ATTENTION: This is a rant. The foregoing is intended to be absolutely relatable and 100% humorous to all of those brave, paralegal souls working faithfully in the legal trenches. Read at your own risk…and enjoy!
“Help! I am a Paralegal Trapped in a Paper Prison.”
By: Jamie Collins
Put on your seatbelt, TPS readers. There will be no sugar-coated pleadings associated with today’s rant. Our topic is a delicate one that brings a paralegal’s mounting frustration from the daily grind just beyond the outer rungs of hell, bubbling up to the surface of reality.
I am a paralegal. I love my job; at least the part of it where I’m actually doing paralegal work. In fact, very much so. That being said, I currently find myself trapped in a paper prison. It’s just me, and fifty million pieces of paper swirling into makeshift mountains before my eyes; their sharp corners attempting to take a small chunk of my soul, along with each and every inadvertently laid paper-cut etched upon my weary body, as I attempt to ascend it – Mount Papermore, that is. In heels. And half sane.
Now those of you working in Big Law will likely not be able to relate to today’s post (unless you departed the ranks of small firm paralegals to enter through the glorious gates of “staff and supply heaven,” where rumor has it, there are fully-stocked soda machines, kitchen clean up people, helpful secretaries, legal assistants, mailroom clerks, and even chefs). But every single paralegal on the planet working in Small Law will be ready to swing by the store tonight to pick up a pack of rainbow markers, and a few bottles of purple glitter to create colorful poster boards and stand alongside me, stretched ‘round the block, in a glorious showing of paralegal unity (and sanity), after reading today’s post.
Back to the happy part. As a litigation paralegal, there are many things I love. I enjoy hunting down key pieces of information, determining what needs to be done on each case, drafting letters, pleadings, discovery responses and requests to darn near perfection, preparing demand packages, chatting with clients on an endless basis, entrenching myself into case strategy, preventing crises nearly every fleeting moment of the day, and organizing files into the ranks of Mr. Clean’s personal portfolio, all the while saving the sanity of esquires, fellow staffers, and myself…every chance I get.
But today, we’re not here to talk about that.
We’re here to talk about the other half.
ALL of the other tasks; ones we’ll chalk up under that fun paralegal category known to the skilled, experienced, “lifer” paralegals as falling into the genre of being “a helpful team player, who does all other duties, as assigned” because that’s what we do – whatever needs to be done at any given moment. We’re paralegals – we find a need and fill it. You call, we haul. You ring, we bring. We guard esquires as closely as a member of the Secret Service guards the President. On most days, we do okay. We get by. We’re happy to ascend paper mountains and stretch our own sanity, in the name of law.
But there are a select few days per year when one’s paralegal sanity is stretched about as thin as a severely damaged piece of dental floss, as a result of the multitude of new files to be opened (labels created, manila folders shuffled into it, information logged into the computer, the preparation of statute cards, and on…and on…and on…), the onslaught of manual filing to be placed into its “never to be found” folder homes, tucked safely away within the esquire’s (needs to be cleaned again) office, endless reviewing, logging, and scanning of each day’s mail – all, of course, while “pitching in” to pick up a call (or three) at the moment you become pretty darn certain you’ve been instantaneously beamed aboard the second floor of a Sallie Mae call center in the middle of India, unbeknownst to you. Ring, ring.
We’re talking about those types of tasks; the ones that prevent us from doing the real paralegal work we love to do. One thing is for certain, the work is all necessary. Every single bit of it. There is simply no escaping the timeless arts of “folder creation” and “filing done fast,” if you are a paralegal working at a small law firm. As paralegals, we’re normally happy to perform all of these tasks while confined within the walls of the windowed, white walled Paper Prison, but there are a few days each year when we depart the land of compliant bliss, after opening one too many a file, and we essentially hit the “what the hell am I doing with my time” wall. It is as though we’ve been thrown overboard by the esquires, into a bottomless (non-billable, non-collectable) paper pit.
You with me, small firm paralegals? How in the heck do we ever get anything done? Seriously? Ever? Anything? How we manage to rake in even $14.50 toward the firm’s productivity under this scenario is absolutely nothing short of astonishing. If any of you are lucky enough to have an abundance of legal staffers to help you with these particular types of tasks – run right out and buy ‘em a gourmet cupcake…fast!
Some people say, “Hey, if they’re willing to pay me to make folders and do filing, I’m all for it!” On certain days, I can go along with that theory. Probably on most days. But the problem is, those of us who actually seek to do the most we possibly can with our knowledge, skills, and abilities are typically not happy affixing labels onto the front of folders during an 8 hour shift in the paper mill. We want to be the best. We want to hit the grand slam. And often. We want to learn more, accomplish more, and up our game. That’s pretty hard to do when you can’t make it over the mountain, to get one heel into the batter’s box. This is the frustrating predicament in which we find ourselves in small law firms everywhere.
Thankfully, when those ultra crazy days come (and you better believe they will), the consistent passage of time assures us that even those harsh, sanity-sucking days of paralegal frustration will each last only 24 hours. What a blessing.
The next time this happens to you in small firm, USA, remember to keep in mind that there is really only one reason why it bothers you to the core of your being. It is because you desire to become the best. You are seeking glory. You want to walk onto the legal field yet another day, and into the batter’s box, to hit the next grand slam.
And if you open up those new client files fast enough – perhaps, one day – you will.
I’ve got one last question — purple glitter or silver?
Half Glittered & Fully Crazy
Favor Maker or Sucker?
We have all been a Favor Maker at one point or another.
You know, those times when at a moment’s notice, we forget about actually having a personal life, and work countless late nights and even weekends to “get ahead,” as a favor. At the request of a fellow paralegal colleague, we compose and post a truly heartfelt recommendation, as a favor. And then there is the most common paralegal Favor Maker category out there. You are assigned to one or two direct, supervising attorneys, yet the other attorneys in the office can’t seem to stop themselves from endlessly heaping additional duties (random letter here, random letter there) on top your already heavy work load.
It appears as though you have been involuntarily dubbed the “substitute paralegal” a/k/a favor maker when another, non-supervisory attorney’s staff member calls in sick, is unavailable or simply sitting way too far down the hall for him to readily locate said paralegal, and there you sit, as the Favor Maker — just waiting to be signed up for another random letter. Of course, this last scenario almost always occurs completely unbeknownst to your “real” supervising attorney, because he would freak out, as you are “his” assigned paralegal, not the encroaching attorney’s favor maker. But you don’t like to tattle or make waves…so the non-assigned favor making continues…endlessly. Perhaps, against your better judgment, you put aside valuable billable time to help another coworker prepare a mediation statement or trial binders as your own work pile begins to resemble a mountain, as a favor.
The favor making is endless. Yes folks, this is a long lost second cousin of the invaluable Rain Maker, but instead of bringing steady profits to the bottom line, a Favor Maker willingly hands out numerous favors.
Then there is a Sucker. Sure, come on people — you know what a Sucker is. Okay, so maybe you can identify a Sucker, but few are willing to admit that they have unknowingly earned their Sucker badge of honor. Only after many months, possibly years, just the best Favor Makers get promoted to the ranks of a Sucker. It often happens when you timidly ask to leave early from work after you worked late every day the previous week and part of your weekend “getting ahead” or preparing for a big trial. Or you approach the fellow paralegal colleague that you respectfully recommended to ask that they return the favor. Maybe you politely ask the paralegal or another member of the support staff in your office, who you covered for twice last week, to cover for you tomorrow because you have a doctor’s appointment you can’t miss. Possibly you ask the mentored paralegal coworker to help you finish preparing trial binders for the big trial that starts next week.
Can anyone guess what happens next? Maybe some of you get lucky, but typically a Sucker either receives a big fat “no” response directly-to-their-face or an “I’m just too busy” email response. You may even get the irritated blank stare response. Either way, at some point, after being turned down repeatedly, and then watching the encroaching attorney, boss, paralegal colleague and paralegal co-worker earn praise based on the foundation of your endless and thankless contributions, you finally realize you have, in fact, earned your Sucker badge of honor.
Sporting your shiny new Sucker badge of honor, you then decide to completely transform your once upbeat, helpful demeanor into a gloomy dark cloud persona, as you stoop to the level of the relentless favor takers, and ultimately ignore all future favor requests. There. That will take care of those pesky favor takers, right? You’ll show them! Well, possibly, but is that the way you actually want this saga to end — on the same side as a gloomy dark cloud? Probably not.
To all those Favor Makers and Suckers out there, I completely relate to your disappointment. Believe me…I have been there. Surely it is only good form to return favors, but quite frankly, not all dark clouds agree with this practical theory or have learned this simple form of common courtesy and etiquette. As for the favor takers out there, your actions are being noticed. Seriously, you need to rethink your strategy. One day you may need another favor, or worse, your actions may negatively influence your professional career. Everyone needs a helping hand once in awhile. You may sucker yourself right out of a future help-out on the part of a favor maker. We are all watching. We’re taking notes. We’re onto you.
Favor Makers and Suckers, don’t let the relentless favor takers of the world discourage your honest eagerness to help. Rather, stay true to your enthusiasm to contribute to the development of the paralegal community, your firm and professional colleagues, whether or not you are repaid in kind. Continue to be positive in your intentions and keep mentoring and helping. As a result of remaining steadfast to your humble convictions, the relentless favor takers of the world will eventually fall to the worn out favor taker wayside and you will remain an irreplaceable and affirmative influence within the paralegal community.
