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Interview with a Senior Paralegal
Are you a paralegal, or interested in pursuing that line of work? We interviewed this Chicago-based paralegal with more than 20 years of experience to find out what it is like making it as a paralegal in Chicago.

Q: What is your job title and what industry do you work in? How many years of experience do you have in this field? How would you describe yourself using only three adjectives?

A: I am a Senior Paralegal working in the Collectibles industry. I have 22 years experience. I would describe myself as ambitious, creative, and a perfectionist.

Q: What’s your ethnicity and gender? How has it hurt or helped you? If you ever experienced discrimination, how have you responded and what worked best?

A: I am a Caucasian Jewish woman. I consider myself lucky because I have never experienced discrimination in the workplace.

Q: How would you describe what you do? What does your work entail? Are there any common misunderstandings you want to correct about what you do?

A: I work solely in Intellectual Property and find it fascinating. During a typical day I spend much of my time researching and registering trademarks and copyrights. I review the advertising copy before it goes into print in newspapers and magazines. My work entails extensive internet research to ensure that the merchandise we have created is not in conflict with another company’s registered trademark. I work closely with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, not only to ensure we do not violate an existing trademark, but also to register our own. I also work the designers within my own company as they create collectibles for the marketplace. They often bring ideas to me while they are still works-in-progress to see if they need to make any changes.

Q: On a scale of 1 to 10 how would you rate your job satisfaction? What might need to change about your job to unleash your full enthusiasm?

A: I really enjoy what I do and so I would rate my satisfaction at a 10.

Q: If this job moves your heart – how so? Ever feel like you found your calling or sweet spot in life? If not, what might do it for you?

A: Even though I am completely satisfied in my current position, I would not say that it is my calling in life. If I could, I would rather be a successful writer. I am heading towards retirement and I look forward to having the free time to use my writing skills in a more creative way.

Q: Is there anything unique about your situation that readers should know when considering your experiences or accomplishments?

A: My coursework did not cover the Intellectual Property field and so I learned it on the job. It was challenging but I felt my employer at the time was vested in my success and so I put forth my very best efforts.

Q: How did you get started in this line of work? If you could go back and do it differently, what would you change?

A: I graduated college later in life and knew that I wanted to work in the legal field. I was a single mother to three children, and I was eager to get started. I decided to become a paralegal after doing some research on the opportunities available and on the average salaries. After completing the paralegal program and obtaining my certificate, I worked for a few years in large law firms doing litigation work. I found the cases interesting but the jobs themselves were very stressful. I was also required to travel quite a bit and that was difficult as I had children at home. I was offered an I.P. position within the same law firm and was eager to learn something new. It took a lot of initiative and patience, but I found an area of law in which I could succeed and still have the quality of life I desired. It was important to me that I was home at night for my children, and there was very little travel required. If I could go back, I would have gone to law school and become an attorney. At the time, I didn’t feel it was an option for me and I lacked confidence in myself.

Q: What did you learn the hard way in this job and what happened specifically that led up to this lesson?

A: I learned to trust my intuition and not let someone else override my opinions based solely on their position within the company. There have been times an attorney with less experience than I, would attempt to disregard what I said because I was “only” a paralegal. This has led to some trademark issues because the attorney made critical mistakes. I learned to be more adamant when the situation calls for it.

Q: What is the single most important thing you have learned outside of school about the working world?

A: It is very important to maintain your professionalism when interacting with colleagues, no matter the circumstances. I learned the importance of keeping your personal life out of the office and not looking for romantic partners from amongst your coworkers. Thankfully, I never made this mistake myself but I have seen the results of other peoples’ mistakes and it can have serious repercussions on a person’s career. I also have learned it is wise to always keep your resume current. Even if you are happy in your position, you can never know what the future might bring and it can be difficult to update your resume during a time of stress. I update mine each year so that I do not have to rely on memory if the time comes that I need to find a new position.

Q: What’s the strangest thing that ever happened to you in this job?

A: I took my family to New Orleans for Thanksgiving. One morning during our trip, I opened the local newspaper to discover that a pair of brothers from New Orleans had filed a lawsuit against the company I work for claiming we had violated their trademark.

Q: Why do you get up and go to work each day? Can you give an example of something that really made you feel good or proud?

A: It is easy for me to go to work every day because I enjoy what I do. I earn a nice salary and my coworkers are friendly. We were all very proud of the Kate Middleton figurine our company produced, featuring a detailed reproduction of her wedding dress. The designer worked all night long and it was ready the morning after the ceremony. She did a beautiful job and a major newspaper wrote an article praising the quality and speed with which it was created.

Q: What kind of challenges do you handle and what makes you want to just quit?

A: My work must be perfect all the time. There is no room for error as it can be very costly to the company if something is overlooked. This leads to some high-pressure days and quick tempers. There are times the designers feel very passionately about something they have created but it is in violation of a trademark someone else owns. They do not always understand that we cannot simply put it on the market and hope for the best. They can become frustrated when told they must change it so that we can safely move forward. I do not ever feel the urge to quit, but taking a vacation is very appealing.

Q: How stressful is your job? Are you able to maintain a comfortable or healthy work-life balance? How?

A: My job is very stressful. My company offers a nice facility for working out during the day, and I take advantage of that. There have been occasions when a particularly thorny issue has been resolved while my boss and I have been on treadmills. My coworkers and I have very good working relationships, and we are able to offer support to each other in many ways. We celebrate our birthdays with cake, and often have lunch together. We also offer a listening ear when the stress gets to be too much and support each other when an issue needs attention from someone in a position of higher authority. My work-life balance can suffer at times due to the demanding deadlines we must meet. On the other hand, if I need to take a day off or leave early to attend to something in my personal life, it has never been an issue.

Q: What’s a rough salary range for the position you hold? Are you paid enough and/or happy living within your means?

A: I am very happy with my salary and feel it allows me to live a fulfilling life. A rough salary range would be $55,000-65,000.

Q: How much vacation do you take each year? Is it enough?

A:I am allotted 3 weeks a year but it is very difficult to take more than a few days at a time. We always have pending deadlines and taking vacation time is always an issue. We have been trying to find a resolution for this issue for a few years.

Q: What education and skills do you need to get hired and succeed in this field?

A: You must have a Bachelor’s degree and a Paralegal Certificate. In addition, to succeed in the field of Intellectual Property, you must have experience. In terms of skills, you must be very comfortable with computers as nearly everything is done digitally now. Creativity is also important as you will have to research products or ideas that might be expressed in a wide variety of ways.

Q: What would you tell a friend considering your line of work?

A: I would tell my friend to go for it, if she enjoyed detailed work. The work is interesting, and the salary and benefits are more than adequate. I would tell her, though, that there is a very low turnover rate amongst I.P. paralegals. It might be difficult to find an open spot at first. In Chicago, there are excellent networking opportunities for I.P. paralegals and many people become aware of available positions by word-of-mouth. Chicago is a great city for parelegals because there are many large law firms, some of them international. This affords a paralegal plenty of choice in the type of work and work environment they seek. In addition to law firms, Chicago has a strong reputation in the advertising fields, and I know of several paralegals who have found satisfaction and success within those companies.

Q: If you could write your own ticket, what would you like to be doing in five years?

A: In five years, I hope I am doing exactly the same thing I am doing now. I find great satisfaction in my job and truly enjoy the people with whom I work.