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By: Tammy Essing, ACP

A paralegal. Ummmm…a what? Did you say a “paratrooper?” A “parakeet?”  “Oh! You said ‘paralegal’.” Then, you get the question…“What is a paralegal?”  The question is then followed up with a look of complete bewilderment.


I think we’ve all been there.

Think about it. When you were a kid, did you ever dream in your wildest dreams that you would pursue the dream of being a paralegal? I think most kids would answer with something along the lines of “doctor,”  “lawyer,” “professional  athlete,” and maybe a “teacher.” I don’t recall any kids ever answering “paralegal.”  I don’t think I even answered “paralegal.”

That’s what makes our profession a specialty niche, right? The professionalism of a paralegal career has come a long way from years gone by. The role of the paralegal has evolved into a more detailed role than just putting together trial notebooks, or drumming up some deposition summaries. We get right in the trenches with the lawyers, working side-by-side. Many state legislatures, state bar associations, and state supreme courts, including our United States Supreme Court, have set our  their definitions on the roles and functions of a paralegal, and what sets us apart from other legal professions. One of the best known U.S. Supreme Court cases, recognizing the role of a paralegal, is set forth in Missouri v. Jenkins, 491 U.S. 274, S.Ct. At 2471-72 (1989), wherein the court stated:

“It has frequently been recognized in the lower courts that paralegals are capable of carrying out many tasks, under the supervision of an attorney, that might otherwise be performed by a lawyer and billed at a higher rate.” (Id.) 

So, the question is, WHY did you become a paralegal? Did you choose the profession, or did it choose you? Once you got that first job working as a paralegal, what did you do to better yourself as a paralegal? Were you already a college graduate, or did you go back to college or paralegal school to become a better paralegal? The paralegal profession is a really quite a noble one.  Everything you did, you did to make yourself a better paralegal, whether it was going back to school, taking the national certification exam, sitting endless hours with paralegals in mentoring…it made you who you are. Whatever you did, you did it with great heart and went all out to get to where you are today. There were even many of you out there that did all of this while holding the family together, or maintaining a full-time or part-time job, AND going to school.  No matter what, the road wasn’t easy.

Was it worth it, though? You bet. I never dreamed in a million years that I would find a more rewarding career than being a paralegal. (Well, okay, being a mom is pretty rewarding, too.) The depths that I have gone into working up cases, doing investigative work, or to conducting research has been far beyond what I would have ever thought I would have been able to do as a paralegal. As Captain Kirk in the Star Trek series would say, “To boldly go where no one has ever gone before.”

As we approach National Paralegal Day on October 23, take a minute to reflect on all that you have accomplished as a paralegal. We have all climbed the mountains of greatness in our careers, and also swam in the Amazon with the alligators (those of you in litigation know EXACTLY what I’m talking about). There are even times when we don’t think we are appreciated by our bosses. However, try to remember during those rough times what it took to get you to where you are. You may not always get a pat on the back for all of the blood, sweat, and tears you put into this job, but always tell yourself how valuable you are. Hold your head high, and continue to always look forward.

It’s always important to keep learning, keep growing, and never look back. Just as a doctor cannot be the best doctor without continuing to grown in the medical field, a paralegal cannot be the best in the field without continued growth and education. Stay up on the latest trends in the field – take a class, an internet seminar, read a book, listen to lectures on the iPad.

Not only that, continue to work on yourself as a person. Who motivates you?  Grab their latest book, lectures or video and instill motivational thoughts in you. Find a great positive role model to “friend.” You’re in this field for a reason. Be the best you can be in this field.

So, the next time you are asked about what you do, look the person straight in the eye, and with all the pride of a peacock, state you are a paralegal!

Tammy Essing, ACP, PHP is a senior litigation paralegal with over 20 years of litigation experience of a wide-variety of litigated matters in oil and gas, commercial, complex commercial, construction, environmental and tort matters in both, federal and state level courts.  She is advanced certified in trial practice through the National Litigation of Legal Assistants.


So, why did you become a paralegal? I shared my response in the first article I ever wrote for my column in KNOW: The Magazine for Paralegals. I’ll post the link in the comments section below. We’d love to hear your story, too.

Rumor has it we’re T-minus 8-hours, and counting the moments down until the blessed hour we shall emerge victoriously into the fabulous weekend! (Slightly dramatic? We think not…)

Eight more hours?
Say what?!?