By: Jennifer MacDonnell
The Paralegal Desk-side Manner. My $500 Advice To You.
One night not so long ago, I awoke to an excruciating pain in my lower right side. This pain lasted about 45 minutes and was so bad that I found myself holding my breath and praying for relief. Needless to say, I didn’t make it into work the next day. I did, however, receive a call from my senior attorney later that evening, via speaker phone with a few concerned firm members, who had called to check on me. The gist of the call was this: (1) You don’t want to mess around with this – if it’s your appendix – it can kill you. I’m not joking. You could die; and (2) Happy New Year!! (I’m dead serious – that’s what he said in a nutshell.) While I was happy to receive his call and heed his advice, there was a bit of a buzz kill on his well wishes for 2012, in light of the preceding content. So, the next day, after putting in an honest day’s work paralegaling, I made my way to the local emergency room.
For those of you who haven’t been to the emergency room lately (or ever – wow you’re lucky), you spend countless hours waiting…and waiting…and waiting to see the doctor. As an added bonus, you are also trapped in a packed waiting room filled with America’s finest. (Okay, that part wasn’t accurate – they are freakin weirdos. Seriously. Major emphasis on weirdos). You know the room is filled with an abundance of germs. There is always at least one token person in the room, who is hunched over and moaning like they are about to die right then and there; one person with a towel wrapped around their forearm; an array of cootie possessing coughers; and at least one random, talking weirdo within close proximity. Word to the wise — don’t even think about touching that super interesting People magazine sitting on the coffee table directly in front of you — you might catch Typhoid. Just sayin’.
Thankfully, on this particular occasion, the talking weirdo was seated directly across from us (me and the hubby), but not in close enough of a proximity for us to fall victim to his relentless verbal tirade, which covered an array of fascinating topics, including how he used to scatter rose petals all over the floor and bed for his ex-wife and ran her bubble baths; he wanted a pet chinchilla; a few party stories; intimate details of his relationship with his sick wife who had relocated to another room; and a few random work stories. My ears were bleeding, and this TMI assault via weirdo stranger was only being overheard by me second hand. To provide myself with some minor comic relief, I sent the following text message via my iPhone to my husband, who was sitting directly next to me: “The only thing that would make this worse is if motormouth over there was talking at us. Seriously. Blue scrubs over yonder.” This, of course, led to my husband cackling aloud as he read it, while sitting in the chair directly next to me, which in turn, made me do the same. So, in that moment, my husband and I became the “laughing weirdos” of the waiting room.
We spent about 3 ½ hours in the main waiting room and were finally moved into a private hospital waiting room, where we waited another hour – so all told – we waited…and waited…and waited about 4 ½ hours before the emergency room doctor finally made an appearance. At that point, I was so over the emergency room that I simply wanted to be told “hey, you won’t die, go on home.” That became the new goal. Forget a diagnosis. I just want out.
However, I was pleasantly surprised by this particular doctor’s bed-side manner. He graciously apologized for the ridiculously long wait (genuinely), sprinkled in a little humor here and there while speaking to us (nice guy), and genuinely apologized for not being able to tell me “what the problem was” without sending me through a battery of expensive tests that likely wouldn’t reveal a thing, would expose me to harmful radiation, and would cost a small fortune, likely to no avail. He was good. His happy, friendly, caring, and helpful demeanor magically diffused my sheer annoyance which was brought on by the long wait. He was so genuine. I really liked him. I was impressed. He performed his job, and performed it phenomenally well. He treated each patient like the only patient. It was in that moment that it dawned on me — paralegals have a desk-side manner.
Our clients routinely call us, the paralegals, for status updates, to inquire why their case “is taking so long” (hello, it’s litigation…), why the insurance company is making such a low ball offer for their injuries (um, that’s what they do), why the Defendant denied every allegation made in the complaint (standard), to remind you of their one year “case” anniversary (sigh), to ask questions about their upcoming deposition and mediation (scary stuff when you’re the client), and for just about every other reason one can imagine. In those moments, it is completely understandable that our clients can become pretty darn frustrated and approach us via that black, corded, lopsided neck craning killer – the telephone.
This is where you, the paralegal sitting desk-side, enter the picture. As paralegals, it is our job to ensure that we are providing the best possible desk-side manner to our clients, for better or worse, day in and day out, regardless of how our day is going or how we feel. Whether you are sick, tired, sick & tired, you got stuck in traffic that morning, you’re buried in paperwork, your office is starting to resemble the Library of Congress, your boss is being a total jerk (really, what’s his problem…), the resident dark cloud is getting on your nerves (the reserve team), or you’re in a horrible mood in general – that is of no concern to your client. Once that call comes in, it’s go time! A pleasant voice, some genuine concern, a little friendly chatter, perhaps a bit of humor, and some personal assistance and assurance really go a long way. They really do.
We, as paralegals, are intended to be the frustration/anger diffusing ninjas of the legal universe. So put on your paralegal black belt. Paralegal up.
And the next time you get “the call,” keep this rant in mind…smile just a litter bigger, sound just a little brighter, and be just a tad more genuine, sincere, and helpful. After all, your firm is paying you to provide the best possible desk-side manner, and your clients will certainly appreciate being shown what “a real paralegal” is all about. So, own your desk-side manner, paralegals! It’s all you’ve got when the voice of frustration beckons via the corded neck killer. Man your station desk-side with pride, and show that client what a “real paralegal” is all about! Just a little advice from the “laughing weirdo,” compliments of my $500 ER bill.
By: Jamie Collins, reporting desk-side
The Closet Bully: Are You One?
We quietly observe detrimental examples of bullies depicted in the news and courtrooms. We softly commercialize it in TV shows and movies. We secretly witness it in social forums and the workplace. Most members of the general public scrutinize these unfavorable realisms and silently conclude to themselves that being a bully is not acceptable in society. Period. Then what? That’s it? I have to admit that I am simply not convinced.
Within the group of individuals that believe bullying is wrong, accidental fans have emerged — fans who know they are witnessing a bully in action — but yet, make a conscious choice to do…nothing. Instead of standing up for the victim, the “unintentional fan” simply remains a glorified witness and, as a result, becomes a closet bully. The thing is, I think most of us have at one time or another in our lives, been a closet bully. Don’t believe me? To determine if you are a closet bully (perhaps unbeknownst to you), consider the following social forum and workplace scenarios and choose your position. (yes, this is a pop quiz – be sure to write down your answers!):
1. Being a member of a social forum is great way to meet other professionals and read inspirational articles about your profession. Although, you have repeatedly witnessed a few forum discussions that have regressed into personal and abusive attacks against a particular individual…all for the sake of making “a point.” What do you do?
a. Nothing. It is not your problem.
b. Privately message the victim indicating how sorry you are that they were attacked.
c. Notify the group moderator hoping they will solve the problem.
d. Tell all your friends about the attacks.
e. Post a public response to the bully’s attack stating you believe the bully’s opinion was misplaced.
2. Common courtesy is usually relative in any environment, including, elevators, break rooms, and copy rooms. Who doesn’t like a cheerful greeting or conversation? On a rare occasion, some of the seasoned paralegals in your office invite you to go out to lunch. Honored by the invitation, of course you accept. As your group piles into the elevator, a recently hired paralegal rushes in just before the elevator door slams shut. Sporting her big girl suit and a smile, this innocent paralegal cheerfully says, “Hi!” You could almost hear a pin drop. No response. What do you do?
a. Nothing. You will wait until someone else responds first.
b. A few weeks later, you invite the victim to lunch.
c. Put your head down and smile behind the victim’s back, hoping that she has eyes in the back of her head to see your silent sincerity.
d. You agree with one of the seasoned paralegals when they inform the victim that your group is on their way to an imperative meeting of the minds.
e. Before anyone has a chance to respond, you invite the recently hired paralegal to lunch.
3. Acceptance in workplace hierarchy is sought by many and is a method to make new friends and professional contacts. Doesn’t everyone want to be at the top of the workplace food chain? In fact, employees “at the top” attempt to dominate this scenario by loudly gossiping with underlings, within an earshot of their victims, somehow thinking this will ensure their top status position. As an underling, what do you do?
a. Nothing. You want to get to the top of the workplace food chain.
b. Silently approach the victim and patronizingly pat them on the back.
c. Anonymously write a complaint letter about the bully to the office manager.
d. Along with the bully and other underlings, you agree to not make any eye contact with the victim for the next two weeks.
e. Verbally tell the bully that you believe the attack is misplaced.
4. Practical experience and/or an education are exactly the types of tools everyone attempts to place into their professional arsenal. Who doesn’t like to be on top of their game? As an educated paralegal seeking knowledge, you decide to join a social forum to gain perspective from your peers. In some of social forum discussions, you have noticed an underlying argument about the validity of an experienced paralegal versus an educated paralegal. Indeed, one particular experienced paralegal intentionally interjects into almost every discussion her belief that educated paralegals could never make a difference in the legal community unless they work in the file room first. What do you do?
a. Nothing. You don’t care.
b. Decline from joining any social forums connected to the experienced paralegal.
c. Since the experienced paralegal is influential in the community you “like” every one of her discussions.
d. Gossip with other educated paralegals about the experienced paralegal’s ridiculous claim to fame.
