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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.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Changing Tides

Well fine legal pals, I've been looking through some of my past posts, and I realize that they could be considered prophetic. After five years as a litigation paralegal, with relatively no notice, I have jumped onto an entirely different career track.

A few weeks ago, a co-worker of mine met a friendly CEO exuding passion for his company in the elevator of the building we work in. He told her his office was looking for a new office manager/executive assistant/paralegal to work with the CEO, CFO, and a company lawyer, and offered to interview her for the position. Jump ahead two days and I randomly ended up in a surprise interview talking on level with three executives of that very company. And the next day I was accepting the job, much to my surprise and (a little) confusion.

Don't think that I didn't deliberate. I did. I made a calculated decision to (mostly) leave the legal field, but I did so quite unexpectedly and in great haste. Every day it looks like a better and better decision. Not the leaving my job as a paralegal, but the moving on to something different, new, challenging. I am still performing some legal tasks, but they are corporate-legal, which is a different, somewhat tamer, beast than litigation. In a small company, everyone plays a large role. So I am the accounts payable department, webmaster, sales coordinator, legal assistant, investor relations, receptionist, office manager, marketing assistant, and more. Every day I get to wear a different hat, and it reminds me a lot of my first few years wearing several hats in smalltown Alabama working with the Boss.

I'm remembering the things that I loved about that smalltown law firm job, too, and realizing that it is not the nature of the work but the work atmosphere that I enjoyed the most. Don't get me wrong - I love the law. But the most satisfying parts of my job with the Boss were the fast pace, the interaction with people, the different roles I had to play, the team-oriented experience, the chance to learn something new every day, the feeling that I was a part of making a difference, and the impression that I was a respected and well-regarded professional. I love that feeling! After four weeks at my new job, I can easily say that I get to feel that way nearly every day. In fact, my bosses seem to be striving to make sure I feel excited and interested in my new role. I forgot how it feels to be a part of a team, the give and take of ideas, the ease of collaboration, and the fun of learning new skills.

If I sound pumped up, I am. And on top of that, some crazy ladies in MLSA decided they want me as their Vice President this year! So, yeah, between a job that I am certain to love, my new position with MLSA, a summer marketing class, and planning for a quickly-approaching wedding, I'm going to be one busy girl for the next several months.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Diary of a Pensive Paralegal

I've been reflecting on my career a lot since starting school this past fall. Big life changes are typically followed by reflection, so there is no surprise there. Some of the questions I have been asking myself lately are questions the younger me glossed over, or would have answered with blissful ignorance of the way the real world actually works.

I still love working in the legal field, and I remain proud of my profession and the many wonderful people I get to call colleagues. I have learned so much, and I still crave so much knowledge that I cannot fathom taking any other than the course I chose for my career several years ago. But being back in school has broadened my network. I am associating with successful people from all sorts of fields, and I'm learning that my education could take me almost anywhere I want to go... should I choose to go there.

The realization that the world is filled with so much opportunity suddenly makes me feel very limited in my field. I know that there exist places where seasoned paralegals advance to various other titles, become supervisors, managers, etc. I know that the skills I learn and hone are valuable assets in any number of circumstances. I know that I have the potential to go as far as my job and field allow because I want to make my mark. I want to be a voice, to help chart the course, to control my destiny, to be an encouraging example to others in my field, etc., etc. But the reality is that I go to work every day, and I come home. I assist in mostly administrative duties, with some substantive crumbs from time to time. I do not feel like I make an actual difference, and I struggle to find any meaning at all in what I do. I also worry that I am not growing, not moving forward, not gaining knowledge or abilities.

I know I paint a desperate picture, but it isn't so bad. I still feel inspired in my studies, and in my extracurricular activities. I enjoy being part of a group like NALS, and I gobble up opportunities to learn outside of work. It's just that a part of me yearns for a true growth experience within my career. I desire to constantly move forward, but I feel like there is a wall somewhere very close that I will reach too soon, a very tall wall with a sign: "No paralegals beyond this point."

Unless I transition out of law. But I love the law! How could I turn my back on something I enjoy being a part of? I couldn't be a paralegal if I left the legal world! What would I be?

