The Blog Formerly Known As Practical Paralegalism
Like many working paralegals, I completed a two-year associate degree in paralegal studies, which included courses in civil litigation, bankruptcy, real estate and wills, but sometimes over the span of a 20-plus year legal career, I’ve wondered if the program should have included another class, “Realities of Working in a Law Firm 101”. I’ve found myself doing things they never told me about in paralegal school, both good (helping a paraplegic client try out a standing electric wheelchair) and not-so-good (getting estimates for a funeral – not mine).
So I asked some of my paralegal buddies on Twitter what things they’d done that weren’t mentioned in paralegal school, and here are the responses:
@KiaJG: “I never imagined I would actually be arguing/[negotiating] settlements against attorneys but it’s my [favorite] part of the job now!”
I, too, love a spirited (if not heated) discourse with opposing parties via telephone.
@JoshChaikin: “I got to help the network guys install and setup new switches.”
Anyone who does that at our small firm gets labeled “IT Go-to-Guy” (not always a good thing).
@melihi: “Heading over to clean the office aquarium. It’s needed it for about four months now. eep.”
@lglduck: “That’s a good one, I have to clean our fish tank too.”
I am not good with the fishes, and am glad our firm doesn’t have any, so I don’t have to worry about any career-ending belly-side-ups.
This includes detailed knowledge of your local airport and hauling luggage – and no tips.
@CathieCummings: “Babysitting client’s children while the client’s deposition is being taken!” Then Cathie added, “plus I got to change a very dirty diaper. Eeww!!”
I’ve taken screaming children out of conference rooms, and then outside, if the howling continued unabated and echoed all the way to the senior partners’ offices.
@lglduck: “Babysit! (as in the attorney, the associate, the clients)”
We like to call it hand-holding, and get ready to do a lot of it. Free practice tip: always have a box of Kleenex nearby.
@BabFab: “Watching over the partner’s wine collection in the server room.”
I can see how you might not want to leave wine unattended in a high-stress profession.
@jyscale: “I have 2 – waiting at boss’s house for TV delivery so he could be in court & taking him home from hospital after heart surgery.”
Seriously, in this case, she has a great relationship with her boss, and is happy to do it. But I’ve known paralegals whose responsibilities included everything from personal bill-paying to picking up dry-cleaning to purchasing family gifts.
@MargaretAgius: “Weird duty: Putting up w/office mgr who insists that extravagant gift gving is [right for] every occasion & forces participation.”
I’ve often thought that delicate interoffice relations, including “to give or not to give”, should be included in that “Realities of Working in a Law Firm 101”.
@legalninjaKris: “make coffee, buy your own desk (& then get reimbursed), go-to person when copier is jammed”
There is nothing worse than staring at the bowels of a copier that is bigger than your car, with a piece of paper jammed for all 26 letters of the alphabet lit up on the display.
Early in my career, when I didn’t drink coffee, I was politely asked to stop making it, possibly because I could never get the grounds to water ratio right – usually creating some kind of expresso-type mud with legs.
In summary, in the real world, a resourceful paralegal may wear a lot of hats not discussed in formal education programs: Captain of the Legal Debate Team, Unofficial IT Guy, Fish Whisperer, Super-Nanny, Taxi Driver, Gofer, Copier Internist, and Barista (again, no tips).
What have you had to do during the course of your employment as a paralegal that wasn’t mentioned in paralegal school? Please comment and share your valuable experience with the newbies!