By: Christopher E. Vargo, Jr.
Greetings, TPS Nation! Today, Christopher (one of our fabulous new Guest Contributors) is here to share his experience in dealing with that never-ending question: “Don’t you want to be a lawyer?” Some of us do. Most of us don’t. What’s Christopher’s take on it? You’ll have to read this post to find out!
Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure (and misery) of interacting with attorneys, paralegals and administrative professionals from all walks of legal life. From national and multi-national firms, to solo practitioners working out of their home offices, there’s a good chance I’ve talked to them, negotiated with them, and worst of all, needed something from them.
For the vast majority of my decade-long career, I’ve worked for a small law firm. My first foray into the legal profession was with a boutique firm in southern Connecticut. I’d give a shout out, but the firm shut down several years ago. I started as a “Jack of all trades.” I filed away papers. I was the IT manager. I brought the big boss water, woke him from his naps and drove his kid to the train station (I wish this was an exaggeration). There weren’t any defined roles to speak of. If the boss said he wanted a bagel, it should have been in the toaster 30 seconds ago.
It wasn’t until my second anniversary with the firm that I was entrusted with more meaningful legal tasks. By meaningful, I mean I was allowed to shepardize case law and organize document production. Given the nature of the practice, client visits were few and far between. So were court appearances, so the attorneys were around most of the time. After four years of service, the firm shut its doors, and I found myself unemployed.
I took a contract position with a national law firm practicing exclusively in employment law. This was the first time I witnessed “Big Law.” This particular office was on the smaller side, but I got a first-hand look at true office politics. All day, every day the lawyers were on conference calls, in meetings, and giving instructions to support staff with an unwavering sense of urgency. Within the office I was Chris, the contract paralegal. People were nice enough to me, but I never got to dive deep into any of the cases because everyone knew my time there was limited. On a corporate level, I was a nobody.
After the contract term had expired, I realized I didn’t want to work for another big law firm. I missed the intimacy of a small office. The camaraderie, and knowing that the work I performed actually mattered, was very appealing to me. In the fall of 2008, I was fortunate enough to get hired for a small general practice. The owner, who was a solo-practitioner for 25 years, partnered with another lawyer and was expanding his support staff. The firm needed someone to handle the complex litigation and bankruptcy cases, and the owner took a chance on me. It’s been over five years, and I’m the happiest I’ve ever been professionally.
The diversity of the practice often requires the lawyers to be in court, so the paralegals are charged with keeping the files moving along. We meet with the attorneys regularly to be given the strategy of the case (what motion to file, what depositions to schedule, when to begin to propound discovery, etc), and then we, the paralegals, go from there. And since the attorneys are often out of the office, the paralegals are the first ones the courts, counsel and clients contact when they need something. As counsel once put it, “I know better than to try and call Attorney ____ first.” As I’m sure you can imagine, this makes for a busy day.
I’ve been in this business for ten years now, and during my career I’ve noticed an interesting trend; you often don’t see a male paralegal. It’s almost as uncommon as a female manager in the 1960’s.
When I meet with a new client, I’m almost guaranteed to be asked one specific question, regardless of the case we’re working on. “Don’t you want to be a lawyer?” I politely smile, turn my head, and reply “I’m happy with doing what I’m doing,” and try to redirect the meeting back to the topic at hand.
I don’t take the question as an insult, but still find it interesting that I’m apparently on the opposite end of gender bias. After I was asked a couple times, I started to think about all of the paralegals I’ve had to interact with. You know something? I didn’t recall a single guy.
The truth is I did want to be a lawyer at one point. For my 27th birthday my wife bought me a couple LSAT prep books, and I had started pricing out law school. I will never forget that night during the summer of 2010 that changed my mind. My wife called me upstairs to our bedroom, and said she wanted to show me something. I opened the top of her jewelry box, and there it was, staring at me with its big, blue plus sign. “We’re pregnant,” she told me with a tearful smile. I knew at that moment that my plans to go to law school had changed.
It took me a couple months to ultimately make my decision, but before my son was born I knew I didn’t want to go to law school any longer. Trust me, I still would have liked to become a lawyer, and thought I’d make a pretty good one at that. I just didn’t want to miss the first four years of his life, if not more.
I had to keep working to support the family, so I would be going to law school part-time at night. That means four years until graduation. Add another year or so to prepare and take the Bar Exam. That’s five. If I wanted to make a decent salary, I had to at least get employed by a mid-level firm. That means, as an associate, I’d be expected to be there before and after the partners, in addition working nights and weekends from home. By the time I got to a place in my career where I could lighten the burden, I’d already have missed my son growing up. This was unacceptable to me.
I love my job. I get to go to work every day not knowing what I’ll have to deal with. I get to interact with attorneys, paralegals, clients and court personnel. I get to draft motions, propound discovery, organize exhibits and prepare a case for trial. So maybe I can’t give legal advice or represent a client in court. That’s alright. I’m enjoying my family.
“Don’t you want to be a lawyer?”
Christopher E. Vargo, Jr. is a Connecticut based paralegal concentrating in the areas of complex litigation, family law and bankruptcy. He currently works for a general practice law firm based in the Greater Hartford Area of Connecticut. When not drafting motions and putting out the daily fires, Chris enjoys flying RC Planes, discussing current events, being a tech geek, and most of all spending time with his wife and son.
Chris can be found at:
What’s your response to that never-ending question, TPS readers? Do you want to be a lawyer? Do you find the question offensive? Are you tired of answering it? Hit that comment button and tell us about it!
We’ll see you soon, but whether that will be later this week or early next has yet to be determined. It depends entirely upon the Founder’s creativity. The jury is still out. (And if you see the muse, please point her in my general direction…with a large iced tea, a pair of sparkly flip flops, a beach towel, and a boarding pass.)