Memoirs of a Paralegel – How I Survived my First (Almost) Year in a Law Firm

Heels, coffee, pencil skits, more coffee.

I use to think I handled stress well, then I worked in a law office.  Where I am constantly fixing others problems, and constantly being needed.

A blonde paralegal running around in my red heels and pencil skirts from copier to computer to, wait I think I need more coffee, to “Lori can you fix this?”  Yes.  “Lori can you make sure this gets done today?”  Yes. “Lori the printer is broken.” I’m on it.  “Lori do you know how to fix my computer?”  Yes, move over.  “Lori this client is upset can you talk to them?”  Yes, just let me get more coffee.  “Lori here is a 1,000 pages of medical records for you to read through.”  Umm yes okay I am going to need a lot more coffee.

I have been working in a law office for just over 9 months now.  Some times I forget just how under qualified I am for my job as a Paralegal until people ask me, “Oh so do did you go to school for that.”  No I did not.  Apparently though you can.

About a month ago. I was in the elevator with a guy who works in a different law office in the same building.  He was nice enough, and I had seen him around often.  He introduced himself and started talking to me, “You know I interviewed for you job too.”  Well this is awkward.  “So where did you work before this?”

Actually awkward did not even begin to describe what I was feeling. Telling him that I worked in a coffee shop didn’t seem like a good answer.  Telling the guy who had wanted my job that I was in no way qualified for it also didn’t seem like a good response.  Why is this elevator moving so slowly?  Someone please help, get me out.

I finally just responded by telling him that I recently graduated college.  Thankfully that is when the elevator door finally opened on my floor.  I fled.

I showed up on my first day more nervous than I have been in a long time.  I tugged at my suit jacket feeling like a little girl playing dress up, wearing clothes I stole from my mother’s closet that very obviously didn’t fit me.

I sat in my office, my own very office.  The phone rang, I panicked.  Why on earth does it have so many buttons?  What good is graduating at the top of your class if you can’t even figure out a freaking phone? 

My boss would ask me every day, “Miss Rensink how did day 1 go?”  “Miss Rensink how did day 2 go?”   Every day I would answer with a thin smile, “A little bit better than yesterday.”  He would see my deer-in-the-headlight look and just nod and smile, “Every day will get easier.”

And you know what, it did.  Oh it would also get really hard.  There were many moments were I simply didn’t think I could do it as I forced back the frustrated tears.  There were moments when crawling under my desk to hide sounded like a good idea, whether it was from exhaustion, because my brain felt fried, or because I simply did not want to have to talk to any more people.  I haven’t yet, but some days I look down there and just think it looks nice.  Safe.

But I didn’t.  I just goggled all of the legal jargon so I would know what my boss meant when he told me to draft a Summons and Complaint.   Some days I would just tell my very patient boss that I had no idea what he was talking about.  And I learned.  I was learning so much that I never thought I could keep up, but I did.

Then one day the pencil skirts and heels felt like they belonged to me.  I stopped feeling like I was playing dress up.  One day I realized that I actually might know what I was doing.  More than that, I might actually be good at it.

One day I stopped feeling like I was drowning.  Oh I would still have my moments of feeling overwhelmed when I was surrounded by towers of papers, but I stopped believing that I couldn’t do this.

Maybe it is just part of my nature.  I have never backed down from a challenge in my life, and I don’t intend to start anytime soon.  The only way to find out what I am capable of is to run hard and run fast to the edge of the cliff.

I haven’t fallen off yet.  Don’t get me wrong, there have definitely been times when I would find myself dangling off the edge for a minute.  But I would quick pull myself back up.