- Make a separate public post/article about the positive prospects of newly educated paralegals in today’s society.
5. As many of us know, email can be our best friend or our worst enemy. We all love the quick efficiency of email blasts to multiple parties, but hate the whole host of replies. Recently, you find yourself a party to numerous email blasts directed from a legal staffer to various members of the office. The legal staffer insists on criticizing and verbally attacking another paralegal’s work product, claiming that the only reason the boss approved the work is because the paralegal is a suck-up. The email goes on to request your reply if you agree. What do you do?
a. Nothing. You pretend you never received the emails.
b. You reply to the legal staffer insisting that if they don’t turn that frown upside down, their face may permanently stay that way.
c. You believe that if you don’t reply, you may be subjected to the same treatment, so you simply reply, “I don’t know.”
d. You mark the emails as junk.
e. You reply to the attacker stating that the complaint is misplaced and report the emails to your supervisor.
How did you rate on the Closet Bully Point Scale?
A: 0 Points B: 1 Point C: 2 Points D: 3 Points E: 4 Points
20-14 Points: You are not a Closet Bully, but may constantly question your position.
15-9 Points: You are “on the fence” and may be an unintentional a Closet Bully.
10-4 Points: You are an unintentional Closet Bully and will soon earn your full fledged Closet Bully badge of honor.
5-0 Points: You are a full fledged Closet Bully.
While you may not be a closet bully at this very moment, as you sit at your desk…there has likely been at least one (likely more) occasion in your life when you were, in fact, a closet bully. Silent approval is the deadliest kind. In today’s society, where we are freely given real life examples of bullying, sometimes with deadly outcomes, it seems like it would be difficult to stand by and innocently watch it happen to someone else around us. But again, I believe this is happening (at least for now) in social forums, our workplaces and society.
If all of the closet bullies begin to honestly speak out and opine their genuine thoughts when these occasions arise, the source(s) would cease to exist, and in turn, would have less of an impact on work turnover, forum camaraderie, and society in general. In fact, I believe closet bullies could be a victim’s ultimate hero. In closing, I hope you’ll heed this message the next time you see a fellow paralegal being bullied in a social forum or in your workplace. Bullying and mean spirited people need to be put in their places, right? So, next time you bear witness to one of the scenarios listed above – do the right thing – be honest – do the world a favor – and put that bully a/k/a your mean spirited co-worker on notice. The closest bullying needs to end. Let’s all do our part.
By: Jennifer MacDonnell
One for The Paralegals: A Holiday Must Read.
I currently find myself in a groggy, personal state. A sleepy fog has cast its haze across my otherwise happy and normal, personal state of being. Why…you ask? Let me tell you. It was an immediate onset which was brought on by the recent 4 day weekend. You would think one would come back to work totally refreshed and not completely and totally personally exhausted, but that just doesn’t seem to be the case this time round. Is the same true for you right now? Is there a haze of sleepiness hanging over you? Are you counting down the days to Friday? If so, you are not alone, my friend. Not alone.
You see, we made our way out of town for our family Thanksgiving festivities. It was lovely. A great time. We enjoyed it. We returned home on Saturday afternoon and I proceeded to embark upon The Collins Family’s holiday home remodel 2011…otherwise known to normal folks as “holiday decorating.” In my household, it’s a bit more extravagant because I love holidays (yes, all of them, my family can readily attest to this fact…all of them), so I insist upon transforming our humble abode into the likes of a makeshift Hallmark store. “Mommy’s decorating for Christmas again!”
There is a lot of pomp and circumstance, decorations to be put up; a tree to be carried down, assembled and decorated; and then there’s the freakin’ laundry…did I mention the laundry? Oh, and the house needs cleaning too…and then you get to put away all that laundry that is now sitting on the couch as you pretend that may really be a good place for it “for tonight!” What fun! There was a moment at some point between Saturday and Sunday when it dawned on me…that the whole holiday merrymaking festivity known as “Christmas” for me (and perhaps something else for some of our readers) is a lot like a day in the life of a trial paralegal. You don’t believe me?
First off, there are the items discussed above: the tree, the décor, then, you delve into another entire realm of responsibilities: the gift purchasing; the gift wrapping; the cookie baking; greeting card selection; completion of said greeting cards, along with stamp fetching and mailing; what to put under the tree and what to hold back from Santa; do you have enough wrapping paper?; oh crap, you don’t; who is getting invited to what and when; the grand selection of the dinner feast; what to do on Christmas Eve and with whom; how to sneak the presents under the tree when it’s go time; did you remember the teacher’s gifts?; oh crap, you didn’t; is grandma coming this year?; and on and on and on…the who, what, when, where and why is endless. Am I making my point?
Then you have to consider what individuals will be contracted to help with each particular task or part of the ceremonious festivities, i.e., my son can help decorate the small tree, my husband will string the lights on the tree and decorate the outside of our house; we must rise and shine at blank a.m. to arrive for the big festivity with the folks, I will do EVERYTHING ELSE and see that it all gets “done right” and “right on time” like a stealth Christmas preparation Ninja…see what I mean? Two words, my friends: Trial Prep.
For those of you that have never had the pleasure (and sometimes, occasional misfortune) of working in the complex trial realm, you are probably already familiar with much of what it entails — you just don’t know it yet. Your vast trial prep experience has simply occurred in another realm of life: a normal realm, where decorations, gifts and food overfloweth. Just think…holidays, wedding planning, graduation parties, baby showers, presentations….and anything else you’re totally and completely in charge of where there are three thousand moving freakin parts and one person in charge: you! Woo hoo!! Sounds, fun right? It’s all the same in the trial realm. There is a huge list of things to be done, people to coordinate, what to do when and where, with whom and how…there is soooo much to do and guess what? You’re in charge of it all! Woo hoo! Go you!!
So, if you have never worked in the trial realm, but you think you may be interested in it…you should ponder long and hard if you enjoy the events I have clearly set forth above. Do you enjoy organizing? Preparing? Leading? Questioning? Readjusting? Prioritizing? Reprioritizing? Doing? Being the coordinator of one thousand things and the head master of ceremonies? If so…then trial work is probably for you! Onward marching moms (a few esteemed dads) and my fellow trial prep paralegals…duty calls!! Soak it all in, my friends. It’s grand.
By: Jamie Collins from Makeshift Hallmark
The Paralegal Chauffer. By: Jamie Collins
Okay folks – this one is coming out of Jamie’s archives. What can I say — you take your inspiration from whatever form or decade it decides to arrive from.
Once upon a time, long, long ago. Okay, really more like a decade ago, on an otherwise seemingly normal day, I was asked to play “paralegal chauffer.” You know – paralegal chauffer — that’s where you get to pick up two out-of-town attorneys at the courthouse whom you’ve never met — to deliver them back to your office, all at the behest of your superior a/k/a boss attorney.
I was nervous. Nervous about driving downtown where one way streets are plentiful, nervous about getting lost, nervous about driving with strangers I’d never met, nervous about chatting them up on the return trip…and in case you’re missing my general state of being in that particular moment… I was nervous in general. What can I say? I was a new paralegal. Nervousness comes complimentary with your first standard law firm hiring. You see…at that point, I still viewed “attorneys” as elite breed that operated on a different plane of humanity. They were so smart, sophisticated, savvy, witty and professional. It seemed like a really big deal at the time. Ya with me?
So I made my way into my silver Ford Mustang, sporting a lovely (cheap) navy, rayon pantsuit with a light gray pinstripe (that’s all I had back then) and I managed to navigate myself to the courthouse without getting lost (a big accomplishment). I entered the large, marble foyer, and that’s where I found them … the two guys in the lobby with the “we’re waiting” looks affixed to their faces. I had never met them, so I had absolutely no idea what they looked like. However, the “waiting” look made their identities readily discernable to me – The Paralegal Chauffer.
The dynamic duo had just finished up a week long jury trial. They seemed moderately cordial. How rude can one really be to someone who just picked them up? Not very. Their first question after our brief introduction went a little something like this: “Where did you park?” We then began to walk in that general direction through downtown Indianapolis. It was the type of day when dark, low clouds (yes, real “dark clouds” in the big, blue sky — not the living, breathing dark clouds that we are all surrounded by, which are typically discussed on this forum) loomed, but it wasn’t necessarily going to rain. It was just a bit gloomy, gray and dark. It was a dreary day.
A few steps into our journey, the main attorney turned to me and uttered these words (in the form of a command): “If it starts to rain — we’ll just hang out here [insert attorney pointing finger toward café awning here] and you can go get the car and bring it around.” My initial thought? OMG! Really? Are you joking right now? No…they weren’t. Granted, I was readily aware of the fact that I was the peon in this situation…I mean Paralegal Chauffer… but were they seriously going to melt if a few drops fell? Do attorneys melt? No one ever let me in on this little secret. Perhaps Armani suits disintegrate upon contact with water. Do they? Again, back to my initial thought. OMG. Really?
What happened to chivalry? Were attorneys handed a “pass card” on manners with those top-secret “enter the courthouse without going through security” badges they receive when they pass the bar exam? Were paralegals simply not advised of this ploy against universal manners? We are all humans first and professionals second — aren’t we?
