Unhappy Paralegal – A Guest Post

A word from an anonymous paralegal, who reached out to me via email a few weeks ago.

Hi: I am so grateful to have a forum in which to express my all-consuming hatred for my job and my resulting depression. I moved from the west coast where I worked as an executive assistant in the high tech and venture capital fields, sometimes making $80,000 a year, to a town in the Midwest with a population of 5,000, to earn about $32,000 a year. For almost 15 years now. That’s right. I had one raise. Ten years ago. I have no benefits. No retirement, nothing.

I sit in an area exterior to the attorney that I am doing time for, where the walls are cinder blocks. Painted grey. When the peeling paint finally meant some dollars had to be peeled from his wallet to have the office repainted, my at-first-granted request to have this area painted a warm color (any warm color please!) was overruled by his wife who decided “grey is more in keeping with the theme of the offices.”

Just looks like a cell with desks.

His office is plush and the new furniture cost about $10,000.00. There is another lovely office that has sat vacant for four years that I am not worthy of occupying. It has often been pointed out to me “you really ought to find someone to rent that office to. Then I could split the cost of your assistance to them as well. You could handle it and it would cost me less. You know I’m cheap. I’ve told you every day.”

We have an empty conference room that is quite nice, where I am only allowed to enter if I am summoned (last week during a hearing by telephone I was summoned through fingers snapping and then pointing to an open chair while the words “get in here” were mouthed – in front of a client). Today, since our officer cleaner relocated yesterday, I was told that we can’t hire another cleaner and that “Maybe you should clean the office. Should only need a dusting every two weeks.” I stayed mute.

As if I don’t shovel snow, vacuum in between cleanings, unplug the toilet after the unwashed masses use it, dust, clean the conference room, serve coffee; my list of janitorial and maid duties are numerous. We have one bathroom that is shared by the two of us and all clients from all walks of life. It has one toilet. As of today I am never going to use that toilet again. I think I’ll look into a permanent catheter as a solution.

I am allowed no vacation time. I’ve had 6 days off for vacation, in 15 years. I have had 4 sick days. In fifteen years. I am almost crying as I write this. I come to work sick, on the rare occasions that I am. I live very close by and have been afforded the privilege of raising our child and being there every day during the work week. I still eat lunch with my child every day. My husband works really long hours and has a long commute so we decided long ago that one person had to be close if one was going to be far. Ended up to be me. I am a slave.

I used to be treated as though I had a brain and was able to use it. I am now treated like I am the one who is incompetent and lacking an education. He will be xx this year and I was praying he would retire. He now says he has to continue working to pay the college tuition of each one of his grandchildren (even though all of his children are very wealthy). He also says that my child (a straight A student) should “go to a community college. Your child is who they are made for.”

Once, when I had to pick up my child (at four years old) from preschool after a broken arm injury, (although I came in the next day from 3 a.m. to 6 a.m. until my husband went to work and then returned when he came home, to make sure my work was done) this attorney a/k/a Attila the Dutch Hun (he’s very proud of being Dutch and often in the office, proclaims “remember if you’re not DUTCH you’re not MUCH”) needless to say he is proclaiming this to a person who is NOT Dutch – said “why don’t you just tie ____ up with a rope outside your house – that way you won’t have to take any time off.”

He left early that day, by the way, because one of his grandchildren was ill and their mom (his daughter) couldn’t pick them up b/c she had to work. He told me all about how horrible that daughter’s boss was. By the way, she is an emergency room RN and was the only one on duty. I call this move and change in my career, going FROM HIGH TECH TO THE HOLLER.

I am basically given hieroglyphics to turn into trial briefs, conduct all the legal research, interact with clients and an ongoing caseload of at least 80 active cases, act as the accountant, do all the banking, invoice the clients, answer the incoming lines, and track all dates and calendar events. I am always sick with the worry of having forgotten something; some detail; some court date. I go to sleep worrying about whom I have forgotten and/or what I’ve neglected to do and I wake up the same way. I am tired.

The career I would pursue if I could (I am __ now) is the executive assistant career I used to have. I am passionate about entrepreneurs and assisting them. I am passionate about being the right hand to someone’s left and taking care of all of the details which then allows them to then do what they are really good at. I miss being valued and I miss the generosity of spirit that is lacking here. I miss not being degraded every day of my working life.

I miss being recognized as a contributor to the bottom line. I miss working as hard as I do now, for both financial and personal gains that I will never realize again (in all likelihood). Our child was chronically ill for over a decade, and we both have to work to make ends meet. The only way we could properly raise her ourselves, was to sacrifice basically, everything. Which we’ve done. She is now a healthy __ year old (graduating a year early).

So that is the reward, and it’s not one that can be quantified. But it has been at the expense of who I am and what I can contribute to the world outside of our small family. I’ve never written about this before and I am a very private person, so I thank you for the opportunity to give myself a voice.

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Categories: Paralegal | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “Unhappy Paralegal – A Guest Post

  1. This story is so heart-breaking. I’m sorry to had to endure this. I’m curious as to what the employment laws are where you reside. In Canada, every employer must give their full-time employee 2 weeks of vacation not including sick/personal days. I’d love to connect with this writer. My email is thesocialparalegal@gmail.com. I’d also love to collaborate with you – perhaps we can both be guest writers on each others blogs 🙂 Great piece.

  2. carol land

    Spot on. The industry sucks your soul.

  3. Sadly, this happens. Sometimes the boss doesn’t even pay that well. With your child graduating, I suggest you leave your job and never look back. It isn’t that hard to make $32,000/year. Leave the boss and he will probably go out of business. For 15 years he has let you run his shop, I doubt he will be able to do it himself. Plus, one of these days he is going to die or retire and leave you without a job anyway. Hopefully, you will be surprised by the jobs available to you. Make up your mind to get your head above that putrid pool and the first breath of air will awaken you to what is possible.

  4. you have put up with this miserable excuse of a human being for way too long. try to look for other opportunities. i know small towns are difficult job wise and I understand about not wanting a long commute. but at least consider some other job possibilities, it will at least give you hope. sometimes its scary to leave a field youve been in because you think what if i cant make enough money in X and need to go back to Y, but it will look bad on my resume, but thats simply not true. Youll always be able to return to being s legal asdsistant, lawyers need them badly because theres so much turn over snd theyre always willing to have fresh blood in the office.

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