Lessons Learned – My Interaction with the GC

Just coming off a high of a great event which I had the privilege to organize and be a part.  My trip to one of our offices outside of New York was supposed to be the first event where the General Counsel (GC) of a very large financial firm was going to meet with the paralegal team outside of New York and have an informal discussion.  I hoped it would go well.  I hoped the GC had a good time since this was the first time we were all meeting each other…… I hoped no one asked a crazy question.  Most of all I hoped we at least had enough people to sit around the very large table which was looking larger by the minute.

The event was great….. we had people standing up in the room (so yeah…. enough came) there was networking going on after the event and the questions were all very well thought out as they were professional…… Why did I expect any less from the group of paralegals I have worked with?  Am I crazy?

The GC had great advice for all us and I am going to be writing in other posts some of her other advice.  This time I want to talk to you all about making mistakes.  We all do it and as the GC put it……. “my mistakes sometimes involve billions of dollars.”  This statement put in perspective for me and I hope it does for you as well.

We all Make Mistakes

While listening to one of the GC’s answers to a question that was asked I realized that all the time we spend worrying about a mistake we made is wasted time.  Yes, feel bad about it.  You should feel bad about it but learn from it.  Take time to feel bad.  Tell yourself that you are going to “lay on the floor and cry” for a period of time but then get up and move on.  Come up with a solution to the problem and take steps to implement that solution.  Figure out why you made the mistake.  Was it because you weren’t paying attention?  Was it because you didn’t have the information you needed?  Is it because you were too busy and didn’t have time?  These are all valid reasons but they are all things you can control the next time and ensure you don’t make the same mistake:

If you weren’t paying attention:

Take steps to make sure you re-read the document.  Normally I write the first draft and then walk away.  If I have time I try to walk away for a day and then come back to it.  I find that when I separate myself from something I create I have a new perspective on it when I get back to it and when I read it again it sounds much different than it had sounded earlier.

Ask someone else to review it.  I find sometimes that it’s better to have someone else’s opinion and review of a document I’ve been working on for hours.  I know what I want too say so sometimes when I read it I may miss words.  The brain plays tricks on us and sometimes invents words that aren’t there.  Someone else will have a fresh perspective and is not expecting to see anything so these “silly” omissions will show up really easily for them.

You didn’t have all the information

Ask questions.  Sometimes we are given an assignment and don’t take the time assess what it is that we need in order to complete that assignment.  It’s valid that when you are given the assignment, more often than not, you are not going to know what it is that you need….let’s face it.  You may not know the case, you may not know the full background.  When I’m faced with this situation I tell the attorney that I will need to take a look at the project/assignment and immediate ask to put time on their calendar to talk about what my approach will be as well as ask for further information if I feel like I need it.  Most lawyers will be happy to have that second meeting with you.  It means that the end product is going to be close to perfect (we’re not perfect and if you think you are….. get off that horse).

You were handling 1,000,000 other things at the same time

I have been guilty of this one so many times.  I have taken on too much because I feel bad saying NO, or it’s a really awesome opportunity  and …. ugh!! what do you know, it came right at the same time that other really cool project presented itself and now I have these two huge projects on my plate and I’m going to be pulling my hair out.  As much as try to keep it all together, eventually something is going to go wrong.  As much as we want to believe you are great multi-taskers, most of us are not great at consistently multi-tasking.  I can tell you that usually I can feel when I have reached my limit and am starting to burn the candle at both ends.  When that happens, the end product is not something I will be proud of.

Don’t take on too much.  It’s ok to say no and let the lawyer know you are busy.  Let the attorney know you want to be considered for the next project and explain that you are currently working on … blah blah blah and really want to make sure you do a good job.  I bet you that the attorney is going to go back, assign the project to someone else but will come back to you at a later time because they know you will be responsible and professional and will handle their project the way it needs to be handled.

there are also those times when you think you can do something and then, when you find out what it entails you realize you will not be able to finish it……. Yeah, you know what I”m talking about.  Let the lawyer know about this as soon as possible.  Don’t keep hoping that miraculously you will be able to complete it on time.  Don’t wait for the last minute to say you couldn’t finish it.  Doing that may make the lawyer miss a deadline and will absolutely make you look unprofessional.  You can bet you won’t get many other assignments from that lawyer.


Remember, mistakes are part of life and part of learning.  If we didn’t make mistakes we wouldn’t learn anything new.  The trick is to make sure you own up to it.  Reach out and let people know you made a mistake but you have a solution.  You have worked through a process to ensure that it won’t happen again and then implement that process.  Apologize and move on.

Every Legal Department Needs A Paralegal Department

“Don’t make excuses for why you can’t get it done. Focus on all the reasons why you must make it happen”

It’s been a year since I made the suggestion to our general counsel. Since then I’ve had some really good and positive reinforcement and then there are those days when it seems that all the naysayers line up to make my life miserable. That includes the naysayer in my head. Don’t look at me like that. We all have that one voice in the deepest darkest corners of our brains. The one who tells us all the time that we can’t do something. Recently, she has been using the following excuses with me:

    • why do you bother? Things are what they are. 
    • It’s been like this for so long, what makes you think it’s not by design?
    • No one cares how hard you’re working!
    • You are not smart enough or experienced enough to do this.
    • One day you’re going to get found out and it’s going to be really embarrassing.
    • Please!!!! You’re old enough to just skate right through and not let this stuff bother you.  It’s not going to benefit you anymore.

    It’s a very powerful and loud voice which makes it really hard to ignore.  So, instead of ignoring it, I acknowledge it and find answers to ITS questions.  I find that when I come up with answers the voice becomes a little less annoying and less loud and it actually turns into a helpful friend.  By forcing myself to coming up with answers to its questions I force myself to think about what it is that I really want to do and come up with different paths to accomplishing what I set out to accomplish.

    Believe me, when I first came up with the idea for a Paralegal Department at this very large company where I work the voice was enormously strong.  What are you thinking?  They are never going to listen to you.  You have been here for a minute. Things have been the same for so long and they work.  Lawyers don’t want us to tell them how to do their jobs….who to hire and how to work with them.  You are going to ruffle people’s feathers and now is not a good time to to do that.  There were plenty of opportunities for me to stop moving forward. I chose to focus on the reasons I had to make it happen.  

    There are over 200 paralegals in this firm and they are counting on me.  Ha!!! Many of them didn’t even know I existed and some of them didn’t even know they wanted this type of organization.  However, just like Steve Jobs said (and I”m no Steve Jobs) people don’t know what they want until they want it.  I think Ford Said “If I had asked people what they wanted they would have said faster horses.”  It could have been someone else who said that…… I’m really not sure.  Who said it is not important.  I knew I could make a difference, so I did.

    This month marks a year and our Paralegal Networks is now chartered in EMEA and APAC.  As I write this post I’m getting ready to fly out to Chicago with our General Counsel for a conference where the GC will be address a group of paralegals in Chicago and throughout the rest of the US (working on broadcasting or recording it for EMEA and APAC).  We are on our way.

    I say all this to tell you that you must believe in yourself.  Only you will know how much you can take on and what it is that your vision can being to you and all those around you.  I say this to let you know that we all have those voices that will stop us from accomplishing our goals.  Those voices are not the enemy.  They exist to help us stay away from danger.  Listen to that voice but take the risk.  Use the voice as a guide and as a friend.  Answer the voices questions and calm it down.  Become the voices partner and work together.  

    Hope you enjoyed this post. I am working on doing a series of what the Network is up to and what you can do to start your own network where you work.  Having those likeminded people is essential for a healthy and prosperous career.