Has anyone had a similar experience with attorneys or humans in general? Do Armani suits really disintegrate? Help me out here. I’d love to hear your best “melting attorney” story or best tale involving chivalry…or a lack thereof. I am going to stop typing now and pretend that chivalry is not d-e-a-d in the legal world. It can’t be. It’s not. And if it is…I refuse to believe it. If you need me…I’ll be under a café awning, sipping a latte and waiting on the Mustang to come round…
“Paralegal Wingman.” To be honest, I’ve thought about writing this particular rant on more than one occasion. A seemingly ordinary event transpired today; one which finally compelled me to sit in front of my computer and tip, tap, type out my position on the fascinating topic of “the Paralegal Wingman.”
There was a Halloween costume parade at my son’s school on this coveted weekly holiday, otherwise known as “Friday.” He is in kindergarten and this year for Halloween, he is sporting a boxer costume. A little Dolph Lundgren, complete with a blue satin boxing robe with white piping, little red gloves and charming blonde hair. One of the other mom’s in his class also works as a paralegal. [Here’s a shout out to Heather McBride]. Heather works for a competing personal injury firm in town — and by “town,” I mean city — Indianapolis, to be exact. She and I have chummed around at various school events and birthday parties. We’ve shared our paralegal experiences and trial “war” stories while our children bounced and ate cake. That type of thing.
Anyway, Heather had volunteered to pass candy out to the other children, as they passed by the doorway to trick or treat at our children’s classroom. She was flying solo on the candy-passer-outer mission…and let’s face it, there were probably going to be 100 or more kids approaching her with as much enthusiasm as a swarm of bumble bees entering an enchanted flower garden lined with opened soda pop bottles. Who wouldn’t need a little help with all those excited little trick or treaters making a beeline to the coveted candy-passer-outer lady, right? So, I volunteer to help. I must admit, at the time I volunteered my services, I had absolute confidence that Heather and I would d-o-m-i-n-a-t-e the candy mission. Why, you ask? It’s simple. We’re paralegals.
For that particular endeavor, I got to play the roll of paralegal wingman. Okay, I’m not a “man,” but just go with it — think of the Bud Light commercial voice and go with it. Without any words being spoken, we both knew that I, as a paralegal wingman, would insure that anything she needed would be organized, at that door, on time, ready to go, and served with a smile. At one point, we discovered that we were actually missing a bag of candy for one of the groups of little bumble bees (super convenient), so we just rolled with it….and by “rolled with it, I mean that I feverishly scampered through all bags that had gone before, in search of any left over pieces of candy, and there was no hitch in our giddy up. Issues and all — we dominated The Goddard School candy extravaganza 2011.
It’s in this type of extraordinary paralegal wingman moment that I realize what we, as paralegals, provide to the legal universe at large. We get it done. There is nothing you can bring our way that won’t be promptly resolved with the same guts and gusto Jack Bauer brings to every adrenaline-pumping episode of 24. We bring it. We own it. We do it. That’s who we are. Whenever there is a paralegal wingman involved, you can have one million percent confidence that they will not only understand the task at hand, but also fully execute it with all the stealth and precision of a legal tactical assault ninja. That’s who we are. When you need support, we’re exactly who you want to draft onto your legal support pick up team. Me and you.
Once you’ve been on the receiving end of the paralegal wingman scenario, you begin to fully understand our place in the world. We, as paralegal wingpeople, bring tremendous value to the large, wooden conference tables all across America. So…here’s to you, paralegal wingmen. Bring it. Own it. Do it. That’s who you are. Be that.
By: Jamie Collins
The Newest Dirty 4-Letter Word. I sparked your interest with the title, didn’t I? I’m sure you found yourself wondering which 4-letter word it is that I am making reference to. There are certainly plenty of them out there to choose from, aren’t there? Yet, I’m guessing this is one 4-letter word that never made your list of potential possibilities. I’ll give you a hint…it starts with a “B.” You still don’t know? (No, that one has 5 letters…) Well, please allow me to jump right in; I’m just dying to…
When exactly did the word “blog” become a dirty word? Seriously? As a new blogger in the legal blogosphere, I can tell you that I spend countless hours each day and week of my life writing material, thinking up ideas, looking for inspiration, conducting searches for relevant and helpful tips and information to share with other paralegals and organizing it all into an easily digestible format.
Generally speaking, most bloggers are very passionate people that love what they do. They have a desire to share their knowledge, information, practical advice, tips and pointers with the world simply because they enjoy doing so. Yet, some paralegals out there view bloggers as irrelevant, self-promotional and in no uncertain terms, “the enemy.” Little did I know when I initially became a blogger that I would, in the eyes of some people, become “the enemy.” I remain pretty unclear as to why. What do I mean? Let me explain…
Since launching The Paralegal Society social forum (a/k/a blog…it’s a blog…but social forum seems to throw off the nay sayers a bit, doesn’t it?) I’ve read rules on nearly every paralegal forum on LinkedIn that strictly forbid any blog postings, regardless of the content. Now don’t get me wrong, I completely understand the need to monitor the abuse of bloggers with self-promotion and advertising material gone wrong (I have no desire to be sold things while perusing networking sites either), but they are downright banned. Banned! All of them!
Apparently, I, as a blogger, have nothing to offer their members as a professional writer and blogger for the paralegal profession, regardless of the content of my posts, my good intentions and my dedicated desire to help pull others along in this profession. Please understand that I am not referring to self-promotional garbage or advertising disguised as an article here — I’m talking about relevant, useful and helpful articles written specifically for paralegals by paralegals. You don’t get to decide for yourself if they’re for you, because they ban all bloggers at the door! Should all bloggers really be banned? Even those bloggers that post helpful, educational articles written specifically for you? Do you agree with the gatekeepers that view me and other bloggers as “the enemy?”
I realize more and more each day why the support of other experienced bloggers and legal professionals is so needed (and absolutely welcomed) in this overly competitive legal world. It’s because “blog” has become the latest dirty 4-letter word. Why is that? Would you really rather search for articles on Google than to read an inspired, self-authored piece of work offering knowledge, insights and guidance from the actual source….the actual writer…someone you could actually chat with and meet some day at a paralegal conference? Really? I’m having trouble finding the logic.
Granted, I’ve checked out a multitude of paralegal blogs and I have to admit that I’m not terribly impressed with some of them. My theory is: if you don’t like it, don’t read it…and I don’t! It’s that simple. It’s really no different than choosing to patronize (or not to patronize) anything else out there…stores, restaurants, movie theatres, businesses, etc. However, I make the conscious choice to not allow the few “lesser” blogs in the blogosphere to detract my appreciation for the top blogs that are extremely relevant, useful and helpful for paralegals and valuable resources for the profession. Whether people like it or not, bloggers are quickly growing in number and many of them do add value for our profession.
I don’t think advertisements or “advertisements in disguise” should be posted on the paralegal forums. I just think perhaps the time has come for paralegal forums to rethink their policies (let their bouncers have a day off) and to maybe allow a select few reputable blogs that offer valuable content that would engender some interesting discussions among their members to actually post. Is that really too much to ask? Whether “this enemy” otherwise known as “yours truly,” makes the cut or not is completely irrelevant! I just want to see bloggers get their due respect in the paralegal world…that’s all!
While I know group members are more loyal to certain groups more so than others, wouldn’t you agree that the paralegal world should be more of a buffet than a one-course meal? Does anyone out there prefer a limited and singular view of what those in the paralegal world (and yes, the bloggers) have to offer? Don’t you want the buffet, so you can try it and see for yourself? Ban the garbage…I couldn’t agree more, but don’t ban it all!
It leads me to wonder how many paralegals out there are really anti-blogger. Are you? Is it just the gatekeepers on some of the paralegal forums on LinkedIn? If so, please tell me why, so I can perhaps make some sense of how the word “blog” has managed to make the list of expletives for 2011!!
By: Jamie Collins
We would really like to hear your thoughts on the subject. Are you anti-blogger? Is the word “blog” really a dirty word? Why or why not? We’d love to hear from you…and if you need to find me and the TPS crew…rest assured that we’ll be somewhere where “friendly” paralegals congregate…and bloggers aren’t banned at the door!
I’ve been in the legal business for over 14 years and have worked at a number of firms during that time period. Trust me — I’ve certainly had my fair share of “experiences” (that’s a nice word for it) along the way. I always speak from my own personal experiences, but I know they are experiences that are all too common for those of us working in the legal realm. I speak for those of you who don’t get to say it out loud. This is for you…
A Hot Mess. She’s baaa-ck!! That’s right, folks. Madam hubcap…and today, we’re gonna talk about the fascinating topic of appearance as related to a law firm. Why does madam hubcap insist on showing up to work looking a hot mess? One would think that when you enter the legal realm, you become somewhat cognizant of how the business professionals around you seem to dress each day. I did. You did. 98% of your coworkers did. Yet, some individuals do not seem to take (obvious) notice of the “I don’t really fit in here” scenario that seems to take place on a routine basis at each of our law firms all across America on any given day.
The madam hubcaps of the world fail to realize that they are surrounded by everyone else in the law firm who seems to fit a particular image of professionalism. Them? Not so much. Meanwhile, the rest of us actually spend a few moments in the shower each morning, put on some form of appropriate business attire, manage to pull two matching shoes from the dark closet, and slide out of our houses and into our cars, giving at least a half-hearted effort to arriving at our given law firm destinations in a moderately appealing and respectable fashion. Not Madam hubcap.
