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By: Lindsay Valek

A ‘Pure’ Paralegal? A what??? Our thoughts precisely. You’re in for one heck of an entertaining read today, folks! Sip, sip, and dip, dip – right on down the page to peruse today’s post.

The first time I heard the phrase “pure paralegal” I almost fell off my chair. It happened because temporary amnesia had impaired my sense of judgment when I agreed to attend a paralegal membership drive. I should have known things were taking a turn toward the dark side when I found myself in a musty bar being awkwardly gazed upon like a freak show attraction.

“And you are?”

Let’s rewind. I was invited to this soiree because of the very column you hold in your hands. My “realness” and “witty” satire had made a mark. Perhaps my sponsor had a temporary mental break whereby she lost all professional sense and wanted to cross the great divide into Lindsay’s never-never land. The good girl had gone bad, or so she secretly desired to.

As for me, I must have lost my mind. Perhaps the sun was shining a little too brightly that day. Maybe I was walking with my head in the clouds thinking I could make a difference to someone, somewhere (cue the birds chirping and background music). For whatever reason, I temporarily lost touch with reality and was actually looking forward to attending. I went home after work, freshened up, threw some hot rollers in my hair and wore a good suit.

There I sat over a glass of chardonnay exchanging pleasantries and name-dropping as we all like to do. Susie Q and I were making the connections, discussing our careers, and laughing at bad attorney jokes. Things were progressing swimmingly until she uttered that phrase — that horrible, disgusting, skin crawling turn of words.

“Pure paralegal.”

It sat there on the table in front of me like a quivering hunk of flesh for a solid ten seconds as my mind raced to piece together what had just happened. My face must have registered utter confusion as I probed, “What is that?”

Let me break this down for you folks. Apparently there is a species of the paralegal that is pure. In simple terms, it’s a lady or gentleman who has a four-year college education, an ABA approved paralegal certification and 3-5 years law firm experience. I have now dubbed this species “paralegalus maxiumus lindsay.”

Robot impression begins in 3, 2, 1 …

I. am. a. fem. bot. If. Mattel. would. make. a. paralegal. Barbie. all. would. be. right. with. the. world. Hopefully. one. day. we. can. all. live. in. Stepford. together. and. bake. cookies. Nom. Nom. Nom.

OK, OK, you can quit laughing. No, really, please stop.

Exactly who do you think you are? You single handedly just demeaned a rather large chunk of legal secretaries, legal assistants, paralegals and small-firm receptionists who do all three of those jobs, plus accounting and courier services too. Before everything became “associated” so we all can feel very special and important, paralegal organizations didn’t exist, let alone pure paralegals. The profession is, in many ways, in its infancy. A handful of states require paralegal licensure but, let’s face it, most do not.

So that we’re on the up and up, I’m also a “pure paralegal” (damn that sounds revolting). In the same breath, I’ll tell you that I could give two flips less. You see, I was raised in a firm where no one got their rocks off from a bronze plaque on their desk or a strategic grouping of diplomas surrounding their head in a majestic halo. My head was handed to me more times than I care to remember from a non-pure, four-foot nothing, bad-ass legal secretary who would eat any of you for lunch and then have her way with your case files. She will own your soul because while you’re crying in the fetal position and complaining that she’s hurt your feelings, her assertion of your sub-par legal work is 100 percent spot on. She is that good, as are the other non-pure paralegals in that crazy stucco insane asylum.

There is a great difference between a piece of paper saying how fabulous you are and actually being fabulous. I know it. I’ve seen it. I’ve felt it in my bones. Watching someone like little-bit single handedly manipulate a courtroom into a den of perfection is like watching heaven open its gates. She’s not a fabulous paralegal because the community college gave her a piece of paper. She’s a fabulous paralegal because she takes pride in her work. She goes the extra mile. She pushes harder and further and longer than anyone else, and she takes zero prisoners when it comes to her work product and the attorneys she serves. She doesn’t care if you hate her guts as long as the job gets done properly. You cannot teach what she has. It is not in a book, nor is it something you can learn at a lunch session. You either have it, or you don’t.

Have we stooped so low that we now discriminate in our professional associations based not on ability but on a piece of paper? For shame! In life and law let us be reminded daily of the small army of non-purists that make our work possible and should you truly harbor a disdain for those “beneath” your legal status, I caution you to think twice before you say so out loud. I pity the thought of a paralegal touting this ideology in the company of a non-college educated client paying her employer thousands in legal fees. The walls have ears, you know.

Lindsay Valek is a litigation support specialist and paralegal in Columbia, South Carolina. She can be reached at lindsayvalek@hotmail.com

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We’d like to give a shout out to all of the (ridiculously) proclaimed “pure” paralegals – and every other paralegal on the planet who works his or her tail off in the legal mines, diffusing that deadline latent papyrus, saving the esquires, and managing the crazy like nobody’s business. Whether you graduated from a paralegal program, a non-paralegal program or the school of “learn or get fired,” we’d like to cordially invite you to sit at the cool kids’ table in TPS land! And in case anyone needs a recap on what “a paralegal” is (pure or otherwise), here goes:

“She’s a fabulous paralegal because she takes pride in her work. She goes the extra mile. She pushes harder and further and longer than anyone else, and she takes zero prisoners when it comes to her work product and the attorneys she serves…You cannot teach what she has. It is not in a book, nor is it something you can learn at a lunch session. You either have it, or you don’t.” – Lindsay Valek

Now go charge into that impending weekend, TPS paralegals! We’ll see you on the flip side… otherwise known as “Major Monday.”