Here at The Paralegal Society, we like to feature our members. We’ve 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…
FEATURED PARALEGAL: Barbara A. Bessey, CP
HAILS FROM: Portland, Maine
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 16 years. I’ve been in the legal field since 1984 beginning as a receptionist and then legal secretary. I’m currently unemployed as I moved from Montana back home to Maine to be close to aging parents and family. I have worked in several practice areas such as insurance defense (workers’ compensation, personal injury, property damage, arson, life/disability, product liability, professional liability), plaintiff (workers’ compensation, personal injury, and medical malpractice), state government (labor & employment: workers’ compensation, human rights, unemployment insurance and tax, labor and personnel appeals, and business, occupational, and healthcare licensing). I’m not sure what area I will land in this time. I’m always up for a challenge.
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 went to college from high school and received an AA in liberal arts, but, also took some accounting and business courses. Ten years later, I decided to go back to college; however, I needed to wait a year for residency in Florida. It was cheaper to take community college courses paying “out-of-state” tuition, so, I took some paralegal classes. I was working full time as a legal secretary and going to college at night to obtain a BA in History. The History curriculum was offered at night more than any other discipline, and I love history.
I really did see my BA as a way to enter law school. I later decided law school was not for me. I decided I wanted to be a paralegal and seized opportunities to do some paralegal work when my boss needed something “immediately” and didn’t want to wait to task it to our department paralegal who worked for 7 or 8 attorneys. Three years after I received my BA, I decided that it was time to sit for NALA’s CLA examination. A couple of months after I had applied for the exam and was studying, our department paralegal left the firm, I applied, and was promoted. I have been involved in my local or state associations for many years. I have also held executive officer positions including Chair and Vice Chair positions. At that point my work was clearly more than just a job for me. I really felt connected to my career by volunteering and giving back.
What made you become a paralegal?
I feel that the legal field found me. I was unhappy working for an accountant and one of the clients knew of a law firm that was hiring for a receptionist position. The legal secretary/manager that hired me is still one of my close friends and my first mentor. I fell in love with law and my positions have evolved from there.
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?
I personally do not feel that I faced any challenges to become a paralegal. As my skills became more refined with more responsibilities, I was able to “move up the ladder” relatively smoothly being at the right places at the right times. Each time I have decided to change employments, I was able to find employment very easily. I have always thought that education was the key to beginning a professional career. I am a strong advocate for education at any age. As individuals, I believe we need to learn something new every day.
Being a paralegal often comes with a lot of stress. What’s your favorite way to handle the stress?
Dark Chocolate! Over the years I have dealt with stress in many different ways from body building to dancing. I also have always kept a journal and write entries every few days which allows me to rant without involving conversation with a friend. Over the last few years, I have been learning to play the fiddle. I love my fiddle. It is a very difficult instrument to play, but, it is actually very relaxing to use the creative side of my brain. I read music because I’m one of those “band brats” who played the clarinet all through school (I still have my clarinet). I’m looking forward to earning a paycheck again so that I can find another fiddle teacher in Maine. I started learning Orange Blossom Special after 6 months of lessons and I’m still working on it!
What are your secrets for being successful? In life? At work?
I feel success is in “the eye of the beholder”. I’m a success if the team is a success either at the office or association. I have a solid work ethic that I obtained at a young age growing up on potato and black angus cattle farms. I blossomed more after I moved from small town USA to a city. I bought office appropriate clothes and my confidence increased, obtained a job at a firm that I admired, continued my education, became certified, and bought my first house when I was single. I have certainly made my fair share of mistakes in my life, and I hope that I keep learning from them.
What particular task in the paralegal world is your least favorite?
I don’t like being the “bearer of bad news” — any type of bad news to the client, discovering facts or information, or case law that changes the possible outcome of a case; or admitting I made a mistake — is never good.
What particular task in the paralegal world is your favorite?
I enjoy working on discovery — the part of developing discovery to serve or answering discovery requires reviewing and knowing what’s in your file. I particularly like diving in and thinking of discovery questions to ask the other side that may change the “game play” depending how they are answered. I try to turn every stone. I also enjoy reviewing medical records and creating a medical summary, which sometimes uncovers surprising information. I enjoy the whole investigative portion of a case. I also enjoy going to trial with the attorneys I work with.
If one of your good friends had to decide whether to become a paralegal or some other professional, what advice would you give? Why?
I would say, “Yes, do it”. Make your career your own. Bring your own “favor” to your work. I can’t imagine doing anything else for work. However, I’m not sure that right now would be a good time for a friend to enter the profession. The legal industry is being hard hit by the downturn of the economy. I’m thinking that the field may be saturated by paralegals and recent law grads that cannot find work and competing for the same positions.
What’s the proudest moment that you’ve had as a paralegal?
That’s easy – Just recently we received a long awaited verdict awarding the complainant a full refund against a licensee. The back story is that an elderly gentleman went to a hearing aid dispenser “shop” to purchase a pair of hearing aids. These “shops” are notorious for selling the elderly expensive hearing aids and convincing them to use a particular credit plan without disclosing all of the information for the credit as required by statutes and administrative rules as well as inflated the amount of the complainant’s monthly income to secure the credit line. The Department represents the Board, however, it was so rewarding to prove our case in favor of the complainant and he was refunded all of his money plus interest. Years ago, my other proudest moment was locating a witness in a sinkhole case that Plaintiff’s counsel said couldn’t be found. I found him in the Bahamas after pulling an Autotrak person’s report and figuring out which “possible associated persons” was his parents and called them. They were “waiting” for someone to call and gave me his whereabouts. When attempting to schedule his deposition to be taken in the Bahamas, Plaintiff’s counsel decided to settle the case.