Here she comes… looking a hot mess. Now I’m not saying the clothes in and of themselves are a problem (although some of them are), it’s the fact that they do not (I repeat: do not) belong in a law firm. Note to self: beach dresses, swimsuit cover ups, diva “clubbing” outfits, sultry apparel, scanty tank tops, boots with 3,000 buckles and the latest “all the rage” trends simply don’t fit the scheme of things at a law firm. They don’t. Seriously. Unless, perhaps, you work for the corporate counsel of Sixteen Magazine, Allure or one of the other teeny bopper magazines. Note to self: Law firm = the real world, not fashion week. Consider this a reality check. Perhaps these lovely fashion items would work perfectly in the mafia, on the corner of 38th and Grant Avenue or at a strip bar, but certainly not at a law firm. Right? You know you’ve thought this about at least one coworker in your life…and maybe even today. [Note to readers: if you’re sitting at your desk, staring at your computer screen with a huge smirk spanning the width of your face right now…you totally saw this today…we’ll consider this a timely rant and free paralegal therapy from me to you].
I have developed a theory regarding why this occurs. You see, apparently, the paralegal gods failed to give these madam hubcaps a “self-sensor” and the common sense that the rest of us, “normal” and hard-working paralegals, seem to innately possess. I am guessing that madam hubcap’s skills for playing “the match game” are less than stellar. Okay, that’s putting it mildly. She makes no matches! None. Not a single freakin’ match!! My five year old, kindergartner son would stomp her sultry clothed “arse” in the matching game…hands down!! Got it! No matches…
You see, madam hubcap has difficulty conforming to any normal, reasonable standards, even in the business world. She refuses to wear the dress slacks, button down shirts, pantyhose with skirts (ladies) and uncomfortable clicky clacky shoes that the rest of us all sport each day during the paralegal olympics — in the name of all that is professional and right in the paralegal world. I believe there is a reason for this daily display of atrocities on the part of madam hubcap a/k/a the firm peacock.
You see…in lieu of a “self-sensor,” madam hubcap was inadvertently equipped with a faulty “attention seeking device.” It is readily apparent to all of the unfortunate souls who encounter madam hubcap on a daily basis. You know it’s true. Let’s take a brief moment to ponder this…there is the endless droning, the faulty clothing selection, the constant six upping on a daily basis, the incessant whining (and occasionally, the crying, oh God, the crying…don’t even get me started on the crying…) and it all stems from one thing — the “attention seeking device.”
Madam hubcap will make any normal paralegal, such as yourself, wish that you could somehow yield the powers necessary to widdle your 8 hour work day down to 30 minutes, so that you can manage to escape the ridiculousness of it all. The madam hubcaps, firm peacock extraordinaires of the world…gotta love ‘em. Actually — you don’t…but you do have to learn to deal with them. Godspeed TPS members, Godspeed.
p.s. I believe the words “it’s different” or “that’s unique” are what you’ll be looking for — when she approaches you — to ask you what you think of her new outfit later today. Good luck maintaining the poker face, TPS paralegals. We feel your pain.
By: Jamie Collins
The Pace. I’m guessing you read this title and found yourself thinking “huh?” Let me explain. You can tell a lot by watching someone’s stride as they walk through an office.
You will notice that the high-energy paralegals around you (the gold standard paralegals) all seem to have a brisk pace. Why is that? It is because they mean business! They are in the zone, trying to get things done and they have no time to walk slower. They are walking with intent. Note to self: brisk = intent. On occasion, I notice just how briskly I walk down the hallway in route to my attorney’s office and it brings a smirk to my face. The paralegal that walks down the hall at a fast pace is likely the same one that sits at her or his desk and pounds out work at a fast pace. I do believe there is a correlation between “your walk pace” and “your work pace.”
Let me ask you this: If you were an employer and you saw a paralegal lurching ever so slowly — and ever so casually — down the hallway, as though they were on their way to a leisurely lunch on a Sunday at the ladies’ club (in the same fashion as that a snail slithers ever so slowly across the pavement) — wouldn’t it make you wonder if they do everything at “that” pace? Sure it would! What attorney in their right mind would say: “Cool! Sign me up! I want that snail on my team?” Um…no one. Absolutely no one. Not a soul. Zilch. Zippo. Zero.
Newbies, heed my message. I’m not saying you should intentionally walk faster. Your speed is not the focus here. The point is that you should “want” to walk faster, work faster and get things done! Your boss should know that you mean business when he sees you walking down that hallway! There should be no snails on the paralegal playground! Seriously. Snails should attempt to enter a career field that is better suited to slow and leisurely people because I can assure you that the legal field is not it. No snails…only business. And remember: brisk = intent.
Watch the paralegals in your office and see if “the pace” scenario holds true in your corner of the legal world. Let us know your thoughts on “the pace” TPS readers!! Do you agree or disagree with my theory on pace? Why or why not? We’d love to hear from you.
By: Jamie Collins
Under the Bus. This is one place we’ve all surely been at one time or another. You might even find yourself there in a matter of a few minutes, a few hours or later on in the week. It happens.
Most often, we find ourselves arriving at this undesirable destination because a co-worker throws us under it…the bus. It’s no fun being under the bus for any reason or circumstance, but especially when a co-worker manages to manipulate reality (yes, reality) to improperly misconstrue a situation to a superior in their own favor and against you. Nice, right? We’ve all been there. This rant is written in the honor of all those fallen souls who find themselves under the big twinkie.
Now, I’m not “necessarily” writing this rant in honor of a unique event (I’ll leave that to your imagination), but I offer it as more of a general piece that deserves to have its special place in cyberspace a/k/a the blogosphere. We’ll chalk it up to being a relatable piece for the paralegal casualties all across the country. There’s the groundword…back to the rant…
While the term comrade comes to mind, a coworker can, at times, be more of a comrade in arms – and not the kind of “arms” like let’s swap stories and be pals, but more like I’ll shoot you in the back if you turn around kind of “arms.” Please know that I am not talking about your “normal” co-workers here…the ones who actually ask you how YOU are doing or chat you up – as a fellow human being on planet earth – over the firm water cooler. I am talking about the insecure comrades in your midst that think they have to throw people under the bus in order to advance themselves within the firm or life, in general. Do you know anyone like this? I know you do. We all do. Where did these people come from…and what’s wrong with them? Seriously? Can’t one of the ten thousand drug companies in America come up with a pill for that? Just imagine how widespread their marketing demographic would be for “the mean people pill.”
I guess if you’ve worked in the legal business long enough, you generally tend to develop a pretty thick skin and cling to the general, personal understanding that what goes around comes around and what someone deserves may not happen to them today, but if you sit back long enough and wait (and sometimes “waiting long enough” can seem like a freakin’ eternity, so you must be very, very patient) then usually justice is served and the evil comrade in arms is seen for what he or she truly is, rather than the fantasy version that he or she readily portrays himself or herself to be — to those fortunate (oh so fortunate and lucky and blessed and did I mention fortunate?) souls — that aren’t forced to interact with the evil doers on a constant, ongoing, daily basis. We know who you really are, madam hubcap. We’ve got your number. We’re onto you.
So, if you need me, I’ll be sitting back, with a smirk implanted permanently on my face…as I wait …and you can find me…in that special place…you know the one…under the bus…compliments of madam hubcap.
By: Jamie Collins
A Shout Out to My Dark Cloud. By: Jamie Collins
Dark cloud: noun, adjective and verb (yes, it’s all three, I can assure you) – Dark cloud is that negative, dreadful person you wish you never had to see again a single day in your life. Him or her. The keeper of the misery. We all have one. There is a dark cloud in every single law firm all across the nation, likely pursuant to some sort of collective bargaining agreement entered into between law firms and the universe (that’s my theory anyway).
You know…that person in your firm who looms overhead and sucks your soul with their ridiculous displays of meanness and over-the-top unpleasantries every single freakin’ day of the work week? Him or her. The individual who forces you to actually contemplate the fact that the scissors on your desk could be used as a makeshift weapon? That’s a dark cloud. Now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s get back to my rant…
I’d like to give a very warm, sincere and humble shout out to my own, personal dark cloud! I wanted to let you know that I hadn’t forgotten about you over the past several months. I’ve just been very busy. You see, I simply hadn’t gotten around to writing this special ode to you until this very moment. Without further adieu, please allow me to give you a proper shout out, my dearest dark cloud.
Thank you so much for leaving one star on my article. You know the one – it was actually nationally published by a top editor? That one! I am thankful for your star. I mean that “thank you” with true and absolute sincerity. And no, I am not being facetious, TPS readers. I’m really not. I am as serious as a hawk perched alongside a mountain top, staring down at a prairie dog, when you’re the prairie dog, kind of “serious.” Your ridiculous one star rating clearly serves to remind me why I created TPS in the first place; to stand together with all of the friendly paralegals across the national and against you and your evil cohorts, otherwise known as the dark clouds of the legal universe. Yep, that was the plan. Yet, we can’t keep you away from us, can we? You attempt to bring your gloom and misery into our happy forum.
The thing is…we all come to TPS to get away from you. You don’t seem to fully understand that part. You aren’t welcome here. Neither are your dark cloud friends. You can stay on your side of the paralegal sandbox and we’ll stay on ours. Thanks again for your one star rating! I will burn it as fuel for my paralegal and writing journey in honor of The Paralegal Society. You’re the best, dark cloud ever. Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy day (and I might add, a brief moment away from making your entire office and those in your midst utterly miserable) to leave me your utterly precious feedback. I am touched. Now get back on your own side of the paralegal sandbox and stop reading my posts!!