This is the part where I usually start thinking that I expect too much. What do our employers owe us anyway? Certainly no one owes me the opportunity for career growth and expansion. If I want those things, I should seek them out for myself, on my own time, right? The capitalist in me says, "Your company owes you the pay and benefits you contracted to, in return, of course, for your best work." The me-generation kid says, "People in our generation don't accept bare minimum. Our companies should care about our career potential just as much as we do, because they could benefit from it as long as we stay with them." It feels selfish to expect or hope for advancement opportunities in a field where many firms have none for non-attorney employees.

Problem is, I can't think of any other fields that limits its members so much. Nurses can become hospital administrators, patient managers, you name it. In fact, nearly every non-physician job I have seen at hospitals lately requires at least a nursing degree. Engineers move on to be project managers, compliance officers, etc. Entry level accountants have the career potential to go just about anywhere in their field, with time. Likewise with people in sales. The hospitality industry. There is big potential for players in every field... except for the one I love. Again, I know that many paralegals have been fortunate to move into advanced positions over time within their firms, but I don't actually see those opportunities. I don't know first hand of a firm that has advanced positions for non-attorney staff other than office manager or financial manager. I have never seen such a position advertised, either in south Alabama or in Tennessee. I know that there appears to be greater potential for a bigger non-attorney role in smaller firms, but the trade-off of course comes in pay and benefits. A part of me sighs, wondering if I will actually have to choose, eventually, between working in the field that I love and finding the professional development that I crave.

For now, though, I am satisfied. I suppose I have to take this self-reflection business one day at a time. School keeps me busy enough that I don't have too much time to worry about this quarter life crisis. I have a good job, and I work with good people. NALS gives me outside opportunities to learn and grow as a legal professional, in the mean time, which is definitely good enough. For today.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Hello 2012

They say this is the year. The year the Mayan calendar ends. Depending on which presidential candidate you believe, it could mark the last year in which our country can be saved. It is the year I will turn 30, the year the Grizzlies will win the NBA Championship (it could happen!) and the year our little Penny Cat turns 1. It could be the year the world ends, in spite of NASA's reassurances.

It is the second year of my studies in the MBA program with University of Memphis. I am happy to report that I ended my first semester with straight A's. I learned a lot about time management, stress, and priorities. For instance, it is very easy to spread yourself too thin, and I simply cannot devote 100% to everything. I have to choose those important piece of my life that will get my 100% and those that will have to take less. I hope that I've learned not to freak out about every topic we approach in my classes with which I am unfamiliar. I spent much of last semester fretting over how to prepare the perfect equity report or how to create workable project budget. For each new encounter, I wasted precious energy looking at the big picture of the project with doom and gloom (how would I ever get it done?) only to later break it down into sensible pieces that weren't so hard after all. This semester I endeavor to skip that first step.

This will be a year in which I will focus on career development. I am oozing with potential on many fronts, and I do not want to look at my career in twenty years and think, "What happened to that motivated, talented girl who was going to make her mark in her field?" I will actively seek opportunities for growth, and I encourage anyone reading this blog to do the same. We are only ever as good as we want to be. In the adult world, if you don't push yourself, no one else will. I'm pushing myself.

2012 will be a year of growth and new fronts. Some of the coming changes are things within my control. Many are not. (Did I mention I'm turning 30?) I will have to put some goals on hold while I tackle the big ones this year. Priorities. Hopefully in twelve months I will be able to reflect on this year and all the ways I've grown.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

A Message From "The Boss"

In the years that Melissa worked for me and wrote on this blog, it was nice to see how I developed as a character, person and boss.  I enjoyed – after she left – reading through the years of posts and see what she thought of me, her job and life in a small firm.  I say after she left because I never read the blog while she was here.  This was not due to a lack of interest (or curiosity), but rather due to a belief that she should have her privacy and freedom to write about the office and me as she saw fit, without worry that I would be reading.  But after she left, and as I read through the posts that encompassed her time here, it was nice to see ‘The Boss’ portrayed in such a positive light.  I liked the idea of being this nameless character being written about by Melissa; being the flawed but competent employer often utilized as the backdrop of Melissa’s evaluation of her current mood or assessement of the paralegal profession… Due to my faceless/nameless character in the blog, I have read on here that some imagine me like Bruce Springsteen due to the character name I was given; sometimes the nameless character made me often even picture the character as Big from Sex in the City (I’m married, so I can make that reference and still maintain my manliness…right?).  Well, I can assure you that I am nowhere near as cool as either Big or Springsteen, but I am more than happy to have you continue to think of me in either way (especially since many of us will likely never meet and thus you will never be disappointed in the reality).

