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By: Jamie Collins
Do I have your full attention? I sure hope so. If that title doesn’t reach right across your screen and grab you by the virtual shirt collar – nothing will! Today, I’m here to tell you how I stole your dream job…without even trying.
A few weeks ago, I found myself in the middle of a day that started out like any other day in my life. I was sitting in my office – an office I love – and working intently on the day’s tasks, as I made my way through piles of papers and fielded countless phone calls from a multitude of interesting people; namely, insurance adjusters, clients and a few fellow paralegals. The loud rumbling in my stomach signaled that it was time to leave that pile of papers sitting desk-side, to go in hot pursuit of that mid-day respite, otherwise known as a “lunch break.” I decided to check my e-mail account on my iPhone, prior to tossing it into my handbag that was sitting on the floor beside my desk, and heading out the door.
My eyes gazed down at the screen on my phone and became affixed upon a random e-mail sitting in my in box. It was from an attorney whom I had never met. (Of course the surprising part was not that I had received an e-mail from an attorney, because lord knows I certainly get plenty of those in a work day, but this was from a local personal injury attorney in town asking to take me to lunch). It was clearly a professional invitation. It was well-written, friendly, and offered just enough detail to let me know that he had “found” me online, come across the TPS site, read several of my articles, and wished to discuss a potential opportunity with me. Heck, he was even willing to drive north to the mother land to meet up with me, at my convenience, at a place of my choosing.
I was intrigued.
Many thoughts crossed my mind. First, is this guy a serial killer? (Okay, I’m kidding, but I did Google him). I found myself wondering how in the world this attorney “found” me. Secondly, I wondered if he was interested in me as a paralegal or a writer. That part wasn’t clear…and we all know people are just beating down doors to hire busy paralegal/blogger/writers, at random. (Yes, that was a joke). Lastly, I took a brief, personal moment of reflection, as I chuckled internally, telling myself I must have been dead wrong when I made that mental “note to self” after launching TPS, to place myself on internal notice that most attorneys on planet Earth, as I move forward in my career, may not be entirely thrilled with the idea of hiring someone such as myself, who routinely shares…how shall we put it delicately…honest writing via the internet (which for the record, compels me to use my self-sensor FAR more than one might realize). Yep – dead wrong. The call was coming down. Someone was interested in me for a potential opportunity. One I wasn’t even in search of. Could it be the dream job?
I wasn’t even looking, but I was intrigued.
I enjoy networking with other people, so I figured “What the heck? I’ll respond to see what he has to say.” I agree to meet this guy for lunch. Why not? At the very least, we’ll both walk away knowing someone we didn’t know before. After all, we do work in the same area of law, in the same city.
Now, my expectations for the meeting went a little something like this: He will tell me about this job. I will most likely not be interested in it. We will briefly get to know one another over lunch. I will thank him. Then we’ll know each other going forward.
We met for lunch later that week.
Here’s the thing…the more he told me about the job…the more intrigued I became. Whether I was looking or not, I just couldn’t stop listening. I was hearing about a grand array of benefits – the kind it would take you a full five minutes to tell someone about. I would have (get this) not one, but two assistants to help me with my caseload, and would be the lead personal injury paralegal at their firm, doing the type of work I love to do. Those visions of myself at age 70, as the Wal-mart greeter were fading fast, as I mentally began to prepare myself for my potential departure through those law firm doors, my eyes affixed on visions of a 401k plan, benefits galore…and did I mention the assistants??? The only thing taking this gig down a notch was the fact that the firm’s paralegals were seated in cubicles rather than offices (sigh – oh yeah – a big sigh on that one, followed by a brief period of intense, paralegal mourning for exiting the closed door paradise otherwise known as my Zen-like office that I adore).
Again, I was happy in my current position, but when “the dream job” comes knocking, you at least go to the door. Right? So I did.
Shortly thereafter, I met with a few other individuals from that firm, one carefully planned lunch or weekend tour of the law firm at a time. Tonight, I find myself sitting at my computer and typing this post, as I anxiously sit here knowing that tomorrow, I will tell my boss – a boss I truly enjoy working with, respect, greatly admire, think the world of, and thought I’d always work with/for – that I will no longer be his paralegal.
I’m sure many of you have found yourselves in this spot at one time or another. For those of you reading this that are new to the profession – one day, you, too, will find yourself in this very spot. It is never fun. It is never easy. You give everything you have to give to an attorney, case files, and a firm, for a number of years. Then the day comes when you must part ways, for one reason or another. You will find another opportunity…or it will find you. You will find yourself mentally running through that mental checklist of all the things you plan to say when you have “the big talk,” as you watch your boss’ face instantaneously shift from the look of “I’m listening to you and this is a totally normal conversation” to “Holy crap, this is a really serious talk, and I’m about to lose my paralegal right now” kind of look. It’s never fun. It’s always difficult. It’s in that moment when you both find yourselves crossing that invisible line where business decisions and personal relationships intersect.
I am sharing this post for several reasons. First off, it’s a highly relatable, professional situation each one of us must navigate at one time or another during our legal careers. Secondly, every paralegal on the planet needs to know that LinkedIn truly is a way to make meaningful connections, find opportunities…or have them find you. With that being said, know this: if you do not have a complete and professional profile, chances are, no one will ever find you, and if they do…they really won’t care that they ever did.
