By: Jamie Collins
Greetings, Paralegal Nation! Have you ever mentally pondered quitting your day job? Walking away from the esquire and papyrus driven insanity? Waving bah-bye to those peeps and things that have you filling out that application to the asylum? Show of hands: At least one time in your career…per month…per week…I mean, day…uh, how about per hour? Every other minute? If so, I wrote this one for you. Enjoy! (We’ll be asking you to join our support group in the form of an internet rally cry, nationwide, at the end of today’s post. All you have to do is: Hit. The. Button. It’s that simple, people.)
On to the post…
The number of times I’ve mentally pondered standing up, pushing myself away from my wooden desk, walking out of those law firm doors, and quitting my gig as a paralegal. (Oh, who am I kidding? That number is light.) I’m sure it was far more times than that over the past 2 decades in the legal trenches. Just last week, I wanted to quit twice in the same day. It’s entirely normal, I assure you. Yet, here I sit—a paralegal.
As a newbie paralegal and even a seasoned “lifer,” there are many, many things that will make a paralegal person, such as you, ponder quitting her day job. The short list looks a little something like this:
- Your boss is too demanding;
- Your boss has impossible expectations;
- Your boss is less than friendly some days, even abrupt, semi-rude, or rude as hell on others;
- The firm is unorganized and/or chaotic;
- There is inadequate money, training, help, or resources available to you;
- There is far too much work; and/or
- There is way, way, way too much stress associated with the job.
In the early years of my career, I experienced every one of these. It depended what day of the week it was as to what the pressing problem was, but I lived through every one of them. I lacked confidence and skills for a while as a newbie paralegal, as we all do in the beginning. We find ourselves cloaked in uncertainty, feeling like a hot mess of confused action, standing in the midst of the gauntlet of legal hell, attempting to “suit up” for the career race. (I take my suits black and designer these days.)
So why in the heck do we stay? That’s a great question.
Truth is, I wanted the career. I wanted money. I wanted prestige. I wanted more, so much more. And so I stayed at my desk every single time I wanted to get up and walk away. I never kicked the heels off. I never ran out the doors, tempting as it was. I stayed. Every single time I wanted to quit—I stayed. Because I had a lot to learn. Because I had much to attain by way of personal growth and professional accomplishment. Because I wanted more for myself and a better life. I wanted to do work I could be proud of that would give me a sense of empowerment and purpose. I wanted to prove I could do all of those things that seemed to elude me so easily in the beginning. I had something to prove—to myself, more than anyone else. I was on a one-way road to destiny, and whether that road was paved with Cadbury bars or barren as hell, covered in gravel and half grown over with me walking it barefoot and half-crazed, I was going to make the journey. Yep, the whole way. (Cheap polyester suits and all.) Even when nobody was holding poster boards and cheering on the sidelines for those of us passing by in the parade for potential. (It was more like irritated looks and angry whispers.)
I am not a quitter. I may have pondered it at least 1,247 times—but a quitter, I am not.
I write this post today to share the realities of the job. To let you know if you find yourself wanting to quit for any of the reasons above, or a long list of others, you aren’t alone. When pondering what to write on the topic, I found myself trying to come up with the reason I made it out the other side of legal hell to tell the tale. In the past few days of doing legal work, it became clear to me.
You can’t go from being the “Curator of the Impossible” to some schmuck slinging a reasonable amount of work of any kind that can actually all be done in a day, as a master of the mundane. You can’t go from making magic happen and saving attorneys’ lives (figuratively, most days) to being okay with hitting a punch clock at a “normal” job where you can actually set out to do all of the work that awaits you because it is actually possible. And you certainly can’t ride the rails of mediocrity. Not anymore. You can’t go from doing the best work you’ve ever done in your life—work that matters, filled with the inherent highest of highs and lowest of lows, to normal people stuff anymore—not once you’ve assailed the ranks and made it to the paralegal promise land. You just can’t. (Well, at least not until you’re ready to retire to that incredible beach villa in Hawaii—I’ll meet you there. Save me a seat.) If you stay, day after day, and live through all of those times you ever wanted to quit in your career, you become a rare breed of person. A special one, indeed. A type that all of those “regular” types of people can only attempt to understand.
“Sometimes I’ve believed as many as 6 impossible things before breakfast.”
~ Alice in Wonderland
And on certain days, I’ve actually done 6 impossible things before breakfast, too. That’s me—Curator of the Impossible—I mean, “paralegal”. Granted, I may have wanted to kill the esquire in my head 9 times while actually performing the impossible task, but either way, the impossible gets done (or as close as paralegal possible) and we both live to see another day. That feels good. Better than good. It’s about as close to omnipotent as a person can get while seated at the wooden helm at a desk job. And once you reach such a high level of functioning in your career, it’s pretty darn hard to downshift or expect anything less of yourself after that. You’re a goner. It becomes who you are.
I’ve sat in my office and cried alongside catastrophically injured clients or parents who held their beloved babies for the last time following a tragic accident. In those moments, there is no one else you would want helping you throughout the process. It’s me. I’m the lady for the job. No one will hit the line harder for you. No one. And that feels good. Really good.
On certain days, I make magic happen. I’ve stood victorious over things I wasn’t even sure I would be able to do. I’ve handed trial lawyers Post-It notes scribbled full of questions that slayed witnesses on the stand. I’ve helped to craft intricately woven case strategy to get us to a successful settlement or verdict, prepared witnesses for testimony I wasn’t sure they could nail (but did), and acted as a liaison for clients in the best way possible. Never have I felt more alive than in trial. Nothing beats the adrenaline rush that accompanies that. Nothing.
I have worked hard over the years (because the word “decades” makes me sound all old) to become the paralegal esquires pick first when they need a paralegal. Not just any paralegal—The best paralegal—their paralegal. I can’t even count how many possible and impossible tasks I’ve accomplished to make that happen. Time and time again. Day after day. I don’t quit. I stay and slay. Nothing will make you more proud than having an esquire pick you time and time again as his paralegal. “Yep, I choose…her.” Given the right esquire and the right paralegal duo, you may find yourselves picking each other time and time again, at different times, across multiple firms. My current esquire has chosen me to be his paralegal 3 times now, at 3 different firms. That feels like success. To have conquered enough impossible tasks that you can take control over your own legal destiny. You can pick your boss. You can pick your firm. You can pick your office furniture. And the reason you can pick all of them is simple: You never quit. Not once.
I am not a quitter.
I hope you aren’t one, too.
But if it’s too bad a firm, a horrible boss, or an ugly situation, there is no shame in quitting.
So today, when you find yourself seated at that large, wooden helm of paper pounding glory, pondering quitting one more time, just smile, shrug it off, make yet another tally mark on that poster board or wall (yes, you’ll need something that large), and stay and slay. Day after day. It’s what we do best. It’s who you are.
I just hit 1,248. (But who’s counting…)
Can you relate? Hit that comment button and tell us about it!
Alright, TPSers – Here’s what we’re looking for: One social media share or like from every single paralegal out there who has EVER mentally contemplated quitting his or her day job. Yep. Every single one of them. Ready…go!
Wishing you a fabulous week within those glory-filled gates. The esquires await, as do the deadlines. We’ll see you soon.