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Just a Paralegal

An attorney once said to me “no offense, but you’re just a paralegal.” Unfortunately, that attorney clearly did not consider what we, as paralegals, do on a daily basis. So, let me tell you a little about what it’s like, from my point of view, to be “just a paralegal.”

A woman walks into our office. Her children have been taken to some unknown location by someone they know; their father. She hasn’t seen her children for weeks and now her husband has left the state with them. The police can’t help her because it’s her husband that has the children hidden from her, and “it’s a civil matter.” Her husband only wants to hurt her because of his own anger and resentment because the wife filed for a dissolution of marriage. So, I start drafting an Emergency Motion and Child Pick-Up Order and prepping my attorney for an emergency hearing, all while trying to keep a scared mother calm – and all while chaos is beginning to unfold in ten other cases. I wasn’t “just a paralegal” to that mom.

A child tries to take his own life because his mother is heavily involving him in their divorce, trying to make him choose sides, and that child can no longer take the pain that comes with his family being torn apart. His father sits by his son’s hospital bed and prays that he will live to see another day, that he won’t be burying his child at only 15 years old. The father is calling me regularly to check in and provide continual updates on his son’s prognosis. He thanks me for answering the phone and talking to him each and every time he calls me, for never sending him to voicemail or rushing him off the phone. He thanks me for “being human” and listening to him while he cries in fear of losing his only son. I wasn’t “just a paralegal” to that dad.

Sitting in the conference room with the couple whose marriage is over, preparing to notarize settlement agreements after an all-day mediation. Agreements that will divide their property, and their children, and their lives, and will ultimately end their marriage. I watch as they cry together out of regret for things left unsaid, feeling guilty for opportunities not taken. They cry for their children who will be forever changed by this decision they have had to make. But they choose to be sad with each other instead of being mad at each other. Being present to provide a gentle touch, words of encouragement, and a listening ear as they face the grief of losing their love for each other and trying to figure out how to keep things “normal” for their children. I wasn’t “just a paralegal” to that family.

Watching an abused mom go from fear and complete uncertainty, to witnessing her blossom into an independent, educated, FEARLESS woman, and a more confident parent, after months of a heavily litigated case finally comes to an end. She now knows that she and her children will be safe again. She will always remember the support I offered to her when she needed it the most. I will forever be a part of her life, even if I never see or speak to her again. I will never be “just a paralegal” to her.

Motions, notices, orders, hearings, trials, mediations, hand holding, talking for hours, listening for hours more, and EDUCATION, EDUCATION, EDUCATION.

I have been in the Florida family law world for over 20 years now in both Court Appointed Guardianship and as a Florida Registered Family Law Trial and Litigation Paralegal. I am passionate about what I do and feel fortunate to do what I love every day. I am grateful that I have the compassion to be there for these complete strangers who count on me to hear them, guide them, and help them figure out what their life will look like moving forward.

So, to my fellow paralegals… I know what it takes to do this job and know that some days will be better than others. Some days you will want to quit or wonder why you’re doing this job at all. Some days you may question your abilities, and some days, maybe even your sanity! This profession is not easy. We assess the situation and have the ability to pick up on the things that clients don’t even know are important, all while providing these clients with the utmost level of care and compassion and providing our attorneys with the support they need.

Please know that what you do is important. You are valued, even when the client, or maybe even your attorney, doesn’t tell you just how valuable you are. What you do is not measured by a single case or a single client. You will have amazing days and not so great ones. This profession is an ongoing journey. We teach, we learn, and in the process, we get the chance to make a difference in the lives of those who trust us enough to help them navigate some of the hardest events they will ever go through in life. I, for one, am so grateful to be a part of each of their lives. So, when the going gets tough, always remember that you are more than just a paralegal.

April Phillips, FRP, is a family law trial and litigation paralegal and the immediate past president of the OCBA Paralegal Section. She has been a member of the OCBA since 2013. 

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