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Memphis, Tennessee, United States
Small town paralegal in the city. Once ran a law office, now being run by one. Med mal defense litigation. I think it's growing on me.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Moving Up in the World

For nearly two years I was the part-time "secretary" to my attorney. Part-time because he could not afford to pay me for 40 hours, "secretary" because, I suppose, it was the easiest way for him to describe me. Two months ago, things changed when I received my designation as a Certified Paralegal (through the National Association of Legal Assistants).

The Boss suddenly started thinking of things in a new light. We work in a rural town. Few people around here, even attorneys, have a solid idea of what a paralegal does. Most non-lawyer staff who do paralegal work in this area call themselves legal secretaries. Don't let the name fool you. More often than not, these legal secretaries do everything but run the firm. If you have a question or concern, as long as it doesn't involve giving legal advice or negotiating a settlement, you ask the secretary first. If she doesn't have an answer, it's highly unlikely her attorney will have one. As a still-fresh non-attorney in the legal profession, I have not yet reached that level of comfort in my job. I consult my Boss over nearly everything.

Still, things changed the day I started adding CP to the end of my name. First, the Boss asked if wanted him to send the press release to the newspaper instead of doing it myself. (NALA included a sample press release with my certificate... free advertisement for them, and I thought the Boss wouldn't mind my slipping in the name of the firm... free advertisement for us.) Shortly thereafter, he mentioned that he had not had any idea how real the whole certification process is. Since it is optional, many people assume that it is a self-designation. This is not the case. The Boss was just a little impressed that I am now one of only 199 NALA-certified paralegals in the state of Alabama.

After an awkward conversation days later about whether I prefer the term "legal assistant" or "paralegal" (I don't care; I'm doing the same work either way), the Boss mentioned that he might be ready to take my employment to the next level - the full-time level. Three weeks later I was a full-time paralegal, which has made it much easier to describe my job when asked. I had previously answered questions about my career with a muddled "part-time paralegal, part-time [insert side job here]".

To my knowledge, I am the only certified paralegal in my area... I'm the only paralegal in my town, period. The Boss seems to take me more seriously these days. I also think he secretly relishes the fact that he has a true certified paralegal working for him while the other lawyers in our area struggle with highschool graduates who can barely type a complete sentence, much less draft a motion for summary judgment. My full-time presence also seems to bring in more money, as I work more billable hours per day now. That's nothing to squeek at.

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