Every so often, I think back to my first post-college job as a Paralegal Assistant at BIGNAME LAW FIRM. The PA position was created to offload the non-billable work the paralegals had to do — otherwise known as Things the Paralegals Didn’t Want to Do — so they could focus on the more substantive legal work they were given by the attorneys.
One of the first assignments Eileen gave me wasn’t much of an assignment at all. It had more the makings of something to keep me busy. And slowly kill my brain. She wanted me to count the number of pages in a copy job. You read that right. We make a lot of copies in a law firm and even in the anarchic early 90s, the copy machines had a mechanism to count the number of copies that would be placed on the return slip. Yet she still wanted me to manually count the pages, one by one, of that copy job.
Eileen was convinced that the Copy Center was padding their numbers to make a little extra money. I don’t remember how much we charged for copies back then — it was certainly higher than market value — but let’s say for argument’s sake it was a whopping 0.25 a page. The only way this translates into anything significant is if they make fifty copies but charge you for a thousand.
Having me count each page wasn’t a good use of my time — whatever you catch in their error is essentially offset by my cost. Granted my time wasn’t being billed back to the client and my hourly pay was rather insignificant too, but I guarantee you Eileen hadn’t considered any of that. She just really wanted to catch the Copy Center overcharging that dollar!
In retrospect, I should have simply done the assignment without complaining and seen it as “paying my dues” and bond with Eileen by agreeing that yes the Copy Center pads their numbers. Evil Bad.
Instead, I performed the assignment in what I thought was an innovative, creative manner that should have demonstrate my abilities. I measured one inch worth of documents, counted those, and then measured the stack and calculated that the number given to us by copy center was indeed within the range we should have. Eileen was pissed that I didn’t simply do what she asked. She made me recount the documents.
If any of my former colleagues are reading, I will admit that I was immature and had what would be described as a bad attitude. I own that and admit it freely. Now I ask if you will do the same of your shortcomings.
So as Obi-Wan might say the truths we cling to depend on how you look at it. True I wasn’t showing that I could follow instructions and complete a simple assignment. On the other hand, that assignment was fucking stupid and a complete waste of time, and Eileen should have been publicly flogged for wasting company resources. In a healthy, more nurturing company, a good leader would have recognized the creativity that went into taking a dull assignment and not only making the best of it but also coming up with an insightful solution that technically saved time and essentially achieved the same results.
In hindsight I wish I had been smart enough to keep my head down, use the paralegals as Attorney Shields and go to G-school a few years sooner.
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