By: Jamie Collins
People Who Offer Judgment Thinly Disguised as Advice
Okay, we’ve all seen it. We’ve read “advice” from people posting on social forums who, instead of offering well-thought out advice, offer pithy judgments. It’s so easy for some people to judge without knowing all facets of a situation. I’ve seen them take newbie paralegals and shred them to bits because that new paralegal’s view doesn’t fit their scheme of things. I’ve seen them denigrate oldie paralegals by telling them they’re caught up in the past. These Judge Janeys and Andy Arbitrators look down from their self-built pedestals and wreak havoc on those who are trying to learn, or those who truly need help with a situation, or those who have opened themselves thinking that they’re actually coming to a mentor!
Shame on them!! I’d like to ask them a few questions. When did it become fashionable not to care about another’s feelings? When did it become fashionable to act as though there’s no other viable opinion than your own? When did it become your job to try to make people feel bad about themselves? What purpose does that serve? Are you bringing value-added promotion to the paralegal profession with your hasty judgments?
Thank goodness that there’s a place like The Paralegal Society! Judge Janeys and Andy Arbitrators are not welcomed here! What you will find are mentors, cheerleaders, coaches, and knowledgeable paralegals willing to share their knowledge and respectfully honest feedback with you. You’ll find people who are willing to protect your back, but who are unwilling to stab you in the back.
So, the next time you run into a Judge Janey or an Andy Arbitrator, simply smile to yourself, and head back over to The Paralegal Society!
BY: Ann Pettigrew
THE SIX UPPER
Have you ever worked in an office with someone who always one-up’s anything you say or do? If you don’t know what I’m talking about – go watch the Saturday Night Live skit titled “Penelope: Tenant Meeting,” and you’ll understand exactly what I’m talking about. If you haven’t seen it, you should go check it out right now! It’s totally worth the effort.
Anyway…I work with a girl who doesn’t only one-up me, but she six-ups EVERYTHING I do or say! For instance, I had coffee with her one morning at a café and a guy walks up and says “hi” to me. What does the six upper do? She immediately enters into a barrage of personal defense tactics, telling me that since she didn’t have any makeup on, this guy probably just thought she was underage and that’s why he didn’t approach her instead of me. Really? Are you being serious right now? Did you really just say that out loud? I may not be blonde, but I certainly didn’t get the short end of the stick in the looks department. All I hear about is how much guys are into her, yet she still doesn’t have a boyfriend. You would think that a simple one-up or two-up would be sufficient in any given situation, but oh no, it must be six-up’s all the freakin’ time.
On a different day, I was showing a co-worker something on a laptop that I had owned for about a year and a half. Well, my “six-upper” walks into the room, sees my laptop and proceeds to tell me how much nicer her laptop is than mine and how mine doesn’t seem to have as many options and features as hers. Well no sh*t! My laptop is older and you just bought yours! It doesn’t end there. She goes on for about ten solid minutes telling me the three thousand ways her laptop is superior to mine. Really? Do I look like I care? My lap top works just fine and I’m quite pleased with it. They do offer more features each year, right? Do you have any idea how hard it is to remain calm and resist the urge to choke the living daylights out of a certain someone when you could care less about their opinion in the first place, yet, you are being forced to hear it…times six!!!
Here’s a good one – I bought a designer purse one day from the actual designer company. My shipment was in and she really liked it. She decided she had to have the same purse. She apparently shopped on-line until she found one. She then approached me to ask how much I paid for mine — so she could (I know your surprised here…) brag about how much less she paid than I did. Is this the Price is Right? Again, do I look like I care? I’m happy with my overpriced purse, so go on your merry way…preferably right on out of my office!
Seriously, when does it end? I am just trying to mind my own business and do my job and I am constantly being verbally assaulted by the six-upper. While I realize this type of behavior is directly correlated to a lack of self-esteem, it’s super annoying! I don’t get it. If you can’t keep your “upping” to two or less, then please steer clear of my office — because that’s about all I can take. If anyone hears any reports of a blonde paralegal being pushed out of a high rise office building, you’ll know why. She’ll be six-upping me all the way down…
BY: Sara (Guest Contributor)
The other night I was at a local burger joint. The waitress was young, but still seemed fairly experienced, at least for this particular type of food establishment. My order was fairly simple. I wanted one burger medium, Swiss cheese, hold the onions. The other was a tad more complicated, but still not rocket science: well done, grilled onions, bacon, American cheese. Would you like to know how many times and in how many variations the above order was presented to me incorrectly? Can we say — 5. Yes, 5 times!! I was brought burgers that didn’t meet the above order. I had no idea you could make 5 different burgers out of the above order but, I do now.
My son was meeting me during his dinner break from school and I wanted his dinner waiting for him, so he could eat and run. This ordering problem was causing a major logistical problem in my plan. I was getting stressed – I had a deadline. At one point, the waitress in her attempts to apologize said: “I wrote it down right. Look.” She held the order sheet out for me to see. I looked at her and said: “I don’t care how it’s written, I’m not getting what I ordered.” The waitress was taken aback. (I would like to go on record that I wasn’t being mean — I was being honest.) Come on, does it really matter what she wrote? It doesn’t because I’m not getting the result that I not only want, but need.
This exchange made me think. I give assignments in my position to an intern. She writes them down. I explain them and always ask if there are any questions. If there are questions, I answer them and then make sure the answer is understood. I delegate the assignments to help teach the intern and in turn, it also helps me out. I give a deadline and explain why the deadline is what it is. I provide this explanation so that the intern learns time management. The intern leaves and it is out of my mind– for now.
As we get close to deadline time, I ask: “So, what’s the status of…” She replies with a smile; “It’s ready.” I won’t go into the thousands of questions that enter my mind as to why I had to ask for it, instead I say: “Great! Let me see it.” It isn’t ready, it’s not even close to ready. We discuss the problems and she leaves to make the corrections. We got through this exercise a couple more times and I end up having to finish the project in order to meet the deadline. At last meeting, when I took the project back, she said to me: “But you told me the project was _____, and I wrote it down. Look.” she holds her notes out to me. Really. Really? Does it matter what she wrote down? All that matters is I have not gotten what I needed and I have to do it myself. So what she wrote is irrelevant. Here enters the lesson.
What is my point? As a paralegal what we write doesn’t matter. What matters is getting the job done correctly and timely. No one wants to see what you wrote. In fact, it is almost an implication that the requestor has changed the rules mid-game or that the note taker isn’t qualified. I don’t think either is an impression someone wants to make.
Learn to get your assignments right. Repeat them if necessary. If you’re not entirely clear about the assignment, ask the question(s) NOW! Don’t go off to do an assignment with questions in your mind.
Never try to excuse yourself if you are told the assignment is not done correctly. Instead, be grown up, apologize and find out how to correct the problem(s). This will be appreciated more than anything else you can do. People make mistakes. Sometimes we are so nervous when taking down the assignment we take it down incorrectly. Sometimes people speak too quickly and we don’t get it all but are afraid to ask that something be repeated. Sometimes people really aren’t clear what they want, but they know they need the job done – so sometimes rules do change mid-game. (This is not good, but it happens). At the end of the day – like the waitress – please don’t show me your notes, I don’t care. I just need the job done timely and correctly.
By the way, the burgers were never “right” but I settled since my son was walking in the door. We won’t be going back. Make sure you don’t do the same with your boss. He doesn’t care how the last attorney you worked for likes his pleadings, nor does he care what they may have taught you in paralegal school, he only cares that you get the job done – and done to his liking…even if it is medium, with swiss and no onions.
By: KAREN GEORGE, FRP
“Time out.” The Rant of a Workaholic.
Now my confession…I have always been a workaholic.I always worked more hours in a day than any human should. I simply can’t help myself. My team used to bring me lunch back from the cafeteria and it would sit on my desk untouched. I used to leave the office, do the kid thing for a couple of hours and then get right back on my laptop until 1:00 or 2:00 a.m.I took a week long vacation with my sons and only billed 1 vacation day when I returned because I worked while gone.I responded to e-mails from attorneys at 11:00pm. I took a laptop and Blackberry to the Virgin Islands on vacation and used them for work.To give you perspective, I billed over 3,000 hours 3 years in a row. In 8 years, I grew a team from 1 to 12. I learned litigation support and electronic discovery on the fly as fast it was moving in our industry. I would research the new software and vendors in my industry at night when the phones stopped ringing. People that cared about me kept telling me I was sick and that I shouldn’t keep working that hard.
Okay, breathe……Here’s my lesson to you. Do NOT do what I did. It took me until I was 40 years old to finally allow myself to appreciate life. BTW, did you know that there is more to life than work? I didn’t, but I do know. I have totally changed my thought process. I now know that quality of life is important. We’re only on this earth for a period of time. We should enjoy life. Work is important and I find it rewarding (not just a job), but LIFE is more important and more rewarding, or at least it should be.
I learned late. The benefits might be that I have a really rewarding career that I love and I was eventually able to provide for my sons as a single mom. I now understand the balance David described above. I hope to get to travel soon too.
Learn from your elders a/k/a me. Ha!
By: Amy Bowser-Rollins (Guest Contributor)
Learning What Not to Do. The atmosphere is enveloped by concentration as a deadline looms overhead. The white noise of frantic paper shuffling, fingers typing, and the deep sighs of pressure are overwhelming.
