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By: Jamie Collins
When you boil it all down, what paralegals are is knowledgeable problem solvers. I think on most days, we, as paralegals realize this fact. However, it’s on those extra special (and extra crazy) days, when intense stress looms overhead, incredible pressure is exerted our way, hefty demands are made, the air we breathe is filled with chaos, and we find ourselves attempting to conquer the world, one crisis at a time. It is in those moments that we are reminded.
You find yourself sitting at your desk on a seemingly normal day, doing normal projects, fielding a few phone calls, and perhaps doing a little paralegal housekeeping (you know, that dreadful, manual filing), when all of a sudden, you find yourself immersed in a full-on, paralegal crisis. Code Blue. Sound the alarm. Something changed, didn’t change, occurred, didn’t occur, is missed, was lost, found, caught or otherwise brought to your attention and – go time is NOW. There is not a single second to pause, delay or ponder how the situation should be handled. It will be handled by you – and handled now.
You simply do what paralegals are innately wired to do; you leap into immediate action to diffuse that crisis the best way you know how; using your common sense, knowledge, past experience and impressive skill set as a guide for how to side step or avert the potentially catastrophic issue or event that is attempting to take you (and your attorney) down. When there is a crisis, you will immerse yourself in it like nobody’s business to see that it is resolved – promptly and appropriately. You will assess. You will divide. You will conquer. That’s what paralegals do.
Perhaps one of the most frequently asked questions by students is: “Why do you like being a paralegal” or “What do you like about your job?” While the above-referenced scenario may sound like an absolutely crazy thing to mention on that short list of career highlights, it definitely should make the list on why I love my career, even if I fail to realize it, some days.
Think through the above-scenario a bit further. Your boss finds himself immersed in an instantaneous, full-on, legal crisis, and there you find yourself; the person standing between a problem and a solution. Sure is a great thing you’re a master problem solver, isn’t it? Over time, one quickly learns to assess, adapt, take action, and conquer via the legal triage method.
Huh? Legal triage? What’s that, you ask?
Definition of Triage:
1 a: the sorting of and allocation of treatment to patients [in this case, attorneys] and especially battle and disaster victims [clients and attorneys], according to a system of priorities designed to maximize the number of survivors b: the sorting of patients [clients and attorneys], as in an emergency room [or in this case – a paralegal’s office] according to the urgency of their need for care
2: the assigning of priority order to projects on the basis of where funds and other resources can be best used, are most needed, or are most likely to achieve success
Have to say, I’m a big fan of definition number one.
(Full credit to Julie Weinkauf of the Institute for Paralegal Education for this terrific concept.)
You assess the potential casualties, take swift action (legal-tactical, assault ninja style) and in a matter of moments, hours or a few days, find yourself standing before a very grateful and appreciative boss who fully comprehends that the solution to this full-on, potentially irreparable, reputation killing, catastrophic legal crisis was you. He knows he can count on you anytime, in a moment’s notice, when a crazy situation presents itself, the legal world resembles more of a battlefield, that happy, little, work world is turned upside down, and he needs someone to step in and be the savior. That makes you, perhaps, the most valuable member of his legal team, acknowledged or otherwise.
Furthermore, you will find yourself feeling the most alive you’ve felt in months following an epic crisis. That swift kick of adrenaline will take you to new heights of “alive,” even if just for a brief and passing moment. It reminds you of who you are and what you can accomplish anytime the need arises. It is in those fleeting moments of glory you feel the most exhilarated, proud, and “alive.” In large part, it’s why paralegals love being paralegals, acknowledged or otherwise.
Now, that’s not to say that one begins their paralegal career feeling like every crisis is a blessing and opportunity. As a newbie with no experience or legal background whatsoever, for my first year or so on the job, every time a major catastrophe made its way to my desk, I wanted run and hide in the corner. There was fear, intimidation, and worry that came standard with each epic crisis. But know this, paralegal newbies -with each crisis you diffuse or avert, you will become the paralegal described in the preceding paragraph. You will learn what you are really made of. You will conquer your fear, intimidation, and worry, and find those feelings instead replaced by feelings of exhilaration, pride and accomplishment. With each crisis you successfully conquer, you will become one step closer to becoming that successful, highly-reputable paralegal you so badly desire to become.
I’ll never forget something one of my former bosses once told me. I was leaving the firm for another opportunity,as the time had finally come to move on. I was seated across from him one last time, in his office, before that impressive mahogany desk (the place I had spent so many years of my career sitting), when he spoke these words, “I’m gonna miss you. You are rock solid; someone I know I can always count on.” While I never thought being compared to “a rock” would become a life-defining moment, it was. At the end of the day, I believe that to be one of the highest compliments an esquire can pay a paralegal. And it wasn’t because he actually said the words (I already knew he felt that way in my heart), it was because I knew I had earned them. It struck me deeply. I’ll never forget it. The acknowledgement that you are a force to be reckoned with, and especially during moments of chaos (and we all know there are certainly plenty of those) is the highest compliment one can receive.
So the next time a paralegal student asks me ‘why I like my job,’ perhaps my response will be: “Because I am a world-master problem solver and I’m saving the world one crisis at a time. I can manage ‘the crazy” like nobody’s business – and my attorney knows it.” The next time you find yourself immersed in the midst of a full-on, stage 4, paralegal crisis, (steer clear of the corner), and take just one millisecond of a moment to reflect upon the fact that you are a paralegal, and you are saving the world…one crisis at a time. It’s what reputations are built on.
Let us never forget it.
“To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan and not quite enough time.”
~ Leonard Bernstein
“Paralegals do not surrender; they go down in a blaze of glory.”
~ Jamie Collins
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Have an absolutely fabulous weekend, TPSers! We’ll see you on “Major Monday” with a topic we hope will spark some interest and debate. So be sure to put on your thinkin’ cap!
We’ll see you soon…
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