From Paralegal to Future Med Student – An Escapee’s Message

IT IS OKAY TO QUIT. A guest post with an inspiring message:

At the age of seven, I announced I wanted to be a doctor. My mom bought me a toy stethoscope that could actually amplify heartbeats, a little white doctor coat, and a blue plastic “doctor bag” with pretend immunizations and Band-Aids. In high school I was an Advanced Placement and honors student. I graduated in the top five-percent of my class, went to a highly ranked four-year university, and majored in biology with a 3.8 GPA.

During the summer between my junior and senior year, I took a paid internship at a small litigation law firm easily accessible by public transportation from my modest student apartment. My roommate urged me to apply with her, and she and I became two of the three interns they hired that summer.

The office was so swanky! A high rise! In a beautiful city! Where the attorneys were in suits with slicked back hair! My roommate and I went shopping for the good pantyhose—the kind that wouldn’t run after one wear—wool skirts, and blouses. We loved the office environment. All the free coffee we wanted! So important and official! Clicking of keyboards everywhere, errands to run all around the city, and the attorneys appeared so important and successful. By the end of the summer, they had me convinced I wanted to go into law, and I was the only intern who jumped at the opportunity to continue our menial scanning, filing, and reception work during the school year.

When I graduated from college, my GPA just a little worse for wear due to commuting and working at the firm, the partners offered me a full-time position as a legal assistant. While I’d been envisioning a higher education and more degrees, I felt that, as a recent college grad, I couldn’t pass up on this generous, immediate job offer.

I accepted and was immediately moved from the front lobby to a back cubicle. The menial labor took its toll after all of one week of work. The attorneys, sitting comfortably in light-filled offices that circled the perimeter of our floor, had natural light, waterfront views, personal thermostats, and large desks. I was always too hot, under a fluorescent light, bombarded with the smell of my cell mate–excuse me, coworkers’ food and the sounds of their telephone conversations, and couldn’t complete my assigned duties because my desk wasn’t large enough. This all would have been fine and good if there was a reward for this work, if there was room for growth and self-learning, if I was contributing to society and could leave for my sweaty, cramped commute with a sense of self-worth, if only I could be promoted or grow within the company. I pulled myself together. I reminded myself to be thankful I had a job at all. One partner even stepped in and offered to pay for my night classes to become a licensed paralegal. Clearly I was being ungrateful, and law school could wait while I grappled with this opportunity to make a little more money and be a little more respected in the office.

I assisted one of the partners and two of the associate attorneys. Interns now came to ask me for help. Accounting approved my request for a second monitor. I felt I was moving up in the world, even if it was in minute increments.

However, I loathed my job. I loathed entering the office. I loathed knowing that I could complete eighty-percent of my tasks from home, even on my two-hour public transportation commute, but, since I wasn’t an attorney, was firmly told this wasn’t a possibility. The partner who I assisted guilt-tripped me every time I wanted to take my earned vacation time. I was berated for calling in sick on a day he was scheduled to meet with a client (who would book their lunch now??). I grew to loathe the office, the city it was located in, and law itself.

After years of working there, I was still not respected, still handed hours and hours of work and expected to complete it in ten minutes, still in my stifling too-small cubicle, and still mind-numbed by the menial tasks. I noticed that male new hires were never asked to make coffee, empty the dishwasher, run to the store for supplies, or even answer the phone if the receptionist was away from her (because it has always been a her) desk, while female senior paralegals were constantly asked to complete these tasks.

I quit three months ago ago. The last two weeks on the job were the most grueling and dragging, especially when the partner who I assist interrupted my ten-hour work day to ask me to walk the five blocks to the office supply store and carry back two new monitors. While I’m thankful for my years of steady employment, I feel that I’ve put in more than my due of respect and long hours. I took an accelerated math course over the summer and will be completing a post bacc for the next year that will help me prepare for the MCAT and apply to medical schools. I hope to become a family medicine physician, actively working to improve my community, directly helping people, and finally thinking critically and using the intelligence and critical thinking skills I desperately wanted to use more.

Most of the paralegals I speak with say that they “fell into it” several years (or decades) ago and simply never left. There is very little leeway to progress in the profession. Years go by without notice, and everyone seems to encourage you to be thankful for your full time job. Everyone works in an office. No one gets fresh air. What did you expect adulthood to be, anyway?

I’m here to say that it is okay to quit. It is okay to pursue a more fulfilling career path, even when it the outlook appears risky and uncertain. The retirement you’ve accumulated will still be there. Furthermore, we are not retired at fifty, fifty-five anymore. You have decades more of working ahead of you, and it is important—for your mental health, your sense of self-worth, and society as a whole—for you to have a profession you feel passion toward.

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Categories: Paralegal | 5 Comments

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5 thoughts on “From Paralegal to Future Med Student – An Escapee’s Message

  1. Onthemend

    I think you wrote this for me. THANK YOU!

  2. Raven

    Me too! Gosh you are smart to break free. I’ve changed jobs, been in therapy, taken meds all the while thinking it was me. Nope, the job truly sucks.

  3. Me

    You must be young to be able to go to med school. Maybe you can treat me after you graduate and I’m still stuck in legal land.

  4. Anne

    Well said. I hope your post will give others – who are unhappy in their job – the courage to make a much needed career change.

  5. Claire

    Omg! I just want to say thank you so much for sharing your story and having this blog! I have been a paralegal for over 6 years now, have a bachelor’s degree and an accredited paralegal certificate but HATE my job! I am basically paid the same as if I only had a high school diploma and almost all of my bosses over the years have treated me with nothing but disrespect and as though I am totally worthless. I am now in the process of trying to go back to graduate school to pursue my dream of becoming a school counselor. It is just really nice to know that I am not the only one out there who feels this way about their paralegal job.

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