In the midst of the mayhem, Nancy Newbie, with apparently nothing better to do, looks at Sally Senior Paralegal Extraordinaire and innocently says, “Can I help?” For that one single moment, time stops in anticipation of hope for a slight relief to the madness. With a smirk on her face and ridicule in her voice, Sally Senior looks directly at Nancy Newbie and flatly replies, “No.” Although this is not the first time Nancy Newbie has sulked back to her desk, feeling defeated at her attempts to help the team, she now wonder’s why she took this job.
In one form or another, we all have been subjected to a Sally Senior. In fact, I have witnessed this type of “dark cloud” behavior not only in the office, but paralegal forums, networking events, and the classroom. You know, the senior paranoid paralegal who either believes you are conspiring for their job, or clearly assumes you are too naïve to etch your way into the paralegal profession. Yes, they are the ones, who without blinking an eye will give you instructions, but not all of them. They will ask your opinion on a topic, but when you proudly give your thoughts, they chastise you for your reflections. They are also the ones, with a pasted on smile, who welcome you to the networking event, and then, from that point forward, barely speaks to you, unless you are out of hearing distance.
To all those Nancy Newbie’s out there, I sincerely sympathize with your frustrations. Not all beginners are treated kindly, and most often out of shear intimidation, quit their jobs, don’t respond to paralegal forums, and perform poorly in school. As for the Sally Senior out there, lighten-up and open your mind. I mean really? Just because you have a thousand years of experience, who voted you the “Gate-Keeper” of all paralegalkind? If your office has suffered continuous turnovers, only senior paralegals respond in the forums, or networking events and classroom attendance is low, maybe you are the problem.
Everyone needs to start somewhere, and as a beginner myself, I can relate to the Nancy Newbie’s out there. Don’t fear the Sally Seniors, instead remain bold and fearless, and above all, learn what not to do. Stay positive in your endeavors and keep asserting yourself by joining paralegal forums and networking. Hold your head up and walk proud. By consistently remaining fearless and positive, you will exceedingly overcome the “dark clouds” and the treacherous “Gate-Keepers” of the world.
Karen’s in rare form today, folks. You get two rants for the price of one! Okay, in reality they’re both free, but very amusing. Enjoy!!
LinkedIn: a professional forum. So, at this point, most of you have seen me on the various paralegal blogs. I throw my two, and sometimes, three and four cents around to various discussions. I enjoy the interaction, the exchange of ideas, the sharing of experiences; sometimes I ask for help and there is no lack of help to be had. I offer help to others and sometimes, I like to share a bit of my life, present, past and hopes for the future. When I speak of my experiences, I don’t usually name people; certainly not live ones. I attempt discretion, but it’s also my life, so I feel I have a right to share it, as long as I don’t drag anyone else into it by name.
Now that I have laid the ground work for my RANT, let me tell you where I’m going with this.
Some of my friends don’t like the “public forums.” Some of my friends are afraid of the public forum because they can be “seen” by co-workers, employers, former employers, on-and-on-and-on. So those friends criticize me for my public persona; for sharing, for posting “so often”; for being out there. “Don’t you realize people are watching you???” I’m asked.
At first, I took it well and just smiled and moved on. That was the first time. We are quickly moving into more than five times and my smile is waning and my turns have gotten slower. I am making myself turn.
I say, if you are paranoid, if you fear, if you are so very worried, simply don’t post, don’t join, don’t watch me – stay off. Don’t read and watch, from the darkness and criticize, a snicker behind your hand, a comment that can’t be heard. But, don’t stand in my way either; don’t tell me what to do, don’t hinder me and certainly, above all else, don’t infect me with your paranoia!
OK, glad I got that off my chest.
– Karen George, FRP
Now, let’s move onto my next rant…
The Serial Poster.
This person is not afraid at all about being seen on the public forums. In fact, they are their own Madison Avenue and we are all their captive audience.
I like an article just as much as the next person, but come on, don’t just post the article, write your take on the article; refer to the article (even include the link) but take the plunge, stick your neck out – write your honest opinion about the article. “What are your thoughts, really?” I beg to ask.
As we all know by now (GRAMMAR, PUNCTUATION, SPELLING; challenged or challenger) I have written communication issues in the narrative form. If you didn’t know it before, I am sure after reading this RANT — you know it, but I don’t care. (Well, I do, but that’s another story). I write, I edit my writing, I ask my friends to edit my writing and I post, when I think I have something to add. Maybe I post a little more than I should, but at least I try and I’m not afraid. When I have something to say, I say it. If I find an interesting article, I write my opinion on it and then share a link to it. Am I setting myself up as the standard by which everyone should function on LinkedIn? I don’t think so, but if I am wrong, I am quite sure I will hear about it here.
So there you go everyone, Karen’s “rant.” Let us enjoy and learn, share our experience and knowledge, and be a mentor through this forum. Don’t need a mentor? Need someone to listen to your RANT? That’ what we’re here for. Need a question answered — we are here! Want to share something interesting that you read — share it with us! That’s what this forum THE PARALEGAL SOCIETY is all about – a different blog, a blog of paralegal friendship and mentorship.
Thank you all for your patience. I certainly feel better now!
– Karen George, FRP
Serve Mine With a Smile, Sir.
It’s a “rant” kind of a day. I just can’t help myself. You see, the American public gives me a non-stop source for these rants.
It’s like an arsenal of material. I just can’t help myself. They provide the content and here I sit, a humble writer, telling the world about fellow mankind’s shortcomings in the “human being with some form of decency” department.
Today, during my lunch break, I decided to venture down the street to Big Lots… yes, that’s right, I like nice things, but I also love bargains (it’s a bit of a mismatch)…to pick up a new shower curtain liner. On the way to fetch myself lunch at the local Panera, I turned right at a main intersection that I have traveled many, many, many times over the course of the past seven years. As soon as I make that turn, I hear and see a police siren and the face of an angry and authoritative police officer sitting on the side of the road in his police cruiser “pointing” me over. Why do I always get “the point” with the pull over? Seriously? Anyway, I think “Great! Woo hoo! He’s sure to hand out a ticket, but certainly not the golden kind.”
So, I’m in the middle of a busy two lane road. I am driving less than 5 miles per hour and decide to pull off — with my turn signal flashing — into the nearest parking lot, which is just 10 feet away. I pull into the parking lot, ever so slowly, with my turn signal on (probably even with my break lights flickering on and off due to my halting speed) looking for the best space to pull over in the parking lot. The next thing I know, I hear a loud and unfriendly voice blaring out over the intercom system behind me stating: “Pull over. DON’T try to turn, DO NOT try to turn, pull straight ahead. Now stop your car. Stop your car. Just stop. That’s what I need you to do.”
For the record, I didn’t realize that police pullovers now come with step-by-step voice navigation. They do. Nifty…or annoying…your choice. Secondly, this whole “pull over” event happened within thirty seconds, so just chill, officer. I’m not one hundred years old, trying to drive and having difficulty with the whole “pull over” concept. I’m well versed. I was simply trying to keep you from being struck by oncoming traffic on a busy two lane road…perhaps against my better judgment.
The part of this that really gets under my skin is the fact that I am a professional, run-of-the-mill female in my mid-thirties, driving an Infiniti. Did you really think I was going to make a run for it? Really? Yes, I always dress in business attire when I plan to make a fast break out of a Wendy’s parking lot, with my turn signal on, creeping at 1-2 miles per hour, from a police officer who is 5 feet behind me during my lunch hour. You’re onto me. This further compounds my frustration because I realize that this guy is a real dip shit (excuse my language, but that is the most accurate descriptor) that would likely treat anyone he truly suspected to be a criminal (whether they actually were or not) far worse than he treated me. Not good.
So, he approaches my vehicle and tells me that I turned right on red where there is no right on red allowed and there are three signs posted. He tells me all of this so quickly, in a near auctioneer style manner, in such a fashion that the very content of his reason for pulling me over is nearly lost. No greeting. No hello, ma’am, do you know what you did wrong? How are you today?
Surely, he did not realize that I was, in fact, working from 9:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., today (with a smile) to help pay his salary. Fair enough. I have nothing against police officers. If I violated a law, ticket me. I’m totally cool with that. I don’t have any expectation of getting out of it, but you know what? I would prefer that you serve mine with a smile, officer. That’s right….a smile. If you could just find it within yourself to muster a mere sliver of personal enthusiasm to accompany my ticket, it would really go a long way.
So what you should take from this rant is the following: (1) The founder of TPS actually likes police officers, the friendly ones and she respects them — using the same criteria as TPS – no dark clouds (with badges); (2) Despite your intentional attempts to thwart my day, officer, it’s not happening. Just bring it! My happiness torch remains lit in spite of your attempts to extinguish it with your soul sucking personality; (3) Next time we meet, which is hopefully never… I need you to serve my ticket with a smile, sir.
– Jamie Collins, from the Wendy’s Parking Lot
“But – that three-letter, four letter word. When used in a sentence, “but” usually means: “Ignore all that good-sounding stuff that went before – here comes the truth.” We might even consider BUT an acronym for Behold the Underlying Truth. (And BUTS can be shortened to BS.)
