This post over on the Lawyerist prompted me to think about Gatekeeping. It has been some time since I have blogged with tips from my (former) life as a paralegal and I saw this as an opportunity to pay homage to the profession that has carried me so much farther than I had ever anticipated.
Gatekeeping. We hate to be “gatekeeped” (made-up definition: calling to reach the exec/lawyer/head honcho but instead speaking with an assistant/subordinate/message taker. Our attorneys love us (paralegals/legal assistants/receptionists) to gatekeep for them because it allows them to stay productive without getting sidetracked (or bombarded) with non-urgent phone calls/solicitations/annoyances. The trouble is, gatekeeping is almost an art form that has to be handled with utmost tact and delicacy. In other words, don’t piss off the wrong (or right) people and don’t make it obvious that the gatekeepee is being screened for importance.
I was lucky to have one boss who insisted on taking his own calls because he found it was better to address the call immediately as opposed to having to remember (and put off) returning the call. My other boss, on the other hand, never took his own calls and even had his firm voicemail transfer calls into my voicemail. He would also forward messages from his firm-issued cell phone voicemail to my voicemail. (Grrrrrr.) While this may have provided him the opportunity to keep working uninterrupted, this kept me from completing my tasks. Aaaaaand, I am completely ADD. So, being interrupted every 15 mins to take a phone message, which often required the advice/response of an attorney kept me from staying on-task and was frustrating for the client.
Regardless, read the Lawyerist article, I found it very insightful and know many of my readers will wholeheartedly identify with the issue of gatekeeping.
Dear Law Student:
You have entered an academic program that is robust and full of challenges. You are also attending a law school that is known for it’s political thinking – that which is opposite of your own. You may not fit the typical or ordinary student “type” which attends this school. However, all of these traits make you supra-ordinary and will aid you to stand out from (and above) the pack. All of these factors will allow you to “think outside the box,” even when the box you are thinking from is that of your own. You will be exposed to differing opinions, a new environment, and the “next level” of your journey.
Do not change your beliefs because you now think they are wrong, change them only if you have been enlightened. If you now find that the alternative makes more sense, adopt it. If your own beliefs are affirmed, maintain them.
Do not lose sight of your purpose. There is a reason you were brought to this point in your journey. Fulfill it everyday and make each day count.
Never lose sight of where you came from. It is your past that shapes your present and your future. Losing your past will certainly lead you astray. Though your past will differ greatly from many of your classmates, this is what makes you uniquely qualified to be here. Other students should be so lucky to understand the value of hard work and to earn an education not only based on hard work but to work hard for it.
Maintain perspective. Your world will come crashing down . . . many times. The natural diva inside of you will want to make a fuss, but you will have control. Freaking out will only blur your vision of the solution. Don’t think for a second you are the only one in panic-mode; your classmates may just be better at concealing it. That said, don’t let your classmates see you panicking – make like a duck – calm above the surface but paddling like hell underneath.
If your classmates act or think for a second they are more deserving or better prepared remember this . . . how many of them are attending for free?
You have overcome many challenges and worked very hard to be where you are today – this is the time to give 100% – you have come too far to give anything less.
Best of luck,
In preparation of the next chapter of my life, I have parted ways with the firm and attorneys who have served as my mentors and without even knowing my goals, encouraged me to follow my dreams. If you are just stopping by, this may not make sense to you (what does she mean “without even knowing my goals . . .”?)
I was a Dreamer. I didn’t have the self-assurance to know with certainty that it would be possible for me to begin and complete an undergraduate program (3/4 of which was achieved thanks to night school and online classes), nor the confidence in myself to study for and take the LSAT. To get up the nerve to ask for a Letter of Recommendation from my boss (and professors I admired, who in turn, seemed to admire me too). I wasn’t entirely sure I would be accepted to law school, and even then, be able to afford it and sacrifice my income. I wasn’t sure I could make the giant leap of faith and leave my security blanket (the quid pro quo of a full-time, stable job) to enter law school. Therefore, I kept my aspirations of becoming an attorney a secret. The first person at the firm I told about my goals was the boss who wrote my LOR (and even then I swore him to secrecy). But yet, the attorneys encouraged me by congratulating me on each step of my academic undergraduate career, exposing me to new things, and by encouraging me to take on greater responsibility via leadership roles and projects (thereby building self-confidence and learning more about the legal profession). Once I had been admitted to several schools, the secret came out. Feelings were mixed. My five years with them were life-changing, fulfilling, and a major part of my journey. This made my parting particularly bittersweet.
I plan to stay in-touch but I know it won’t be the same. There is also a finality in leaving a job as a paralegal to go to law school. I will never again be the support staff, but this doesn’t mean I can’t continue to be the student. I have learned so many things from the wonderful attorneys I worked with and I hope that mentor/mentee relationship will continue through law school. One female partner at the firm (who graduated from Dreamer School of Law) warmly welcomed any questions I may have about the law school, legal profession, etc. It was in conversing with her that I realized a new relationship is also emerging, that of colleague. As she shared stories about her days at the law school, “Professor Dread is very intimidating but you will learn the most from him . . .” I felt a closeness that I hadn’t felt before.
By the end of my last day I packed two banker’s boxes containing the contents of my cubicle, ate far too much cake, and said my goodbyes.
I’ve blogged about non-traditional ranking systems before and one of the best entities to do so is the National Jurist. They rank best law libraries, best law schools for public interest programs, and now they’ve ranked the best law schools for standard of living. Smart move. Of course, a rankings list of this type (taking into account tuition, debt, salary, and law graduates’ living costs (in the geographic areas the law schools tend to place in) can be difficult at best, faulty at worst. The National Jurist weeded-out some of the problems that occur inherently when taking law school data and analyzing it to rank schools. For example, it has been well-documented that law schools fudge numbers and report data that comprise less than 50% of the graduating class. The National Jurist tackles this problem by excluding several schools that do not have enough data available and/or not enough of the graduating class reported their salaries. Bottom line, take it for what it is and be a smart consumer. Check it out here: Best law schools for standard of living | the National Jurist.
Standard of living post law school graduation had weighed heavy on my mind when deciding whether law school was the right path for me. For many non-traditional students who are already established professionals, a benefit v. cost analysis is a wise idea. Regardless if corporate law or poverty law is your goal, it just doesn’t make sense to undertake a huge debt burden if you will end up worse-off than you were pre-law school. I had already been working as a paralegal for several years and earning a decent salary. At the time, I did not know much about law school scholarships and couldn’t have predicted that I would be headed to law school on a full-tuition fellowship. Additionally, my enthusiasm for public interest law caused me to caution against undertaking law school debt - which could potentially keep me from doing what I’m hoping to fulfill in the first place. I couldn’t imagine leaving a great job as a paralegal to undertake $100,000 in loans only to turn around and earn the same salary (or less). Moreover, there are many opportunities for paralegals to get involved in public interest and volunteer service, but I felt I wanted more. If I had thought for a second going to law school would prohibit me from doing what I wanted to do with my life, I would have stopped dead in my tracks. Luckily, things worked out in my favor, and I strongly believe this is my directive.