“Abend ist’s, die Sonne ist verschwunden,” I sang softly to myself as I trailed my hand along the textured wall covering.
“Why do you have to touch everything?” a voice behind me demanded.
Shaking my head, I stopped and recognized the assistant supervisor. “I like the texture,” I told him.
“You’re such a little girl!” he insisted.
“I’m seventeen.” My voice was a soft breathiness.
“How were you ever hired?” he harrumphed.
My forehead crinkled, “Because I love math and understand financial statements.” Doesn’t he remember that? I inquired of my Friend. Everyday he gives me a pile of financials to summarize and add to the spreadsheet.
The case manager passed us and caught my attention, “I could use your help.”
“Sure,” I replied.
“Don’t worry about him,” she told me as we walked to her office. “You’re my little stalwart. I know when I give you a project it will be done quickly and competently.”
My face broke into a big smile. Mentally, I hugged myself.
Five years later, I had completed the last two years of my undergraduate degree and was a case manager. Surrounded by documents, I meted out assignments, provided quality control, located lost documents, and kept track of the various aspects of my cases. When on major litigation, which was most of the time, I worked 100 to 120 hours each week. I weeded out applicants interviewing for a spot on my team by telling each one, “There are 168 hour in each week. If you plan your time well, you can work 100 hours and still have four hours for recreation.” I didn’t mention that they must limit sleep to four hours per night. Many applicants walked away at that point. The few who remained were offered a three-month probationary position assuming they could read, write, and think. Many dropped out or were fired during probation. A partner once joked that I fired more paralegals in one month than the firm did in a year. He was right.
I wanted co-workers who were like me. I wanted them to take their jobs seriously, to notice patterns, to catch mistakes, to improve on my work, on the work of the attorneys. Senior members of my team ought to be able to manage a privilege review, prepare trail exhibits, and not just remember smoking guns and key documents but find new ones and present to the partners who could vaguely recall a letter, fax, or email. Repeatedly, I was disappointed. Repeatedly, I encountered team members whose work was inept. By the mid-90s, I was so exhausted I took a break to work in not-for-profit and then in fashion.
By summer 2001, the economy took a downturn and Liz Claiborne let me and my boss go. During that summer, I supplemented fashion consulting with short contract jobs in law. After September 11, there was little available in fashion but law was burgeoning. I took a job as a case manager specifically to correct errors on litigation that was headed to trial. I loved to solve knotty puzzles others had created.
Post 9/11, teams were considerably smaller. often I was expected to be both case manager and paralegal. Tasks that had previously been assigned to a junior paralegal fell to me. I was deeply offended. Such tasks weren’t my job. My job was to resolve kinks, to untie knots. My job was to make an impossible case ready for trial. The firm ought to provide someone else for low-level tasks. They did assign me a part-time clerk but it wasn’t enough. I was indignant and being indignant began to take a toll.
At about that time, I began having serious problems with my health. I needed to take sick days that I’d not yet accrued. The department supervisor graciously approved them. As I became sicker and sicker, those I worked with went out of their way to make my job easier. It frequently struck me that I had not earned such kindness. I knew I was very, very fortunate indeed.
One afternoon, a partner called and asked me to digest (summarize) a transcript. Digesting had been replaced by software but some older partners prefer a summary; they fear the technology. My shoulders grew tight and painful during the conversation. As I hung up the receiver, I demanded of God, “Why doesn’t he have a junior paralegal do that? He knows it’s not my job.”
“They are paying you.” Each word sounded in my head and heart; I knew the Voice only to well. I heard the words again and again, “They are paying you.”
Suddenly I laughed. “You’re right,” I told my Friend. “They are paying me. And as long as they pay me, it’s my job to do what they ask of me.” I thought for a second as I pulled the transcript up, “As long as they don’t ask me to do something that’s wrong, it’s my job to do whatever I can to help no matter my job title.” As I began preparing the summary, the voice of my first case manager arose in my memory, “You’re my little stalwart. I know when I give you a project it will be done quickly and competently.”
* Image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/nsw_risg/2549640610/