Being a new paralegal is extremely frustrating. Being a paralegal in general has been refered to as "perpetual frustration" by lawyers who used to be paralegals. Right now, I'm working at a very small office. My attorney has a lot of patience for me, thank goodness. Right now, I'm writing an article for the SVC Paralegal newsletter that I'm in charge of. Writing this article has made me realize that while the trek may be difficult right now, it will eventually be extremely rewarding. Here's the article, in it's first draft--you'll have to get the newsletter to see the final product:
At this years Second Annual paralegal luncheon, Skagit Valley Paralegal Program students were privileged to hear from Stacy Unquist and her journey through the program and into her career as a paralegal.
Stacy emphasized that while the journey was never easy, it was always rewarding.
In small towns with small firms, it is not uncommon to have one paralegal for every two lawyers—some lawyers practice without a paralegal. Some lawyers only have one secretary to manage the phones, schedules, and bills. The small volume of clients that the firm deals with allows the attorney to be incredibly self-sufficient. Not only do they know the ins and outs of the law, but they also can have addresses, phone numbers, and even client birthdates memorized. A new paralegal working at such an office can expect to have to ‘prove’ not only their personal skills, but the value of having a paralegal as well.
The task is daunting. In larger offices, it may not be so bad—the attorney may have a wide array of support staff and has realized the benefits of having a paralegal. A new paralegal in a large office only has to prove his or her skills, and not skills of paralegals around the world. Within a large office, paralegals compete among each other for promotions, overtime, or autonomy in general. In a smaller office, the lonesome paralegal competes against his or her boss—the attorney—for that chance to shine.
Like any career, in order to be proficient in what you do, starting from the bottom and working up to the top has its value. In larger firms, like Perkins-Coie in Seattle, a brand new paralegal would likely start off in the records department taking care of file organization. In a smaller office, filing, answering the phones, and drafting plain and generic pleadings such as Notices of Appearance would be some of the main functions of a new paralegal—well before interviews, intakes, or declarations become part of the daily routine.
As simple as the ‘rookie’ tasks may seem, everyone is bound to make mistakes. The learning curve is long and difficult. However, the consensus from experienced paralegals seems to be that the more days go by, the easier learning becomes. After the initial learning curve has passed, law office efficiency and actual paralegal expertise increases exponentially. Getting past the learning curve is different and difficult for everyone, regardless of how many classes one has taken as a paralegal. However, the rate at which one excels as a paralegal after the learning curve is directly related to the knowledge and training one has received as a paralegal. In the Skagit Valley Paralegal Program, students skip the lessons that can only be learned at work. This is why everyone is required to do an internship—these lessons can only be learned on the job. However, after the learning curve is passed, students can more effectively apply what they’ve learned in class—interviewing, investigating, legal research, drafting briefs, etc. Taking ABA approved classes will help paralegals become professionals at a much higher rate.
Stacy was a waitress, and had been out of school for nine years before she decided to go back to Skagit Valley College and get her Paralegal degree. Now, she works for a successful local law firm and can be seen presenting orders ex parte in open court.