A complete and professional profile is absolutely essential in today’s fast paced world. An employer/attorney/editor/HR representative/bestower of the dream job is only going to give your profile about a 3 second glance before deciding if he’s moving onto the next one, for that opportunity that may come knocking on your door – or not.
Will your profile captivate his attention? If not, you’ve got some serious work to do. Remember, your profile is a direct reflection on you as a person, a paralegal, and a working professional.
Want to know how I landed the dream job?
I spent countless hours working on my profile over a period of more than a year, adding a professional photo, filling in my career highlights, listing out past job duties and significant accomplishments, posting darn near every article I’ve ever written, and asking those who knew me well and think highly of me, to write recommendations on my behalf. I wasn’t even looking for a job. It was the farthest thing from my mind. I just didn’t want to put anything up publicly, on a social forum like LinkedIn, that I didn’t take pride in and feel good about. After all, my profile was a reflection on me. I wanted people to take me seriously. I wanted them to know who I am, what I do, and how much I love it.
I didn’t need a job, and I certainly wasn’t looking for one. I was happy. I had a window office with a flat screen television with cable, and as many Zen-like items one could possibly pack into an office space without appearing on a reality show called “Law Firm Zen Hoarders,” including a small, illuminated, (fake) jelly fish tank, a sand garden with a rake for mental therapy purposes (yes, the co-workers rake all day long – you better believe it), and colorful artwork hanging on the walls to brighten the place up a bit. I had fabulous attorneys and co-workers I considered to be my “legal family.” I loved my work. I was close to my clients. Life was good. Yet, I was really planning to walk out of those glass doors for another opportunity.
I found myself walking into my attorney’s office to have “the talk.” (gulp). I closed the door to his office. Not entirely unusual when there is something to discuss with him privately. I then begin telling him that he is not allowed to start smoking again, which, for the record, is never a good thing to do to an esquire who finds himself 2 weeks into the midst of a formal kicking-the-habit venture that is already as difficult as hell-oooo my paralegal friends. He looked up at me and asked, “Why do you say that?” His face then shifted to a look of concern. At which point I, again, attempted to elicit a verbal promise from him that he would not engage in a full-on nicotine feast after this fun little meeting.
Then, in the most poised, suave, professional manner a paralegal could possibly convey to an attorney, I began to tell him, in a serious and appropriate business-like tone, that I was leaving the firm for another opportunity, listing the reasons why “I just couldn’t pass up this kind of an opportunity after being approached with it.” Oh yeah…it was impressive. In fact, so much so that I’m pretty sure a legal seminar group will be beating down my door any day now, asking me to host a “How to Depart from Your Current Position” clinic, for those individuals in need. Well, at least that’s how it went in my mind, anyway.
In reality, I was a babbling, sobbing mess, who barely managed to emit audible words from her mouth, as she attempted to articulate in a somewhat coherent fashion, that she was on her way out, all the while, wiping away tears that were streaming down her face. Oh yes, it was an ugly cry. You better believe it. I packed a full four and a half years of heart wrenching, emotional departure sorrow into a five minute discussion with my boss. (Remember the part about honest writing – there you have it).
It was in that moment that my boss and I both decided that we wouldn’t be parting ways, after all. I thought I was ready to close one chapter to begin the next. There were certainly a lot of variables in play. What I realized is that I could realistically work another 20 years in search of the same type of attorney/paralegal relationship I already have…right here…right now…with this boss…at this firm…in this moment.
A few weeks back, I remember my dad (the pilot) telling my husband and I a story at dinner about his experience flying Cobra attack helicopters during flight school. When they flew in formation, they, as pilots, always instinctively knew where the other would be, and where they needed to be, in order to execute each mission successfully. To a bystander observing these types of amazing aerial feats, it’s hard to believe they never crash into one another, and never deviate from the expected plan. They know where the other is, and where they need to be, at all times. I still find myself mesmerized anytime I attend an air show to see the pilots put their intuitive abilities on full display, as they zip across the blue skyline. I guess what I realized from this experience, is that’s exactly what my boss and I have.
It’s something special. It’s that once in a lifetime (maybe twice, if you’re lucky) magical type of working relationship every attorney and paralegal in the world hopes to have, wishes for, goes in search of, and attempts to obtain. The one that allows you to intuitively fly in formation together, tackling anything and everything that comes your way, as a lethal and savvy team of two, with absolute confidence, in an impressive display of competence and skill, knowing exactly where you need to be, and when, in much the same way those fighter pilots manage to fly so perfectly in formation, so close, but never colliding.
And for the record, I must admit there are times when it’s a really good thing those imaginary, legal gunships aren’t armed with missiles, because you better believe there are fleeting moments when one of us (the esquire or his trusty paralegal) might just feel a wee bit inclined to hit that “launch” button on the other while we’re flying in formation! But we don’t. And we won’t. And we wouldn’t. And we continue to do what we do best – flying in formation, close, but never colliding, to fight yet another battle in the legal arena…together.
In the title of this post, I promised to tell you how I stole your dream job.
The truth of the matter is…I had it all along.
(Figured this would be an appropriate time to share a photo of “The Dynamic Duo,” me and the boss, in New Orleans last year on vacation with our significant others, who do not fly imaginary, legal gunships, and are not pictured).