What’s your craziest story stemming from your experience in the legal world?
I haven’t had one yet! I guess I’m practicing in the wrong area of law! I can’t wait to experience the “crazy”.
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 really would not change any of my career choices because that has led me to where I am now. I do feel that I waited too many years before getting involved with my local, state, and national associations. I never really saw myself as a leader and did not become involved with my associations in Tampa. I went to the monthly luncheons so that I would gain CLE credits easily (they were pre-approved by NALA each month). I did not, as well as my co-workers, go to the luncheons to network with other paralegals. We all walked to the luncheons, sat at the same table at the luncheon, and returned to the office as a group. Boring! At one point many years later, I decided I needed to put myself out there, and made my first efforts to network on a personal level by volunteering for a vacant spot on an association executive board. I learned to write and edit newsletters, organize and attend seminars, and became a leader.
What things have you learned about yourself over the years as a paralegal? How have you personally grown?
That I’m very detailed oriented. I really enjoy digging through the file and investigating every potential fact and finding the hidden ones.
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 have really enjoyed being a member of TPS on LinkedIn. I’m discovering that networking does not have to be only in person. I would someday love to meet many of the paralegals that are members of this wonderful and knowledgeable group. If I had more time, I would have loved to stop and see Jamie when I drove right through Indy to visit my brother on my way east a month ago — maybe the next time I fly to visit my best friend that lives in Muncie. The members of TPS that regularly post share their knowledge and personal experiences freely. I have worked in a firm where paralegals would not share what they learned or experienced. I have benefited much in such a short time. Thank you TPSers!
What major accomplishments and accolades would you ultimately like to see listed on your paralegal obituary when the time comes?
A professional with class and a smile.
What are your three top professional goals at this time?
My goals for the near future are to take the ACP discovery and trial tracts, become more involved with NALA either doing the LEAP program or running for Region 1 Directorship, and possibly in the next 5 – 10 years becoming a virtual paralegal.
What is the most difficult situation you’ve ever overcome (personal or paralegal)?
The most difficult thing I have overcome as an adult was “not seeing” the physical attributes that I had as a child and medically changed with surgery in my 20s. When I was going under and counting back from 100, I only remember hearing in my mind “What a Feeling” by Irene Cara from Flashdance. It was a 4 hour reconstructive surgery. It is still the song that I identify with. It still took me many years to gain self-esteem and self-confidence to go with my new smile. It is easy to change the outside, but, more difficult to change the inside to match.
I actually feel that going back to college and becoming a paralegal helped me grow as a person and gaining that needed self-esteem and self-confidence. During that time of growth, I was setting goals and achieving them. Each one of my employments has given me different responsibilities that sometimes pushes different boundaries for me to get past.
If your friends were to tell us about your worst quality(ies) what would it/they be?
(1) My sister says that I’m like her in that I don’t get directly to the point — I give all the details first then get around to the point. (2) My colleagues would say that I sometimes take on too much because the attorneys know that I have a hard time saying “no” when they need assistance when others have already said “no”. But, someone has got to step up to the plate and it is usually me. (3) I am not always patient with myself.
If your friends were to tell us about your best quality(ies) what would it/they be?
My friends would say that I’m adventurous (moving across country several times alone); independent; trustworthy; honest; dedicated; a go-getter; sensitive and caring.
What is your most life-defining “paralegal moment” to date?
Realizing that I love what do and being an attorney wasn’t what I needed to be.
What are three unusual facts about you?
1. I shoot an archery bow and have been on two turkey shoots in New Mexico (didn’t even see turkeys either time.)
2. I drive a 1999 Dodge Ram 2500, Cummings Diesel (Manual) truck (original owner).
3. I am writing a historical romance novel.
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?
Steak and a Kennebec potato, with a nice glass of Merlot. I love a good potato having grown up on a potato farm and there is nothing like a Kennebec.
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 have had several difficult situations in my life as many of us have had. No one is immune. I practice forgiveness and taking one day at a time during such difficult times.”
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?
I would learn to be less serious all the time and learn to find a sense of humor. I was “teased” (today they call it bullying) all the time because of my teeth and my glasses (major coke bottles!). I withdrew and became an introvert and a bookworm; although there is nothing wrong with being a bookworm. I just would have tried to be “more” of a kid that wanted to laugh more.
A special thanks to Barbara for stopping by TPS to share her profile with us. My favorite line of the whole thing (well, besides the part about her wanting to meet me if she stops by Indy), hands down, was “bring your own favor to work.” What a great line and concept! Hear that TPSers – bring your own favor to work! Best idea I’ve heard all week. If only we could get the whole universe onboard for that one.
Continue to slay those tasks, paralegals…the weekend is in route! I can see it now, just over the next 36 averted crises, 23,000 phone calls and endless hours of being at an esquire’s beck and call horizon. We’ll see you soon!
[You’re only laughing because it’s true.]
Are you interested in contributing a “Sketch” a/k/a profile piece to The Paralegal Society? Feel inclined to play a fun game of 20 questions with the grand prize of being featured via the TPS platform? If so, send an e-mail to our fearless leader, Jamie at: firstname.lastname@example.org with “TPS Sketch” in the subject line, and we’ll gladly send you our most fabulous questionnaire. We’d love to get to know more of our paralegal peers, so don’t be shy! We’re looking for regular readers just like you! Go send that e-mail!