The naked “but” is what we use when ignoring our own good advice. When ignoring the unbearably good advice from another source, we use the hyphenated version: “yes-but.” When we argue our limitations, we get to keep them. Yes – but means, “Here come the arguments for my limitations.” Or, if you favor acronyms… YES-BUT = Your Evaluation is Superb – Behold the Underlying Truth.”
– John Roger & Peter McWilliams
“Advice is what we ask for when we already know the answer but wish we didn’t.”
– Erica Long
THE SIX PHASES OF
THE SEARCH FOR THE GUILTY
PUNISHMENT OF THE INNOCENT
PRAISE AND HONOR
FOR THE NONPARTICIPANTS
– Source Unknown
Paralegal Boycott on Silk. I know this to be true. There comes a day (a glorious day indeed) when a paralegal finally trades in her suits.
She trades in the cheap, polyester “machine wash” friendly suits for her first “big girl” suits. You know – the ones with the designer labels and all of the bells and whistles. You morph from an average legal beagle into a working professional who radiates pure sophistication in a mere clothing change! Admitedly, I was very excited about the designer transformation when I first made the leap a few years back. However, I have since become aware of a few personal revelations in the suit department. What is up with the silk lining — I ask you? Seriously. Who came up with this completely retarded idea? Let me share a visual on the subject, to help convey my point on this fascinating topic.
You attend a jury trial. As most of you know, court rooms are generally a bit warm (okay, hot — they’re hot) in the summer months. So hot, that even females who don’t normally sweat start to sweat, kind of hot! Anyway, back to the story.
So there you sit…through a long day of trial and about two hours into it, you begin to notice a feeling that something is stuck to your rear and your legs and I mean s-t-u-c-k. Is that your pants? No…it’s the stupid silk lining!! It has permanently merged with your skin and the two have become one…literally. There is no removing it. Don’t even bother to aimlessly shift around in your seat in a valiant paralegal attempt to free your paralyzed skin from its silk infested invader. The silk has become spray paint. It’s there to stay, folks.
All day this continues. The only relief you will know from the clinging silk that has imbedded itself into your flesh will be during your brief respites to the civil litigators’ room in an attempt to free it. You know…restroom breaks. Those covert paralegal extraction operations; the ones where you attempt to tippy toe out of the courtroom, ever so quietly, on the front of your high heels, so as to avoid the click, click, clicking of your shoes on the tile floor all the way out of the court room as the entire court room and jury watches? The missions.
Sure, you can go to the restroom to try (“try” being the operative word here) to extricate the silk lining from its prey…that’s y-o-u, but it will promptly reattach itself to your skin the very moment you sit your rear back down on that seat. It’s there to stay, my friends. Like a starving leach clinging to you through a wind storm; it’s going nowhere!! Who in the world invented the silk lined pantsuit? Am I the only one who has ever asked this question? Readers, please let me know if you have any tid-bits of sage logic to share with us regarding this epic designer upgrade dilemma.
– Jamie Collins
Greetings from Spain!
If you haven’t heard from me for a few days, it’s because I decided to fly to Spain for a little impromptu rest and relaxation!! Okay, not really. Yesterday started out like any other day. However, my world dramatically shifted as I made my way toward the front door of my home to leave for work. My cell phone was “blowing up” with text messages. Beep, beep, beep. It was non-stop. Beep, beep, beep. I had multiple messages coming into my cell phone one right behind the other…how unusual. Was something wrong? Yes. It certainly was, but what? These messages were sent by close friends to advise me that my e-mail account had been hijacked. Oh no!!
Upon my arrival to work, I promptly logged into my yahoo account and learned that this “cyber-stalker” had robbed me of all of my precious contacts (yes, they’re really all gone) and e-mailed all of those fabulous individuals (perhaps you got one) a lovely message stating that I was (1) trapped in Spain; and (2) needed 2500 euro to be wired to me so I could pay for my hotel and make it back home. Apparently, I had been robbed on my way to the hotel and I had lost my wallet, cell phone and keys. It certainly made for an interesting story, but it was a total fabrication. I currently find myself in Indiana, buried in paperwork, preparing for a first choice jury trial that starts in 4 days. That’s about as far away from Spain as a paralegal could possibly be!! I spent more time yesterday then I care to elaborate upon changing my passwords and solving my cyber-hacking crisis. I was even kicked out of my own e-mail account twice by this “cyber-stalker” prior to resuming control because he/she kept resetting my password. It was not a good day.
The good news is that bad days, like good days, only last 24 hours and there are usually people around to help boost one’s spirits. On that particular day, there was a post added to our LinkedIn group by Luis Enrique Velez, Jr., in the midst of my personal crisis. I entered our group and this is what I saw:
Now that I’m a member, when do I get my secret decoder ring? Glad to be part of this group and hope our fearless leaders returns from Spain safely.”
I couldn’t help but laugh out loud at my desk!!! Thank you, Luis! This “cyber-stalker” totally inconvenienced me for a day. That’s for certain. However, I choose to take the “glass half-full” approach. I choose to paste a smile upon my face, to feel the sun beaming down upon me and to think to myself: “it’s still a beautiful day, even if it sucks!” I admit, it is a challenge to remain positive on a bad day, but I take comfort in knowing: (1) I know what to look for the next time I get cyber-hacked; (2) I am grateful I have people who will crawl out of the wood work to insure I am not being held hostage against my will in a foreign country and placed into a small wooden crate without food; and (3) If I ever find myself on the beach in Spain and I don’t have the money to buy another margarita, I know exactly who to call!!
– Jamie Collins, from Spain
The Ten Minute Mentor: Years ago, I was on a ski lift in Colorado and sat next to this stranger. During the chair ride up the mountain we started talking and sometimes, you just click with someone.
Anyway, he was about 20 years older than me. He had a family, a job, etc. I, on the other hand, had just graduated college, didn’t know what to do with my life and was waiting for my first job. I remember he actually grabbed me by the jacket and said “Look at me man, this is the most important time in your life. You will never have an opportunity to explore and travel like you do at this moment (between school and work).” Anyway, my point is – that this guy was an important mentor to me and I only knew him for about 10 minutes. For some reason, I really thought about what he said and the passion behind it. In a way, it was “that guy” that inspired me to post-pone entering the workforce and go on a cross-country trip that literally changed my life. I think it’s important not only to have a mentor that is stable and constant in your life, but to keep an eye out for those special people who you meet just briefly and to keep an open mind to what they have to say.
– Eric Bleuel, Guest Contributor
Two forms of communication every paralegal should avoid:
Gossip: saying things behind someone’s back that you would never say to their face.
Flattery: saying things to someone’s face that you would never say behind their back.
We’re all guilty of both of these forms of communication at one time or another, but let’s make an online pact to try to avoid these forms of negative communication going forward. [insert virtual fist bump here] – Jamie Collins
So, you’re a paralegal, huh? A day in the life. You have a million things coming at you from a million different directions and you are expected to “manage” it all. What can a paralegal job be most closely likened to? Legal triage. If you think I’m incorrect in that analogy, check out the definition below.
1 a: the sorting of and allocation of treatment to patients [in this case, attorneys] and especially battle and disaster victims, according to a system of priorities designed to maximize the number of survivors b: the sorting of patients, as in an emergency room [or in this case – a paralegal’s office] according to the urgency of their need for care;
2: the assigning of priority order to projects on the basis of where funds and other resources can be best used, are most needed, or are most likely to achieve success.
A “rant” of Jamie Collins with full credit to Julie Weinkauf of the Institute for Paralegal Education for pointing out this absolutely spot-on parallel. Thanks, Julie! A “Legal Triage Unit” sign now hangs proudly on my office door!!
Dark Cloud: Online paralegal forums have recently been peppered with comments about people whom we’ll call “less than desirable” co-workers. You can interject your own colorful language into your thoughts as you read further. I know this to be fact: every office has a dark cloud. Evidently, every firm on planet earth must have been forced into signing some sort of Collective Bargaining Agreement with the universe which sets forth the requirements for each office to be staffed with its very own dark cloud.
Dark cloud… you know…that negative, dreadful person you wish you never had to see again a single day in your life? Him or her. The keeper of the misery. You may now revel in the fact that this dreadful excuse for a paralegal is not invited to this party! You must come to the realization that people with bad attitudes generally aren’t the ones being given opportunities and they aren’t the ones accepting them either. Dark Clouds make the chief case in point of those who view each opportunity as “not good enough.” Dark clouds are dream crashers. Steer clear of the nepotist in your office. – Jamie Collins.
It’s Their Day: Have you ever noticed how some people in society (generally speaking, not our society) are just plain rude? I’m sure there has been a time when you have driven by the entrance to a store and granted some random soul their due pedestrian “right-of-way.” What happens next? You know…they make their way across the roadway in front of you at the dilatory pace of an injured tortoise, while you, the Good Samaritan, sit and wait and wait and wait and perhaps glare this person down in total amazement. What is wrong with people? Surely, I am not the only person who has had this experience.
In response to this situation, my husband and I have developed a game called “It’s Their Day.” Let me tell you how it works. The next time this happens to you, just pretend that the universe has granted the “injured tortoise” a daily pardon. You tell yourself mentally or whoever is in the car with you verbally “it’s his/her day” or “it’s their day” and say it like you mean it. I know it sounds silly, but my husband and I have found that our irritation and utter annoyance with injured tortoises has been replaced with humor and personal amusement. Let me know if this works for anyone else or if we’re certifiably crazy!
– Jamie Collins