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By: Jamie Collins
One day about a year ago, I received a call from the courthouse. It was the kind of call a busy Litigation Paralegal looks forward to, but doesn’t receive all too often. One that occurs when other attorneys in your firm outside of your immediate circle call upon you (the reliable, makeshift ninja standing deskside) from the midst of a jury trial to request a piece of critical information or evidence for purposes of impeachment.
(For you newbies and non-litigation paralegals out there, I am referring to evidence used to prove that a witness lied on the stand, while under oath. He says one thing, and the attorney is able to readily produce a document that says another.)
For all intents and purposes, this telephone call signals the start of what can best be described as “The Paralegal Olympics.” The call comes in. The paralegal smiles, remembers to breathe, and verbally indicates to the calling esquire that it shall be done.
It was one of those rare moments where I immediately stop pushing papyrus around that desktop, step away from the keyboard to rise from my seat, walk out into the hallway within an earshot of all staff members, and in an incredibly serious tone (nothing short of a verbal command issued by the likes of Olivia Pope or Juliana Marguiles. Yes, just like that…) begin to spout the following:
“They called from trial. I need everyone to stop what they are doing and scour the internet for ____. We have no time to waste. Print off whatever you find and show it to me. In about 20 minutes, when I need to leave to deliver it to them, I’ll take the best of what we’ve found.”
I then storm back to my desk and onto Google in a paralegal state that is half anxious, half giddy, to begin an incredibly fast and furious search for the best evidence there was to be had. A moment that would get any paralegal’s heart racing, adrenaline flowing, and senses elevated 20 times over as she stands before the pearled gates of glory overlooking the litigation promise lands. I realize I have about 20 minutes until I’ll need to depart out of those law firms doors to bring the trial team what they need to kill an opposing witness (figuratively speaking, of course) and make the case.
Exhibit Label affixed to the front. Exhibits made – 13 copies, to be precise.
I lift the last set of warm pages off of the copier, grab the next set of numbered tabbies for the binders, grab my handbag, and dash out the door, all the while hoping I don’t lose a heel (or my sanity) in the process. Parking money? Check!
It. Is. On.
Upon arriving at the courthouse and sitting through the potentially impeachable witness’ testimony, it turns out we didn’t end up needing those key documents “Ms. Pope” had found, after all. No lie, no documents to be produced. But that didn’t put a damper on the moments that day when I lived the paralegal dream – on the edge, with a big need, a little time, and a will to win. It is these types of moments that we, as savvy litigation paralegals, step up, step in, and live for.
No time? Big expectations? The litigation team will rise or fall?
Into the fray we go.
These are the moments that lace the remainder of our less dramatic, non-gladiator-esque, deadline latent, litigation-paper-pushing days filled with e-mails, paper cuts, and embers of craziness with small glimmers of boldness, and greatness, and magic. The type of day that makes us REMEMBER why it is we do what we do in the first place. We sometimes forget. I know I do. It’s the reason we are willing to push the paper around the desk for 86 days in a row for a chance – just one – to dance for a day into the dream. And we remember. And we live on the edge. And we are ALIVE.
And happy – so happy we can’t imagine doing anything else. And we remember. Fueled on litigation inspiration, we push paper for 86 more days to earn our next ticket into the grand arena. We spin that paper to live another day, and do it all over again…one more time.
This brings me to the second part of today’s topic. When speaking at local schools, I am frequently asked how often I, as a litigation paralegal, attend a trial or how often I am actually asked to find a “smoking gun” for a big case. These types of tasks have allure. They are appealing. Sexy stuff. People admire them. After all, who doesn’t want to be Erin Brockovich? These types of tasks are instilled in the minds of academic dreamers everywhere. Heck, it’s the reason why many folks decided to enroll in a paralegal program in the first place. They want to have a shot at making their way into The Paralegal Olympics. They want to claim a seat on a big case in the courtroom. They seek glory.
The truth is between the two categories of trials and smoking guns, it’s probably about one tenth of the time, at best, for most of us. Those days of typing, and filing, and sorting, and organizing, and finding, and seeking, and calling, and ordering records, and reorganizing, and running through the office, and halfway losing one’s mind, as you work for someone who is halfway losing his own, are what buy you the seat in the chair. Many litigation paralegals are paid more than what a person probably should be paid to sit in the chair and file, sort, field calls, stuff paper into files, and be at an esquire’s beck and call. Overpaid to be manual filing clerks, file openers, phone call takers, and file organizers. Yes, indeed.
But it is on those days the call comes in that the attorneys know you are worth every green dollar bill contained within that weekly paycheck. Those days when you must enter the glory games to put it all on the line. For them – right here, right now. To step up. Step in. Step out. To become the executioner of deeds, saver of sanity, and the one who will arrive at the courthouse with the documents that may or may not be needed with a big, confident smile pasted across your face as you take your seat in the peanut gallery, because in that moment…you are proud, and prepared, and ready.
You are a Litigation Paralegal, with a seat in the courtroom, and a smoking gun tucked securely under your arm. Whether you get the opportunity to rise and hand over that stack of manila folders containing case-making exhibits or not, you are dancing a day through the dream. You are in The Paralegal Olympics. No matter what happens in that courtroom, in that moment, in that case, on that day…you are ALIVE. And you REMEMBER exactly who you are, and why it is you do what you do, all the other days of the year. Every single one of them.
So push that paper, field those calls, put out those fires, scribble down those notes, organize that file, and attempt to save the other half of your sanity, along with his, as you always do. You are a Litigation Paralegal. You are proud. You are prepared. You are ready. REMEMBER the dream.
Take your seat, and live it.
“I try to explain to people that the only way to be cool is to be who you truly are, and the only way to live life is to do the things that you want to do and be the person that you want to be no matter who that is or what that is or how you have to do it. That’s the only way you can be genuinely happy.” – Tucker Max
“Purpose is the reason you journey. Passion is the fire that lights your way.” – Unknown
“When you dance, your purpose is not to get to a certain place on the floor. It’s to enjoy each step along the way.” – Wayne Dyer
“I am here for a purpose and that purpose is the grow into a mountain, not to shrink to a grain of sand. Henceforth will I apply ALL my efforts to become the highest mountain of all and I will strain my potential until it cries for mercy. ” – Og Mandino
“There is only one quality which one must possess to win, and that is definiteness of purpose, the knowledge of what one wants, and a burning desire to possess it.” – Napoleon Hill
“Be daring. Be different. Be impractical. Be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-safers, the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of the ordinary. – Cecil Beaton
“No matter how you feel, get up, dress up, show up, and never give up.” – Unknown
To all of the hardworking Litigation Paralegals out there, my comrades in arms, I salute you. To everyone else, I’d love to hear what makes you half anxious, half giddy, and fully alive. Do tell.
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