Today, my paralegal of eleven years is leaving the firm and moving to Maine. Aside from the obvious difficulty of losing a team member who is experienced and knowledgeable when it comes to our cases, it is very sad to say goodbye to a friend, someone with whom we have spent long hours working to complete deadlines, someone with whom we have shared the emotional ups and downs that come with the practice of personal injury litigation, and someone who cares as much as we do about our clients and the importance of the work we do for them.
My paralegal is leaving to complete her Masters in Social Work, which she commenced two years ago. This is a career path to which I believe she is very well suited based on her ability to listen, understand and process people’s fears, anxieties and complex life issues. At the time she first disclosed her choice to pursue an MSW, we discussed the fact that several of the paralegals who have worked at our firm over the years have gone on to work in the mental health field – three have become MSWs, one is pursuing a PhD. in Psychology and one is attending medical school with the intention of pursuing a career in Psychiatry. Weird coincidence? Maybe not.
All attorneys rely heavily on the team of legal professionals who support them – from the receptionist who answers the call, to the legal assistant who schedules depositions and medical examinations, to the paralegal who reviews medical records and helps prepare discovery responses. All of these people play an important role in the attorney-client relationship. While the attorney might be at court arguing a motion, or at a deposition, the legal professional is frequently the one who interacts with the client, listens to their story, hears the profound impact their case has had on their lives or on the lives of their families. Frequently, the legal professional is a shoulder to cry on, and someone who understands the complexities of what a client is experiencing in dealing with a lawsuit. The legal professional is the one who explains and reassures and counsels and listens. So it is no wonder that the skills and knowledge that come from years of working as a legal professional would translate well into a career in the mental health field.
No doubt, we will find a competent, caring and professional replacement for my paralegal. And no doubt, she will serve a great purpose in a world where mental health issues plague many. Her choice has acted as an important reminder of the purpose of what we do for our clients – in helping obtain recovery, we right in some small way the damage done to their lives – damages that include not only physical pain and suffering and financial losses, but also emotional distress that sometimes goes unnoticed. I will miss my paralegal dearly and I thank her for reminding me of the great importance of listening to and hearing my clients’ stories.