August 7, 2006


I am about two months into my new career as an important, downtown Chicago, high-falootin’ paralegal. (Did I tell you I have my own office…with my name on the door… and business cards… embossed business cards...butI digress...) Being that this is a new career, there has been a lot to learn that was never discussed during my five months of paralegal classes. With so much to master, there were days (namely my entire first and second weeks at the firm) where I felt as if my head was ready to explode with information. Nothing, however, has proved as challenging as learning to master my time.

As a paralegal, my day’s work is billed to our clients. What I do, who I do it for and how long I spend doing it needs to be tracked in six-minute increments of every hour. I was amazed my first week to learn a bathroom break was about six minutes round trip and saying hi to a coworker would suddenly eat up 0.3 hours of my day. Yes, it is a bit ridiculous, but a necessity when I learned exactly how much six minutes of my day costs a client.

That was one half of the time keeping. The other half has proved somewhat of a fun challenge for me. In case you can’t tell, I like to fancy myself a bit of a wordsmith. We have this very sophisticated piece of software which every three days or so I log onto and enter how I’ve spent my time. There is essential info to include which is predetermined, like the time, the client, the matter and task codes that correspond to the work I’ve done. But at the bottom is a space for a description. This is so the client can ensure it is not paying mucho dinero for me to stand in front of a copier for two hours. But the funny thing is, I have stood in front of a copier for two hours. This leads me to today’s life lesson: It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.

You see, the fact is in that doing my job there are times where mundane, mindless tasks are necessary just to get the freaking job done. Our clients don’t want to see that though, so it’s, I believe, an essential function of my job to make the client think it is getting its money’s worth. This is where my word-smithing comes in handy. Instead of standing in front of a copier, suddenly I’m “Managing and reviewing docs for opposing counsel’s production request.” There were literally two days were my co-worker Katie and I put stickers on the lower right hand corner of 14 boxes of documents. This became “Facilitated quality control of client production.” Good stuff, right?

But confirmation of my newly acquired skills of “elaboration” came this afternoon.

It was my turn to work the night shift. This means is if there is some pressing issue that comes up at the end of the day, I get to cover it. If not, I get to go home at 6 instead of rushing out the door at 5. (I usually stay until 6 anyway.) I sent out my night watch email around 3:30 alerting everyone that if there were any emergency projects, I was to know of them by 5:30. I get an email back not shortly thereafter from an attorney, Dave, with whom I’ve done some work. He jokingly asked if I could schedule a haircut for his shaggy mane which has fallen to the wayside during his busy work weeks. I start to reply with some witty banter and then I stopped. I wondered is this something I could make sound like a billable activity? I am on a case with him. Technically as a paralegal, any activity I do that makes an attorney’s job easier and promotes the maintenance of the case is billable. Well, I think, Dave has no time to schedule his own haircut. By me doing this for him it is taking time off his hands and allowing him to devote more time to his working day, therefore fostering the maintenance of the case. I take all this in, and email Dave that I will do this (with his blessing) because I’ve found a way to make it sound convincingly billable. My description:

"Facilitated coiffure review and analysis with outside expert to enable D. Soderberg's uninterrupted fact investigation and development of the case."

I didn’t get the OK from Dave, so I didn’t schedule his haircut, but a large part of me is very tempted to submit it and see if it’s rejected by the client. My guess is no.

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