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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!)

Monday, August 8, 2011

New Immigration Laws -- What's Up With That?

Guest Post  by Sydney Muray


A new immigration law that recently passed in Alabama is being called the toughest of its kind in the nation by critics and supporters alike. The law has incited a slew of passionate backlash, and recently the Justice Department filed a lawsuit against the state, fighting Alabama’s decision in a way that echoes what happened in Arizona. There is no doubt that this trend will continue to grow, affecting everyone from the court lawyer to the paralegal to the families of immigrants and beyond. State leaders are fed up with what they perceive to be the federal government’s inability to control the problem of immigration – and as we can see, they’re now taking matters into their own hands on a large scale.

The movement toward more stringent state laws governing illegal immigration began in 2006. Though various bills have been proposed in many states, few have been enacted into law that can actually be construed as being detrimental to the freedom many illegal immigrants enjoy in the U.S. This cannot be said for the law in Alabama.

The Alabama Law

The new Alabama law, which takes effect on September 1, 2011, gives police the power to request documentation of a person's legal right to be in the United States when they are stopped for any purpose.

Let Look At This Example

A person who is pulled over for speeding might be asked to produce proof of their citizenship or residency status in the U.S. if the police officer suspects the person may be an illegal alien.

Sounds Familiar?

This component of the Alabama law is similar to the one that passed in Arizona in 2010. The Arizona law gave police officers the right to ask for such verification of legal citizenship status, but continuing litigation over the matter has kept that part of the law from going into full effect.

The Alabama law, however, goes even further than the controversial Arizona law. Public schools in Alabama will now be required to collect information regarding each student’s citizenship status upon enrollment. Students seeking enrollment who cannot produce a proper birth certificate or provide a sworn affidavit will not be admitted to school. Critics suggest that this component of the law will harass young students and cause an undue financial burden on the school districts that would have to collect the information.

Businesses in Alabama that knowingly employ illegal immigrants could also face stiff penalties for the practice, up to and including the suspension or revocation of the business’ operating license. Under the law employers would be required to utilize the federal government E-verify database system. As they begin the hiring process with new employees, the employer would be required to check the applicant’s Social Security number against the contents of the E-verify database. Anyone whose information could not be verified would fall under suspicion of being in the U.S. illegally and could not be hired.

And there is more:

It would be a crime to knowingly provide transportation or shelter to illegal aliens. This even applies to churches and other charitable and aid organizations, something critics suggest would sadly circumvent the stated mission of such organizations. They cite the fact that the law essentially allows the state government to determine who receives aid from non-profit organizations as needlessly harmful and invasive.

The Pro's:

Not surprisingly, this new legislation is causing a great deal of controversy. Supporters hail it as a way to safeguard the state from the estimated 120,000 illegal immigrants currently thought to be living in Alabama. They believe the new law will protect the interests of U.S. citizens and their businesses.

The Con's

Critics suggest that the new law will lead to racial profiling. Organizations such as the Southern Poverty Law Center and the ACLU believe the new Alabama law to be unconstitutional as well as racist in nature. Many such individuals and organizations are planning litigation to protest the law. The Obama administration has already sued the state, citing that illegal immigration is a national issue that must be addressed on the federal level, rather than having each state enact their own statutes.

What Do Other States Do?

Other states have passed laws dealing with immigration issues. Utah tried to find a happy medium by allowing undocumented workers within the state. The bill also allows police to check immigration status for people arrested for serious crimes. Virginia may at some point pass a law aimed at keeping illegals from enrolling in public universities. Florida is also considering legislation that would require businesses to use the E-verify database when hiring new employees. Whether any of these bills become law, and whether they stand up to litigation, remains to be seen. One thing is certain. Illegal immigration is likely to remain a hot button issue until the federal government can propose a fair-minded and comprehensive policy that will be reasonable enough for all states to accept.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

For-Profit College: Friend or Foe

It is hard to avoid news and blog articles these days about for-profit colleges. For the most part, these businesses are written off by academics, politicians, and many students as scams created to take advantage of potential students. I have read that for-profit colleges encourage students to take on hefty student loans for useless degree/certificate programs, then abandon the debt-laden students in the real world with a degree of little to no value, hundreds of dollars a month in re-payment, no job placement, and no hope of finding an employer who will value the student's education.

I admittedly have a difficult time conjuring sympathy for many of the students who claim they have been duped (although I am sure some have been taken advantage of despite their due diligence). Personal responsibility still requires us to make the most educated decisions we can. Look at the story of Eric Schmitt, who claims that he took out $45,000 for an Associates and a Bachelors degree at Kaplan in paralegal studies before slowly learning that the employers in his area do not value the Kaplan degree. Obviously this stinks. But my own degree in English at a state school left me with the same amount in student loans. (I should point out that the amount I borrowed was only for my last two years at an out-of-state rate after transferring from a college where I already had a full scholarship. Lots o' monies? Yes. My own bad financial decision? Absolutely.)

