Search This Blog

About Me

My photo
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, August 6, 2009

The Compliment That Wasn't

A very well-meaning person tried to give me a very nice compliment today. But, "You are too smart for this job", however nicely intended, still comes across as slightly insulting when the person you are saying it to loves the career she has chosen and finds her daily work both challenging and interesting.

I certainly understand why this person thought she was paying a compliment. After all, like much of the public, to her the lawyer is the smartest, highest educated person in a law firm. She sees the law firm as a hierarchy, not a team. To her, I am simply the lowest person on the totem pole at our two-person office. Likely, she was implying that she believes I am smart enough to be the lawyer.

While I appreciate the thought, it brought to mind all of the assumptions we tend to bring to the legal field. I wonder why we always, without fail, assume that the smartest person at the law firm is the one with the law degree. That line of thinking only further enforces the idea that any non-attorney working at a firm probably is not smart enough to go to law school. This is just not true. Many non-attorney staff members have very good reasons for not pursuing a law degree. My favorite one? That they do not want to be lawyers.

We all have our own reasons for this. While I enjoy the law, I do not want to work long hours for several years fretting over the possibility that I might not have a job after the billable hours report is released for the month because my senior attorney decided to cut half of my hours for a client she is friendly with, etc. etc. I don't want to hate my job. I don't want to fear for my job. I don't want to cower before the senior attorneys in a years long hazing process meant to break my spirit. I understand that not all legal practice involves these unfortunate occurrences, but the other option is to be a poor lawyer. I have a hard enough time being a poor paralegal; at least as a paralegal, I am 100% sure I will like my job because, well, I like my job.

Of course I've exaggerated the position of the poor associate attorney above. But the fact remains that the real reason I, and so many other legal professionals, choose to remain non-attorneys is that we already love our jobs. A successful law firm, much like any other business, takes a team effort. Everyone has his place. Like IT professionals, law office managers, and other paralegals, my job requires me to become proficient in areas where my attorney supervisor may not be so proficient. He should be the expert on the law, absolutely, but as I have said before, it takes more to run a law office than legal expertise. While I work under his supervision (as both my supervising lawyer and my boss), if he knew it all or could do it all, he would never have hired me.

So while I appreciate the intent of the person who complimented me today, I do not agree with her assessment. The job I do, and the way I do it, requires someone of my intellect, skill, and drive. I am sure a lazier someone with fewer brains and no higher education could muddle through the same job at my current office, but he would be half as effective and would probably find twice as many ways to screw things up. It takes someone smart and efficient to do it right. And even I, a certified, certificated paralegal with a B.A. in English, still make silly mistakes on a daily basis. As the #2 by default in our little office, much of my time is spent organizing and keeping things organized... I don't think they have a class for that in law school.

My main point is that if I love what I do, then I'm not too anything for it. Like Goldilocks with the Mama Bear's bowl of porridge, I find the paralegal profession to be just right.


  1. Very timely post - I get this all the time! "Why don't you go to law school?" Well, not because I don't know where it is...;) It's because I don't want to be a lawyer when I grow up - even though I love working in the legal profession. And you're right, the public shouldn't make assumptions about intellect. I have TWO very separate degrees, a B.A. in English Literature (which makes you my soul sister, Mel!) and a two-year degree in Paralegal Technology, which included a great deal of hands on legal training not taught in any law school today.

  2. Like Lynne, I also have two very distinct degrees: A B.A. in Communication Studies and a B.S. in Paralegal Studies. A perfect fit job for me would be a combination of those two, which in no way needs a J.D.

  3. Sounds to me like that person never worked as a paralegal.