The Blog Formerly Known As Practical Paralegalism
Does inclusion of these three dioramas (Scenes 1, 2 and 3 from My Cousin Peeps) in the ABA Journal’s “Peeps in Law Gallery” count? I guess I could have made better use of my time earlier in the week, writing professional articles, preparing a book proposal, studying for a national certification exam, or even applying to grad school. But no, I was in Toys “R” Us trying to find a cheap (cheep?) toy convertible.
Anyway, cheap (cheep?) fart jokes aside, I stumbled across My Cousin Vinny playing on television last night. (It was extra funny after re-enacting it with Peeps.) After it was over, it hit me. Mona Lisa Vito (played by Marisa Tomei who won an Oscar for the role) was Vincent “Vinny” Gambini’s (played by Joe Pesci) unofficial paralegal. Of course, the movie was made in 1992, when many paralegals were promoted from legal secretarial positions, and obviously Lisa doesn’t have any fancy degrees or certifications.
But Lisa certainly performs substantive work under an attorney’s supervision (or maybe more accurately supervises a newbie attorney who’s been practicing personal injury law for a whole six weeks.) She’s in court with Vinny every day, as Vinny’s second pair of eyes (or sometimes the only pair, as he sleeps through the early court scenes). She gives him necessary feedback as to how he’s doing in court every day (not so hot). She reads the state rules of criminal procedure and regurgitates the really important parts to Vinny (“it’s called disclosure, you [idiot]”!). She photographs the crime scene evidence. She makes sure Vinny is appropriately dressed for court in a suit made out of cloth (maybe that doesn’t fall under “substantive” duties but who hasn’t had to run a clean tie down to the court house?) Most important to the successful outcome of the case, she provides a key expert witness. (Okay, so maybe using yourself doesn’t count, but she definitely qualifies as a “general automotive” expert.)
Lisa has many attributes of a successful paralegal. She is smart, resourceful, and a persistent problem-solver. And she reminds us that successful lawyers need to use and appreciate their staff’s contributions when she tells Vinny, “You win all your cases, but with somebody else’s help, right? You win case after case, and then afterwards you have to go up to somebody and you have to say, ‘thank you.'”