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Mariana Fradman

The Story of Mariana Fradman
Written By: Jamie Collins

Greetings, TPS readers! Welcome back to reality. (It sets in with a thud, doesn’t it?) Yep, welcome back to the fun place we all live, breath and dwell; a place where paralegals everywhere must return back to the law firms all across Paralegal Nation in order to pay the bills and continue to save the world one carefully averted legal crisis at a time. Sounds super exciting, right?! You might need to promptly locate that fountain of caffeinated youth to further aid your entry back into the land of the living following your fabulous weekend!

Today, we’re thrilled to feature a story about a phenomenal paralegal, who also happens to be one of The Paralegal Society Mentors – Mariana Fradman. It was truly an honor to have the opportunity to write about a fellow friend, colleague and TPS mentor whom I greatly respect and admire. Without further ado, here’s Mariana’s story…

A special thanks to Chere Estrin, the Editor-In Chief of KNOW, The Magazine for Paralegals for allowing us to share this piece. Reprinted with permission from KNOW, The Magazine for Paralegals: www.paralegalknowledge.com

Marian Fradman never thought that she would end up as a leader in the paralegal field. “Fashion designing,” she thought. However, life’s twists and turns don’t always produce our original plan and that couldn’t be a truer statement than in the saga of this outstanding paralegal. 

Perhaps what makes Mariana’s story most intriguing and inspiring is her personal background. Beginning in the Ukraine, a former communist country in the USSR, Mariana experienced the lack of freedom and choice that we sometimes take for granted here in the U.S.

During Mariana’s childhood, Ukraine was a country under Soviet rule until 1991. Today, after establishing itself as an independent, democratic state, the Ukraine is a thriving socialist country. Located in Eastern Europe, the Ukraine boasts a population of more than 46 million people and is the world’s third largest economy.

Mariana was the only child born to devoted parents who both worked as engineers. She was a creative child who loved to read and paint. Armed with an easel, paintbrush, and a pallet of colored paints, Mariana found her creative outlet. Her parents knew exactly where to find her in a moment of free time. She would be curled up on a large, bulky, multi-colored armchair intricately woven in shades of gray, red and green with wooden arms, her back to the heater, a book in hand and her pet cat, Little Sister, nearby. As she turned the pages, she was transported out of the Ukraine and into delightful adventures often in the amazing world created by Mark Twain.

Mariana’s love of reading lead to a vast, personal collection of books started by her father, and totaling nearly 3,500 in number by the time Mariana left the Ukraine. The government dictated that anytime Mariana purchased a book, she was required to purchase another book; one about a political leader or addressing a particular political issue. As a result, about 500 of the books in Mariana’s extensive personal library were political books she never intended to purchase. They simply collected dust on her bookshelf and served as small, rectangular reminders of life under communist rule.

Mariana describes herself as “the ugly duckling” in her early years. She was a bright and ambitious pupil and an “A” student, who was vigilant in her studies. Other students often sought Mariana’s assistance with their schoolwork, despite her Jewish heritage. Tutoring helped her to assimilate with her fellow classmates to some extent. Her list of friends was short; she had exactly two. Here was a bright, creative little girl with the reputation of a nerd and a bookworm, the very characteristics rejected by most children in pursuit of potential friends.  

The KGB had a continual presence in the Ukraine throughout Mariana’s childhood. While her parents attempted to shelter her, it wasn’t until Mariana’s teenage years that she became fully cognizant of the intense anti-Semitic culture surrounding her, a fact that was reinforced in her college years.  

Ready to enter college, Marian traveled the long distance to Kiev in hopes of pursuing her dreams. What prevailed was anti-Semitism.  She was not accepted into the program. Unwritten nationality quotas prevented her admission. To give you an idea of college admission difficulties for Jewish students during that time, a typical college class in Ukraine boasted between 60-90 students. Of that number, only about five students were Jewish. This exclusionary practice against Jewish students was a social practice strictly upheld, albeit unspoken. Mariana couldn’t walk the streets in Ukraine without hearing anti-Semitic jokes or derogatory remarks made toward Jews.” The anti-Semitic culture continued to plague her. She ultimately attended a very challenging distance education college program and each semester, she was required to make a pilgrimage to the brick and mortar school to take her final exams.

During one visit, Mariana was assigned to a room with two other non-Jewish females. There was only one problem: there was no bed for Mariana. When she advised the faculty, they brought her accommodations consisting of a mattress that was placed on top of a door (yes, a door) and set atop of two nightstands. That was her bed. Was this an unintentional makeshift attempt to provide sleeping accommodations for a student? Let’s clear that up. When Mariana asked for linens for her “bed,” she was told “we don’t have linens for Jewish people.” Enough said. This cold and prejudiced anti-Semitic culture was one Mariana had become all too accustomed.

The rejection from fashion school after high school led Mariana to enter the workforce and became a draftswoman building machinery at a local factory. She quickly rose through the ranks to technician, assistant engineer, and ultimately, to a third category engineer. She loved to draw and with her ability to see everything in three dimensions, she excelled. Two engineering parents probably didn’t hurt her natural inclination. Following in their footsteps, Mariana majored in engineering with a specialization in machine-building technology and equipment. She spent the next six years in evening classes to obtain her Bachelor’s degree.