And with a degree in such a broad area as English and no other specialized training, your choices are either to teach at a private school, get further education and certification to teach in a public school, write books/poetry while waiting tables, find a job in copy-editing, or go to graduate school to eventually become an English professor. No one told me this when I decided on my degree. The school I paid for happily took my student loan money, and they did not even offer to help me find a job when I graduated! Also, my first college, the one where I had the scholarship, did not provide job placement. And yet, why would I expect them to? By the time I graduated, I was an adult who could ostensibly go out into the world and find a way to make a living myself. My education and degree would help me, of course, but a degree does not a great employee make (not even a degree from a brick-and-mortar not-for-profit school).

Some students have also complained of the lack of accreditation by for-profit schools. This, too, is a matter of personal responsibility. In the age of Google, and particularly for individuals who intend to take fully online classes. a simple search will bring up an institution's accreditation. Some of the issues I have heard regard the fact that the for-profit college paralegal program is not ABA-accredited. First, the ABA does not accredit but rather approves paralegal programs. Second, the ABA will neither accredit nor approve online programs of study. If you want to be thorough and check for ABA-approval, you have to look at the school's accreditation page or ask them directly. If you only ask whether they are accredited, and they are, they will only tell you they are accredited. I cannot imagine a school volunteering to tell you that it is not ABA-approved. Since there are no minimum requirements for paralegals, ABA-approval only means as much as the student and his prospective employers think it means, anyway.

As an example, I have a B.A. in English and a non-ABA-approved paralegal certificate. Neither my current employer in Memphis, TN nor my previous employer in Alabama asked whether my program was ABA-approved. In interviews where I did not accept the job, not once was I asked whether my program was ABA-approved. Obviously, depending on your area, graduation from an ABA-approved program might be more or less valued by employers. Since the paralegal world has no minimum standards across-the-board, we have to check our specific areas ourselves. Even if you find yourself in a bind after graduating from a non-ABA-approved program, or a program that is not highly valued by employers in your area, there are still things you can do to make yourself more marketable.

For instance, get certified! There are so many possibilities for certification these days! While your A.A. or B.A. might not be from an ABA-approved program, designation as certified could be look as good or even better on a resume. In fact, in my personal experience, employers have been more interested in my certification than which school I attended or my GPA.

So to end my ramblings, please potential paralegals-to-be, take responsibility for your career from the beginning. Research and make educated decisions. While for-profit colleges are not for everyone, plenty of people who do the research and make careful decisions can find them to be helpful alternatives to traditional colleges.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Three Month Update

Once again it has been weeks and months since the last time I posted. Opportunities to write are so rare these days. Nevertheless, I'm sitting down on this cloudy Sunday morning to update the Internet on my life.

First, I was admitted to the MBA program at University of Memphis recently. It will be an online degree, giving me time to work full-time and maintain somewhat of an extracurricular life (I hope). I was completely undecided about which degree to pursue - an MBA or Communications - so I originally applied to both. Apparently the Graduate School here does not allow you to apply to two programs, so when I found out that my MBA application had not gone through, I realized that it was the degree I actually want. So here I sit today on the brink of a new learning adventure ripe with possibilities and knowledge.

The boyfriend and I moved out of our ritzy downtown apartment to a more sensible place in midtown. I never understood all the car decals and other signs I used to see that said "Midtown IS Memphis," but now I do. I thought downtown was edgier, truer to the gritty, grindy Memphis we've all heard about. But as it turns out, downtown is rich and pretty safe. Midtown has edginess. We have had something stolen from one of our vehicles and found someone digging in our trash, all within two weeks of moving in. And we live on a good street.

Even with all that, Memphis is infectious. It has personality. It has swagger. Memphis is strong and proud and undeniably blue collar. Down to earth. Possibly too down to earth. It is heart and soul and blues, even in 2011.

Which brings me to my next topic: the Memphis Grizzlies. We went in with some friends on season tickets this year and went to fifteen home games of the Grizzlies. Before this season I did not watch sports. Somewhere during the season I became a Grizzlies fan, then a basketball fan, and finally a Memphis-the-city-itself fan. It is amazing what a winning team in the national spotlight can do to a city.

Finally, I am still with the firm I moved here to work for. At times I have questioned whether I fit in there, with my insatiable desire for CLEs and substantive work. But the attorneys and staff I work with have kept me going. I have continued, and will continue, to softly and slowly push my way upstream because that it just who I am. I will tell anyone who will listen that I and the other paralegals can do substantive work. Because my worry is not that we are not given substantive work, but rather that some of the attorneys do not know that they could give us such work. I would rather my attorney know he could use me on a project and choose not to for his own reasons than not know I could be used and continue to work inefficiently for no reason.

Because when it comes down to it, I feel that the paralegal's truest purpose is efficiency. We are here to save attorneys time and clients money. Little by little, I see various attorneys at my office thinking in those terms. And I like it.

So this is my all-too-short recap of the last few months. I hope you've enjoyed it, and I expect there is more to come.