It makes me think about the things we believe ourselves to capable of.  The mind games we play with ourselves to believe that we are not enough to do a certain thing or to be a certain type of person.  Yes, maybe right now you aren’t enough, but that doesn’t mean that you could never be enough.  If you are unqualified, then jump in the water and become qualified.  You may find yourself in 9 months wondering why you ever doubted your abilities in the first place. 

paralegal

Photo Credit: Lori Rensink

**** I was recently talking to a good friend who I asked to give me feedback on my blog.  He told me, “Its good but I am left feeling like I want to know more about you.”  Huh I guess I didn’t realize people would care about that stuff.  So I decided to write a series of memoirs about my life experiences, because I some how find myself doing things like catching chickens in Africa or running to stop a fight among inmates.  Speaking of which . . . 

Up next is Memoirs of a Prison Intern where I flash back to my days working in a penitentiary. 

Thank you for reading,  and please feel free to comment below.  If there are any stories you have that you would like to share, or any stories from my life you would like to read about please let me know.

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22 thoughts on “Memoirs of a Paralegel – How I Survived my First (Almost) Year in a Law Firm

  1. I was a police officer for the NYPD for the better part of a decade so I’m very much looking forward to your next memoir. Keep it up, very enjoyable.

  2. I’ve been teaching as an adjunct–my own classes, mind you, I’ve never been an assistant–for 8 years, and I still feel like I’m playing dress up now and again. I think people asked if you went to school to be a paralegal so many times because it was a degree that was really pushed in the U.S. a few years back. It’s an associates degree, which is nice!

    • Yes legally blonde! I love that movie. After working as a paralegal, I would be interested to know what sort of classes they take. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Pingback: My Article Read (8-4-2015) (8-5-2015) | My Daily Musing

  4. Oh man, did I need to read this today! Thanks so much for sharing your experience. I’m 53, single for the first time since I became a mother/homemaker at age 19…back when that was an option…and wondering if I can learn to swim in the fast moving flow of technology and youth in the job market. My career path was supposed to be volunteering and being a helpful grandmother at this stage. I’m not complaining, rather adjusting. I’m happier and more “myself” than ever before. Just trying to discover how that fits into the world at large and pays the rent into my golden years. On this particular day I really needed to hear what you had to say! Rock on dear lady!!

    • I an glad that you enjoyed. It is never easy to try something new and to learn new things. And often we don’t think we are capable of it, but I have learned that is rarely the case. It may take time and it may be frustrating at moments, but it will never be something you can’t handle. Wishing you the best!

  5. I’m glad you didn’t give up. I’ve found it often takes about 6 months to truly start to feel comfortable in a job.

    I worked in a law office too when I was in my senior year of high school. I went from answering the phone and filing to proofreading and editing all documents that left the office and running all the books. It was a good experience for me and I look back on it fondly.

    I wish you continued success!

    • That is very true, it was about the 6 month mark when I started to feel comfortable. Working in a law office can get really crazy, but that is also what makes it fun. I am glad that it was a good experience for you!

      • It is definitely a fast paced environment. And yes, I dealt with a lot of unhappy clients as well. I discovered that most people need a lawyer in a time of their lives that is very difficult – an arrest, a divorce, etc. so they tend to be emotional. One of the experiences I took away from the job was to work through difficult people and situations (including coworkers).

        I really like your blog. I found you through John Coyote. I will look forward to more of your stories. They are interesting.

      • Yes that is very true. It is hard because there are a lot of people who call an office and need to speak to an attorney “right away”. We do give free consults but often we can’t get them in until later on that week. And it can be hard because the stress can make them rude or emotional when they normally wouldn’t be. Thank you that is so nice of you to say, glad that you are enjoying them!

  6. Hard-work and determination will get through with the dream that you want to achieve. Thanks for sharing this inspiring story!

  7. Love this Lori; I worked in an English law for for 35 years before I realised it was time to do something different – write to keep people awake not send them to sleep – and when you talked about the phone it took me right back to my first days doing what were called ‘articles’ back then, but now are a training contract. It was singularly the most terrifying piece of equipment going especially if it rung: how could you tell what the other person was going to say/ask/shout? I needed a traffic light warning me! I ended up like your boss, but that sense of terror lurking round the corner, the sanctuary of a small dark space (in my case a wardrobe) was always there…

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