experienced paralegals who don’t work for the kraken to fear the kraken. Who are we kidding — even associate attorneys fear the kraken. That’s just the way it is. But don’t ever convince yourself you aren’t capable of professionally taking down a kraken and dominating their work world like the paralegal dragon slayer you are intended to become. Most of you can, and will slay the kraken, at some point. Perhaps many of you already have.
An intimidating attorney will make you stronger, better, sharper, more knowledgable, proficient, and confident. You will think twice before speaking, turning in projects or asking questions that don’t need to be asked. In many regards, the intimidating attorney can/will help you to sharpen your critical and analytical thinking skills, make you a far more effective communciator, and a paralegal powerhouse that others revere. Remember those associate attorneys quaking in their shiney shoes? Even they make a swift bee line for the kraken’s paralegal.
So, if the day should ever come when you are assigned to “the kraken,” don’t run! Keep that rump planted firmly in your chair, in a state of misplaced fear, and observe, learn and grow. Become a sharper, more brilliant paralegal than you ever could have otherwise become without the steadfast help of a kraken.
You may find yourself watching an attorney opening mail or secretly cowering at your desk engaged in the pursuit of mission darn-near-impossible, working for an intimdating attorney. To you, I say: “Stick with it. If it doesn’t kill you, it will only make you a stronger paralegal”…at least in theory. You never know if that super intimidating attorney is destined to be your best self-improvement and paralegal emplowerment coach. And who couldn’t use one of those?
So, take a deep breath, take a lot of notes, and learn anything, and everything you can. One day, you may dance seemlessly together over a pile of pleadings or can just watch him open his mail with the best of ‘em, but either way, you’ll be on your way to becoming the best paralegal you’ve ever been.
Besides, there’s a special place reserved in paralegal hell heaven for those who work for scarey/intimidating attorneys, and rumor has it…a VIP lounge, embellished in chocolate and boasting an endless supply of Diet Coke and coffee for those brave, paralegal souls who survive the kraken.
I’ll see you there.
Hey TPS readers – have any of you worked for the kraken? Perhaps you are right now. If so, we’d love to hear your funny stories and real life experiences. We’d all certainly enjoy reading ’em, and they may help to encourage a newbie not to fear the mighty Kraken. (Gotta say this is my new favorite term – “Kraken.” It ranks right up there with “dark cloud” a/k/a the keeper of the misery).
Guess what? It’s Friday!!!
[insert paralegal happy dance here]
Wishing you and yours a fantastic weekend! We’ll see you soon.