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TPS Writing Contest – Mentors/Mentorship

By: Stephanie Willingham (Guest Blogger)

Welcome back to The Paralegal Society, my friends! It’s Wednesday. Raise the TPS flag and rally the troops – your work week is half over! 

Today, we’re featuring another Honorable Mention from our recent writing contest on mentorship. This article was written by Stephanie Willingham, an aspiring paralegal from Indianapolis, Indiana. Okay, I must admit, this particular article caused a few tear droplets to form in my eyes as I read it. When you read it, you’ll see why.

“Educating, motivating, and inspiring paralegals to engage in the pursuit of excellence for all paralegalkind;” it’s not just the mission statement of The Paralegal Society; it’s also a description of the traits a college student is looking for in a mentor. The three characteristics above should also be what a mentor strives for when mentoring an individual. A mentor is an essential person to have when you are a 20-something that has no clue about what they want to do with their lives. A mentor is someone that takes the time to understand you and guides you through the ins and outs of life. I believe that a mentor is someone who goes out of their way in order to help you succeed.

Imagine being 18-years-old, right out of high school, and having no idea with what you want to do with your life. That was me exactly 4 years ago. I was someone who knew I wanted to go to college, but didn’t know what I wanted to go to college for. I spent my first semester at IvyTechCommunity College having “undecided” listed on my transcript as my major. Then springtime came, and after a couple months of trying to make up my mind, I decided to declare Paralegal Studies as my major. I was to start my first class in the summer. (I know, an 18 year old taking classes in the summer instead of hanging out with friends…you have to understand, I just wanted to get done as fast as I could).

A paralegal course at Ivy Tech is typically taught by an attorney. The instructors usually teach basic information paralegals need to know, including document writing and research, but for some reason, most of them never give you the full insight on what a paralegal actually does. It is up to the student to gain additional knowledge about the real everyday life of a paralegal. This is where it would be ideal to find a paralegal mentor to help you gain some real world perspective.

At the end of my first paralegal class, Intro to Paralegal Studies (a/k/a Paralegal 101), I was completely in over my head. I was beginning to think that my decision to become a paralegal was a bad one. Since I did not want to become the college student who changed her major 7,000 different times, I decided to stick it out and absorb as much information as I could. I was thinking that maybe I could find a paralegal that would be willing to help me better understand everything that I was learning in class as it applies to real world situations.

In my case, my mom actually helped me find my mentor. At the time, my mom worked at a daycare and a child’s mom in her class was a paralegal. My mom had developed a friendship with the child’s mom and my mom asked her if she would be interested in helping me out. Thankfully, she agreed and she gave my mom her business card.

I began corresponding with Jamie “the paralegal” through email. We had arranged a day for me to come and shadow her on the job. She told me to come with lots of questions to ask her. When I arrived at her law firm with questions prepared she was able to give me all the answers, and then some. She told me how she became a paralegal and what she did and didn’t like about her job as a personal injury paralegal. She also advised me to shadow more paralegals, that way I can figure out which type of law interested me most. After that initial shadow opportunity, Jamie let me know that I could always contact her if I had any more questions.

Several months had passed after that, and Jamie emailed me frequently during that time to check up in me and to see how school was going. She also agreed to let me come in for another shadow opportunity.  The next time I went to see her, she offered me several types of legal documents she had done (with names blacked out, of course). She also allowed me ask questions to her supervising attorney, as well. The two shadow opportunities were extremely helpful, and showed me that being a paralegal is a sometimes challenging, but rewarding career.

It has been less than four years since beginning my journey as a paralegal student. There have been many bumps in the road, but I am happy to say that I anticipate graduating this spring!  I have been fortunate to have someone like Jamie, who was willing to go out of her way to help me understand what it takes to become a successful paralegal. I can easily say that I consider her my mentor. Jamie is someone that has educated, motivated, and inspired me to become a paralegal. She is every bit of what a mentor to a paralegal student should be, and my paralegal education has greatly benefited from her mentorship.

Stephanie Willingham is a paralegal student at Ivy Tech Community College in Indianapolis, Indiana. Stephanie has been placed on the Ivy Tech Dean’s List for several semesters and anticipates graduating this spring.  She has been a student member of the Indiana Paralegal Association for two years.  Stephanie is currently working part-time as a receptionist at a local credit union. She currently lives in Speedway with her 7 year old Brittany/Lab mix, Tanner.

A special thanks to Stephanie for entering our writing contest!

Wanna hear something pretty darn cool? Stephanie greatly impacted my life, as well, whether she realizes it or not. The “pointers” I typed out to give her during one of our meetings became the skeleton to my first “big” article, which was published by the Institute for Paralegal Education. In a way, that article helped to put me on the writer’s map. Had Stephanie not approached me for a shadowing opportunity, perhaps I never would have written it…or anything, else for that matter. Mentorship: it’s a win-win-win (the world wins too!)

By the way – has anyone told you how absolutely fabulous you are today? Fab-u-lous!! Now go enter the legal kingdom. There’s some legal triage waiting on you. (You know there is…)

Have an absolutely fantastic Wednesday!