I am sure at this point many of you are wondering why, now, nearly 2 years after Melissa’s departure from JNL, P.C., I am popping up again on Paralegalese. I wish it was because I was announcing her return to the office. But alas, that is not the case…..yet.  But, 22 months later (and moving on to my 5th paralegal since she left, by the way), I could not shake the feeling that I never properly said goodbye, or how much Melissa was appreciated while she was here (and even worse, how much she was unintentionally underappreciated).  And I figured, what better way could that be done than on this blog, where ‘The Boss’ was created and Melissa’s time with JNL, P.C. was played out in a much more positive, exciting manner than I think reality would ever portray. I have told people since Melissa left that it would have been much easier to replace me in this firm than it has been to replace her (a feat which, I fear, will never be accomplished).  Make no mistake about it, the girl that you read on here is much smarter than most people you will likely ever meet or work for.  She is smarter than me, and I think clients are starting to figure out she was the brains of the operation!

But even though I knew that while she was here, I never REALLY knew that until she left.  As I said before, I am now on my fourth paralegal / legal secretary since Melissa left. None were horrible, none were even bad, but none were Melissa.  Enough said.  But every time I start out on the process to hire a paralegal or assistant, I find myself pulling out the measuring stick that Melissa left behind two years ago, and it becomes blaringly clear what I had with Melissa, and what I have dearly missed.   To best sum up Melissa, the following is what I wrote in a recommendation letter for her as she has continued to pursue higher education. Ironically, this was written on March 18, 2011, almost a year to the day after she left my office:

    Melissa Hinote was employed for two years before she moved to Memphis, Tennessee – much to my dismay.  During those two years, Melissa proved herself to be unquestionably professional, motivated, intelligent and of the highest character.  In an office of two people, you get to know the other person extremely well.  As such, I came to know Melissa both professionally and personally, and can say without qualification that she is one of the most pleasant, caring, and dedicated people that I have ever had the pleasure of working with or knowing. During her time working with me, I came depend on her for everything from substantive legal work to making sure that I was prepared for, and did completely forget, meetings and trials.  In that time, she never once disappointed me or failed to exceed my expectations.  When she left, it became abundantly clear that I would have been easier to replace in my own office than she was – an assessment which has not changed in the year since she left.  
    I am convinced that no matter what Melissa does in life, she will surpass all expectations, and make proud the person or institution that gets to ‘claim’ her, so to speak.  I can assure you that she will be an asset to your program and will excel academically.  Not only academically, but seeing as I still have clients who bring her Christmas presents a year after she left, it is clear that her ability to personally connect with people would also be an asset to your program and those involved in it.  More than academic abilities and personality, though, I urge you to accept her into the MA in Communications program so that your institution, along with a long list of others – of which I am proud to be a part of – can be one of the ones who get to 
claim her as one of their own.  

Now, if you are reading this, then that means Melissa has agreed to post this on the blog.  Knowing Melissa, she will have a real problem with posting something that is complimentary to her.  So, I will add for her benefit at this point, that I would consider it a personal slap in the face if she did not give me this opportunity to say hello to the fans of ‘The Boss’ that have been wondering how I am.  I will be personally offended if this is not posted in its entirety (of course, after she proofreads it and makes changes to make me sound more intellectual and funny than I actually am).

If you are reading this blog, keep doing so.  The writer is one of the smartest, most genuine people and talented writers you will ever have the chance to read.  If you are a paralegal or in the legal field, read what she writes over and over – she knows what she is talking about.  If there were a world full of paralegals like her, what a better profession the law would be. 

It was nice to meet all of you and be the backdrop to Melissa’s writings.  Thank you for your support of Melissa, she truly is as great and smart as she seems – and she is still missed.  



(See what I did there, like at the end of Sex in the City – you learn Big’s name – okay, maybe not ….. told you I was not as cool as he was!)