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******* Our 1st Place Winner *******
TPS Writing Contest – Envy/The Brick Wall
Are you ready to read the piece written by the fabulous 1st Place Winner of our recent writing contest? Allow me to introduce you to none other than the lovely and talented – Jodi Savitsky, an experienced litigation paralegal from New York, New York. Jodi wrote her heart out on this piece. Congratulations, Jodi!!!
And to all of the writers out there who did not make it into the top 3 spots, but wrote some really terrific pieces, we plan to feature several of them as honorable mentions. You really sent us some great stuff. (Keep your heads up. You’re still fabulous.)
In an ever changing, growing and dynamic industry, why does the role of the paralegal seem weighted down under the archaic job description of our predecessors of yesteryear? Have we and our profession not matured? Have we not exceeded expectations through the technological revolution? And do we not continue to hone our skills with CLEs, certificate classes, associate and bachelor degrees? We are so much more than the para-professional defined by the labor laws in most states. Technical writers, researchers, e-discovery coordinators, case managers, trial and appellate team leaders – these are just a few of the synonyms for paralegal in today’s legal world. In reality, we are at the forefront of our industry.
Armed with this knowledge, we should shoot for the moon, soar ahead. Yet we still allow ourselves to be bricked in by the old fashioned concept that a paralegal is there to “serve” or “assist” an attorney without question, thought or opinion. As in the proverbial saying “Children are meant to be seen not heard,” we are too often not seen, too often not heard. Somewhere along the way we allowed ourselves to be placed in this situation, in nothing better than a brick room with no doors, 20 foot ceilings and no viable means of escape. Left alone in this room, we experience self-doubt, insecurities and over-analyze every inch of initiative dismissed or tossed aside. I don’t lay fault with attorneys, law firms or even the insurance companies who seem so eager to write off our hard work as “administrative.” The fault lies within ourselves.
I offer this essay as a wake-up call to the masses. How many times have you been given a task and then had your hands tied by someone “higher up”? Right, wrong or indifferent you must accede to their wishes. It doesn’t matter that you might have a better way or can suggest an improvement, you nod your head yes, you tamp down your own ideas. Deference not only locks you inside your room but provides the raw materials for them to build even thicker walls. We must break out, break down and reconstruct our position within the hierarchy of the legal system.
My point is not to offend. Indeed, I am not advocating that we become Norma Rae, standing on our desks with a sign stating “LISTEN” or run manically into managing partner meetings singing “We’re not going to take it anymore,” Twisted Sister style. We are professionals, after all. What I am suggesting is a few simple steps that will make others take notice of us and, I hope, realize that we have so much more to give.
- Utilize resources. When making a suggestion, don’t rely on a gut feelings or that the recipient of your idea has an open mind. Present your idea with hard facts and figures – dare I say even case law to strengthen your point. Your gut is what told you there might be a better approach. Prove it putting in the time and doing the research.
- Avoid over-aggression. Most people react negatively to a constant stream of back-talk, desk pounding or any other means of “attention” getting when trying to further your cause. Think of the situation as more of an interview. Make a positive lasting impression.
- Offer your opinion and then stop. Hear their response. Don’t roll your eyes, don’t look away nervously, but truly hear what they are saying. The best solutions often come from collaborative work.
- Follow up, follow through. After presenting your idea, let the recipient have a chance to think about it. Send a follow up e-mail or schedule a second meeting. This small effort will only enhance your position. Do not let the discussion stall. Make sure a decision is made and even if your idea is not adopted, your colleagues will remember that you stepped up to the plate.
- It’s not about you. Sometimes when an idea is near and dear to us we tend to make it personal. The practice of law is not personal. It is at the heart, a business, like any other industry. Everything you do should be for the benefit of the client, not your own self-interest.
Please do not misinterpret these few ideas as if they were the Five Commandments to being a successful paralegal. They are a basic blueprint that needs individualized tailoring and consideration. It is up to each person to mold, shape and build on what I have laid out. These are the raw materials to build your destiny, which begins with the desire to take control of your brick room. Break it down, start fresh or take small steps; punch through a wall and build a door, a window, maybe even a skylight. Remodel the room to fit your own personality, drive and career path.
I look forward to seeing everyone’s designs that will help shape the future generations of paralegals.
Jodi Savitsky has been a paralegal for over 16 years. She is currently employed as a litigation paralegal with Golenbock Eiseman Assor Bell & Peskoe LLP. She has assisted on numerous toxic torts, including asbestos and the World Trade Center litigations.
A special thank you to Jodi for taking the time to write this fabulous piece for us.
We’d love to stay and chat, but we’re off to guard and protect the esquires from deadlines, swirling papers, and pesky people. All in a day’s work.
We’ll see you soon, TPSers!