Interview with ‘Grumpy Humbug,’ Paralegal in the Mid-Atlantic Region
We recently had the great fortune to interview the author of the blog A Paralegal’s Life, who prefers to use the pseudonym ‘Grumpy Humbug’ for purposes of anonymity. Grumpy earned a B.A. from a well-known mid-Atlantic University, and has been a paralegal for more than 15 years. He works in the Mid-Atlantic region.
Can you tell us why you decided to become a paralegal?
I became a paralegal entirely by accident. Post-college, I was working in random, aimless jobs, and had just ended a short contract when I answered an ad in the paper, which turned into working for the clerk’s office of a federal court at the entry level. Apparently, having a B.A. degree made me stand out somehow. After a couple of years, I was offered a job with a private firm that offered much more money, and became a paralegal. There was quite a learning curve despite my years with the Courts.
What do you enjoy most about working as a paralegal?
What do I enjoy most? That’s a complicated question. My gut tells me “the money” while my head says it is the challenge of trying to keep up with and support lawyers, who are high-intensity, demanding and challenging people to work for in the best of circumstances. There is rarely a week that doesn’t involve a new crisis I haven’t encountered. I can honestly say that I have learned something new virtually every day over the past 15-plus years.
What did you learn in school that helped you the most in your career?
My college experiences taught me how to work under pressure, the ability to meet seemingly impossible demands from mostly unreasonable people. That meant learning to review, analyze and summarize a huge amount of disparate information from many sources in a few short paragraphs that were easy to read and understand. The sheer amount of information lawyers have to process these days can be massive, and if they have a paralegal who can help with that, they will be truly appreciative. It’s the single most important skill a paralegal can develop. Summarizing effectively allows the lawyers to focus on the most important documents and issues, which is crucial to letting them do their jobs more efficiently.
Can you give us an example of an interesting case or project that you have worked on and your role in helping to achieve a positive outcome?
There are a number of trials I have worked on that involved large numbers of documents. The first such trial was particularly onerous, and quite stressful for someone as relatively inexperienced as I was at the time. I worked 18-hour days for the better part of two months getting everything organized, becoming familiar with every document and trying to anticipate what would be needed when. Ultimately, that trial went on much longer than anyone expected and we used most of the documents in one way or another. It was fortunate that I prepared so thoroughly, because the attorneys did not, and ended up relying on me to a large extent. Since then, I haven’t had any trials nearly as involved, but I still prepare the same way. You never know what case will end up being “the big nasty one” so to speak, and I learned that it is best to treat every case that way from the very beginning. Always prepare for the worst, and you will never be caught with your pants down.
What advice would you give to paralegals who are just starting their careers or are set to graduate with a paralegal degree?
The only advice I can give with a good conscience is to take whatever opportunity best presents itself at the time. You never know where it may lead. Also, make every effort to learn new skills, no matter how insignificant they may seem. Helping out with the firm’s bookkeeping, or organizing the file room, may seem below you as a skilled professional, but it could make all the difference if a management position becomes available. Finally, always remember that paralegals are part of a team. We are there to help out with whatever the firm needs at that particular time. Do not for one second think that any task is “beneath you” for any reason.
We thank Grumpy Humbug for taking the time to share the insight he has gleaned working as a paralegal for the past 15 years. For a humorous look at the profession or to connect with Grumpy Humbug, visit his blog, A Paralegal’s Life.