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By: Lindsay H. Valek

At long last…it’s Happy High Heel Friday! Best line of the day? You heard it here, folks. Grab your notepad, and prepare to smile: “As I teeter on the rickety planks of the bridge of hell, I take words like ‘patience’ and ‘understanding’ deathly seriously.” Ha ha. Only about every day, Lindsay. Or is it every other minute? Onward, paralegals – Lindsay’s fun, candid and humorous article awaits…

Reprinted with permission from KNOW, The Magazine for Paralegals: www.paralegalknowledge.com

Karma’s a bitch. Twelve months ago, her enigma was my constant companion, a voice of reason and a beacon of hope that I relied upon heavily when I made the decision to depart the legal field. She told me everything would be okay and assured me that a writing and research career would be worth the years spent subsisting on Ramen noodles and charitable grocery contributions from my mother.  She held my hand in the dark hours when I wasn’t sure how I would pay the rent and told me that a life of passion was worth more than a life of comfort. She lied. Oh, how she lied.

My friend, Karma, stuck around for a few months and then, like a desert apparition, faded into nothingness. Abandoned, alone, and broke, I quit, returning to the comforting chaos that is a law firm. This second stint at the rodeo would prove different, though, as I somehow managed to land a job in litigation support. Six months in, my old girlfriend has decided to show back up.

Here I sit today, six months into what feels like an M.I.T. crash course of .dii file types, FTP transfers, data harvesting, load files, extracted text, and a hellish concept called delimiters that causes actual, physical pain to my body. Karma taunts me at every turn, smirking as I attempt to explain a review platform to an attorney who can’t type. The punches I threw at my frienemy, the IT guy, haunt me daily. I am one of them, now, and Karma can’t quit laughing.

Think of your Litigation Support Specialist as a bridge, a hidden bridge between two feudal nation-states deep in the Amazonian rainforest. A rocky, cavernous divide cuts them sharply and the Litigation Support Specialist (i.e., me) stretches between them precariously.  The ropes are worn and frayed, their surface stained with the blood and sweat of the brave who have crossed before me.  I am standing awkwardly in the middle, seriously considering the quick and certain death awaiting me in the churning rapids below.  A delirious attorney foams with anger on my right; a software engineer laughs maniacally on my left.

I spend my days deciphering a nearly incommunicable language from data technicians, unraveling cryptic emails and then translating that information to a format somewhat understandable by the general public. My nights are spent pondering how in the hell I am going to do just that and my dreams are typically haunted by staff members screaming obscenities at their computers while I huddle in a corner, crying like a child.

At least one vendor that I’m aware of mocks me on a daily basis. Who knew there was a distinct difference between ‘foldering’ and ‘saved searches’?  “Not I”, said the sacrificial lamb, “Not I”.

Don’t you know that a Citrix Receiver times out?…..Your Java is out of date!…..The system won’t let me in…..I have 23,491 emails I’ve printed out for you. I hastily throw myself on the alter, beg for mercy, take a big, fat, deep breath and start breaking down the wall bit by bit (no computer pun intended).

My short stint in Lit Support has taught me many things. I actually do know what an MD5 hash code is. I understand how to add users, assign rights and apply data group properties. I grasp the concept of near de-duplication and am currently hacking away at a strange phenomenon called SQL.  For what little I have attained thus far, I thank my ever-patient boss, without whom I would surely have jumped off the cliff by now. Without his carefully thought-out and calmly delivered responses to my ceaseless line of questioning, I would be lost.

Of all the information I’ve acquired, though, the most valuable has nothing to do with geek speak and everything to do with being human.  As I teeter on the rickety planks of the bridge of hell, I take words like ‘patience’ and ‘understanding’ deathly seriously. We are human. We are afraid. We miscommunicate, frustrate and break our promise to do no harm. None of us is without fault which is precisely why, as Litigation Support becomes an integral part of the practice of law, we need to take special care with every word and deed.

While attempting to cross the great divide with a new set of rules and a team of players that obviously don’t fit the legal mold, it is inevitable that our messages will drown in the roaring river beneath us.  Don’t assume that attorneys and database architects speak the same language. I can assure you unequivocally that they do not. Societal and technological evolution has set these two adversaries on a collision course ordained by fate (and Zubuke). Throwing yourself off the edge Last of the Mohicans-style is not an option, nor is crumpling into a panic induced fetal position. How you choose to traverse this great divide is entirely up to you.

Those of us who have willingly chosen to work in Lit Support have volunteered to bridge the gap.  We have taken it upon ourselves to serve as mediators between tireless soldiers and worthy opponents.  I look across the divide, beyond the foaming attorney, past the legal secretary waiting to devour my soul and spy my old friend, Karma. She cackles; a menacing grin snarling over her putrid teeth.

I’m beginning to not like her.

Walk slowly, ease into it, listen carefully, and, whatever you do, don’t look down.

Lindsay Valek is a Litigation Technology Specialist for the McNair Law Firm, in Columbia, South Carolina. She can be reached at lindsayvalek@hotmail.com.

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Back to the bridge you go, TPS readers! No worries, it’s only eight more hours until you can cross safely back through the passages to personal freedom! It’s a good thing you’ve mastered the skillful art of running in high heels (slippery soled oxfords for you fellas). Remember, “Throwing yourself off the edge Last of the Mohicans-style is not an option, nor is crumpling into a panic induced fetal position. How you choose to traverse this great divide is entirely up to you.” Finally, we’d like to leave you with this parting thought:

It.  Is.  On. 

Have an absolutely fabulous respite outside the law firm gates! See you soon.