Here’s a question: what kind of person would willingly choose to work in a breakneck-paced, stress-filled profession alongside egomaniacal scatterbrains, who are as likely to obtain “good organizational skills” as they are to be bitten by a radioactive spider and swing through Indy in their undies? The answer, my friends, is a paralegal. If not unsung, then at least under-applauded, paralegals are to the legal profession as seaweed sheets are to sushi rolls: without them, the whole thing falls apart.
On Oct. 5, I was honored to emcee the IndyBar Paralegal Appreciation Luncheon, where dozens came together to not only honor Ruth Rogers of Woodard Emhardt Henry Reeves & Wagner LLP as the 2021 IndyBar Paralegal of the Year, but also to celebrate the bonds between colleagues, confidants and occasional co-conspirators: lawyers and paralegals.
On the heels of that great event and in anticipation of National Paralegal Day on Oct. 23 (which falls between National Nut Day and National Bologna Day and shares a date with National Mole Day [6.022 x 10^23] … all of which seem fitting), this week’s column is dedicated to the two paralegals who have forever shaped my personal life and my professional abilities: Elisa F. and Holley S.
I started working with Elisa F. in 2008. Back then, Elisa, fresh out of Purdue, was full of energy and optimism. I, on the other hand, had been flogged for the prior two years in the discovery dungeons of a medium-sized local litigation firm and stood battered and blinking at the light of my second career opportunity. The firm where we worked, small and scrappy, was a boutique tax law firm founded by a charmingly odd couple: a calm-as-a-mountain-lake Gen-X’er and second-generation Indy lawyer and an effervescent South African ex-pat, who chain-smoked Winstons and drove a “Jag-u-ar”.
Elisa started as an assistant, greeting clients at the door for what was often their first interaction with a law firm and answering cold calls from IRS agents looking to seize bank accounts at the first sign of waning cooperation. Elisa was earnest, kind and hard-working, and she had a flair for keeping the firm grounded. We worked and joked together constantly and, over the years, we grew personally and professionally as friends and colleagues.
By 2015, Elisa, a full-fledged paralegal and de facto office manager, had become the beating heart of the firm. In the intervening years, our lives changed (she moved and married, I moved and had children) and the firm evolved like a newborn learning to walk: unsteady but determined. We shared firm lunches and happy hours, tears and frustrations. I got to see Elisa mature into a savvy, respected professional, and all paternalism aside, I was proud of her. She had become indispensable … more indispensable than me.
The hardest day of my tenure with Elisa was telling her that I had accepted another position, that I was moving to the next phase of my career. We cried. We hugged. We promised to stay in touch. It was like an airport goodbye … I was moving abroad while she was staying behind to run the homestead we helped build together. I learned so much from Elisa, and I would like to think I provided the occasional nugget of wisdom in return.
When my metaphorical plane landed in the corporate world, my job and my colleagues’ (another attorney and a paralegal) were established, and we hit the ground rolling. However, that smooth stability was short-lived. Within a year, our paralegal left as did my colleague and friend who worked alongside me. More than support, I needed help – someone who could jump into the fray and start knocking down tasks with minimal helicoptering and zero drama.
Enter Holley S. Holley came to me as a seasoned veteran of the in-house paralegal scene. Like a legal mercenary with a mother’s smiling patience, Holley had been there and done that and was going to remind you to eat a salad for lunch while she was breaking down payroll for not properly processing a garnishment order.
Holley was and remains a soft-spoken badass. In an industry where I regularly feel like a schooner in a storm, Holley is a quietly omnipresent lighthouse. Over the past four years, we’ve managed through all matter of upheavals together: her kids going to college, my divorce, the unending metamorphosis of our business. Through the pandemic, one of the things I miss most is swiveling in my chair to vent to Holley about the most recent inane proposal or the most vexingly unnecessary conference call. To this day, we share a saying whenever we are frustrated from not understanding how the fire we’ve been called to put out started in the first place: “Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.”
Holley coaxes me back to calm professionalism when I become too animated, and I nudge her out of the quiet shadows when her ideas are too valuable to go unsaid and unattributed. We’re a great team, a small but mighty squadron fighting unacceptable terms and conditions and stamping out unnecessary risks, and we’re going to continue marching into whatever melee comes next. I couldn’t (and wouldn’t want to try) to do it without her.
To Elisa and Holley. Thank you for everything. You’re quite a pair-a-le-gals (get it?).•