In her last year of college, she went on a fateful hike that would forever change her life. She often hiked with her then boyfriend and several friends. On one particular occasion, Mariana’s boyfriend turned to her mid-hike and said “you can either keep hiking or marry me.” Mariana eagerly opted for the latter. The two married and had their first child, a baby girl. After she earned her coveted Bachelor’s degree, she was offered admission into an esteemed post-graduate program, but declined. She was done with school…or at least…so she thought.

On the cusp of a new year in January, 1992, not long after the Ukraine’s declared its independence from the USSR, the winds of change blew and the tide turned from communism to socialism. Mariana immigrated to the United States with her mother, husband, and daughter, 7 year-old Raisa. Their dream was to have a “regular” life…a “better” life. It took Mariana and her family nine months to receive the necessary approval and documentation to make their way onto American soil. They boarded a 24 hour passenger train from Chernovtcy to Moscow, followed by a 12 hour flight taking them from Moscow to JFK. Mariana made her way to the heart of America and into…that’s right…New York City – The Big Apple.

She followed in the footsteps of many other immigrants and took an ESL (English Second Language) course. This program helped Mariana’s family and other immigrants find their way in the American world. They were shown how to locate their first apartment, provided necessary resources and helped to navigate all of the yellow tape associated with American bureaucracy.

How did Mariana actually become a paralegal? During one of Mariana’s ESL classes, one of the students (a former psychiatrist) gave her the best advice she would ever receive. He told her to “pick up any newspaper and open it to the ‘help wanted’ section. Then, close your eyes and pick an ad. Open your eyes and see what you picked. Go and learn that skill for one year. In a year, you will know if the choice was right. For one year, you will be busy doing something and it will give you piece of mind.”

At the time, most Russian immigrants took one of two career paths; they either worked in computer science or the medical field, neither of which were appealing to her. Heeding her classmate’s advice, Mariana did what he suggested. Perhaps the paralegal gods were smiling down that day, as Mariana walked into a college admissions office, stood in front of a kiosk of brightly colored college degree pamphlets, closed her eyes and pointed her finger toward a new beginning. She opened her eyes to find her finger pointing directly at an informational brochure regarding a paralegal studies program. In that moment, “Mariana Fradman, paralegal” was born.

As she worked towards completion of the program, Mariana continued to expand upon her English reading and writing skills. She gained a personal mentor in Charles Coleman who gave her the opportunity to work as his paralegal for a pro bono divorce clinic. The gamble paid off. She gained valuable hands-on experience, much needed mentorship and personal guidance from the professor.

In 2007, seeking to network with like-minded legal professionals, she found the New York Paralegal Association. What a whirl wind! Her participation became deeply rooted as she took part in several committees including the paralegal school liaison and job bank. She didn’t hesitate to lead the mentorship program leading to…what else…numerous trips to the library!

She read every book, magazine and article she could readily locate with regard to mentorship. Would anyone even be interested in mentorship? She didn’t know, but by the end of the first month, Mariana had 25 eager mentees and five additional requests from members. Today, Mariana continues to run that flourishing mentorship clinic. She assists the association’s members with everything from cover letters and resume writing to the interview process. Since the mentorship program was initially launched four years ago, Mariana has personally mentored fifty paralegals and students. Helping others brings her a great sense of personal pride and accomplishment. She views it as her way of giving back to those who helped her along her own paralegal journey. She chooses to pay it forward.

In 2009, the position for the President of the New York Paralegal Association became vacant. Mariana was nominated and elected in her successor’s stead. Not bad for an immigrant from the Ukraine who couldn’t speak a word of English. Mariana tirelessly continues to assist, educate and motivate paralegals throughout New York. She remains heavily involved in all that pertains to the paralegal world whether it’s writing the association’s newsletter, (Paralegal Buzz) or editing the website, mentoring, planning upcoming meetings and hosting events.

Her advice to other paralegals is filled with constructive steps:

“Never stop learning. Joining a local paralegal association is imperative. This type of membership will expand your network, introduce you to new areas, and help you to grow personally and professionally in your role as a paralegal. I also recommend that you take CLE classes, volunteer for pro bono work, assume leadership roles, and join The Paralegal Society, a forum created to educate, motivate and inspire paralegals. You must do all you can to continue to learn and grow in your role as a paralegal.”

Here is a paralegal who is most proud of her family. She and her husband are thankful that they had the ambition and courage to uproot their family and move to America in search of a brighter future. Her three children and two adorable grandchildren are beautiful, happy, healthy and vibrant. The better life Mariana dreamed of when she boarded that 24 hour passenger train to Moscow is now a living reality. She found and held onto the new beginnings she sought for so long: having a better life for her and her family.

While Mariana has secured her spot as a paralegal powerhouse, perhaps what makes her accomplishments even more impressive is the zeal, dedication and enthusiasm with which she carries them out. She continues to promote growth and improvement of the paralegal profession by assisting, educating and mentoring others. Do something nice for yourself: If you go to New York and want to meet a success story, look up Mariana Fradman. You’ll meet the paralegal’s paralegal.

And just think – if Mariana can make it from communist Russia to the President of the New York City Paralegal Association, just imagine what you can do!  

We’ll see you in a few days! Until then, save the planet one carefully averted legal crisis at a time.