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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.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Networking Part II: Rules of the Conference

My favorite quote from this weekend: "I wouldn't trade her for two associates and an undisclosed draft pick." - Attorney's words regarding his paralegal.

This weekend, an old southern hotel by the bay hosted the Alabama Association of Paralegals, Inc. (AAPi) summer conference. Since I live nearby, I thought I would use this opportunity to try AAPi on for size. Below are a few things I learned this weekend, as a newcomer to the networking, career-building, CLE gathering world:

1) Think like a predator. It sounds way more sinister than it really is, but my point is to attack the networking scene with subtle cunning. Instead of approaching an entire group of faces and names you will desperately try and fail to remember all at once, pick them off one by one. The first person I met at the conference was a girl named Kelly, who was sitting alone when I decided to take the seat next to her. We became quick friends. Kelly just happened to know almost everyone else I met this weekend, as they all live in the same area. If I had chosen to sit alone, or if I had chosen to sit next to four or five people who already knew each other, I either would have been isolated from everyone or ignored in favor of familiar faces.

2) Take advantage of cocktail hour. During the meetings and presentations, everyone is trying to appear professional, which can come off as stuffy and insincere. But over drinks, almost everyone loosens up. You don't even have to participate in the drinking, as long as you are there to reap the benefits. Our reception the first night included karaoke. While it is not for everyone, getting up the guts to sing a country song in front of total strangers is oddly freeing. The added benefit is that everyone who watched me belt a tune now has a memory attached to my face and name. As long as you aren't getting sloppy or causing drama, cocktail hour is a great opportunity to interact as individuals with other conference goers and to find people with whom you have shared interests and goals.

3) Engage in the icebreakers. Our big icebreaker game involved a type of scavenger hunt. We had to meet individuals and get their signatures according to directions on a worksheet. For instance, I had to find someone who had previously worked at Wal-Mart, someone who had a pet cat, someone who was born outside of the U.S., etc. This is how I gained my nickname "Miss Blue Eyes" from several of the ladies whose sheets I signed. Like my now famous rendition of "Before He Cheats," this was another way someone may remember me in the future.

4) Fight for your box lunch; you paid for it. This rule applies to non-members of the sponsor organization. I decided I would first try out AAPi before actually joining, so I paid the non-member fee for the conference and my self-titled Introduction Weekend. On the second day, the organization had its annual meeting. I was unsure about the rules, but I was fully prepared not to be in the meeting. After all, I'm not yet a member. But the meeting was a lunch meeting, and the box lunches were in the auditorium along with the AAPi members. I waited in a brief line to the door, where the VP of Membership was checking names from a list. When she asked my name, I told her who I was and added, "I won't be on the list because I'm not a member. I would just like to get my lunch." I gestured to the multitude of paper bags holding what I believed to be delicious sandwiches and probably brownies for dessert. She stared at me blankly. "If you're not a member, you can't come in." "Okay," I stated calmly, "I am fine with not being in the meeting, but I would like to get my lunch if that's okay." It was not okay. "Lunches are for members only," she stated blandly. I felt as if I were speaking an alien language. I quickly tallied a few numbers in my head. "Ma'am, I paid more than the members for this conference, did my money not go toward today's lunch?" Again, nothing. The exact same answer.

I felt my face blushing with a mixture of embarrassment and anger. Embarrassment because this organization I was hoping to become a member of was chastising me for not yet being a member; anger because I'm pretty sure they used at least $4 of my fee on one of those brown bag lunches I saw sitting behind her. But as my face grew hotter, I decided I had better let it go before my voice rose to an unhealthily high pitch. "I guess I will be on my way to pay extra for lunch," I stated as I turned around. Thankfully, one of the seminar committee members saw me turning to go and asked me why. When I told her the problem, she seemed to disagree with the VP Membership and an argument seemed moments from erupting. "Non-members are not allowed in the room at all at this point, " said Miss Membership in her unfriendly yet (I have to give it to her) unfaltering voice. "Well then, maybe I can step in and bring her lunch out to her," countered Miss Committee Member. "She did pay for it." At this point I was mortified and more than willing to slink out to pay extra for my lunch at the hotel's restaurant, but Miss Membership finally gave in and allowed someone to bring a bag out to me.

I am not sure whether they were slaughtering goats in this super secret meeting, or handing out grandma's secret recipe (as my friend Kelly opined), but whatever was going on, I was discouraged from contaminating the atmosphere with my presence way before the meeting even began. I may have eaten alone in the sweltering heat of a southern midday, but by golly, I got my lunch!

Fortunately, this was but one sour moment in a weekend full of delightful experiences.

5) Go to the seminars. We had some very fine speakers at this conference. My favorites were the paralegals-turned-attorneys-who-still-loved-paralegals. I also enjoyed the speaker who excused his technical difficulties with Power Point by explaining that a lawyer, not his paralegal, had helped him put it together. Linda Wolfe, ACP, President of NALA, gave a speech on the current national climate in regards to the paralegal profession. It was perhaps the most encouraging and helpful presentation of the weekend. Still, a question that weighed heavily on my mind was why six out of eight of our speakers were lawyers, and five of those lawyers had never been paralegals. I love attorneys because without them, my career would not exist. I harbor a great deal of respect for lawyers who know how to properly use paralegals and who respect those of us who are passionate about law but not about getting a law license. However, is there some ethical constraint against paralegals giving CLE presentations for paralegals? If not, why are we relying so heavily on lawyers to do this job? While I believe it is necessary, for the mutual understanding of our different and sometimes overlapping roles in the law firm, that attorneys make presentations to paralegals and vice versa as long as it is not a presentation involving legal advice, I do feel that we should rely at least as heavily on the experience and perspective of other paralegals as we rely on attorneys for our growing knowledge base.

I have a host of other stories to go along with this conference - from the delicious breakfasts shared with other conference-goers to the Saturday night outing that caused Sunday to arrive three hours too soon. I feel that this weekend was a success on both personal and professional levels, and I am more than a little sad that it is over.


  1. Crikey, Mel, this sounds like a remake of The Lion King, complete with show tunes! :D And let me tell you the first law of bag lunches at seminars: UGH. But I love that justice prevailed and that bureacracy stepped on its own snarky tail. What kind of sandwich did you get? lol

  2. I love Lynne's alternate title for this blog entry: "It's a Jungle Out There."

    Speaking of jungles...I'm lucky in that once or twice a year, I get to attend seminars and conferences with the paralegal equivalent of Sheena Queen of the Jungle: Michigan's own Paralegal Mentor, Vicki Voisin! Let me tell you, she's a helluva safari guide!

  3. Lynne, to be honest, the sandwich was dumped in the trash. It was ham with unintentionally melted cheese and diluted honey mustard. Yum! I think I've learned my lesson about the bag lunch!

    Margaret, one of my goals is to get to hear Vicki speak in person. She's exceptional via the telephone. :^)