Monday, 11 September 2017

Jason // Paralegal

In my desperate pursuit of a mother-approved training contract, I threw my frantic body onto the teetering pile of wannabe trainees scrambling to secure a paralegal position at a City law firm. Get plucked out of this writhing pyramid of the hopefully hopeless and you may just bolster your CV enough to appease the HR gatekeepers of the training contract application process.

Week after week I sent my increasingly hyperbolic CV into the ether, only to have it immolated on the ‘MINIMUM 6 MONTHS PREVIOUS EXPERIENCE’ pyre.

Until…

I got 2 weeks. 2 weeks at a pinstripe suits and braces and testosterone law firm.

And I was putting letters into envelopes.

And put them in I did.

Over and over.

For 2 weeks.

Which turned into a month.

Which turned into 2, 3 months.

Other paralegals and lawyers would come and go, my role increasing as the project grew.

But soon I was the only paralegal/vaguely ‘legal’ employee left.

The project was a jumble of logistical and admin tasks: get info, put info into set of forms and tables, send letters, and create bundles proving all these tasks had been completed. My hours and the mound of documents on my desk were growing in sickening synchronicity. After 4 months, however, the project had concluded with the delivery of all the folders, files, and bundles to the applicable tribunal, glanced at once then never to be seen or thought of again.

However, my role had become suddenly vital as the project was to be repeated for a different set of data and not a single other person in the creaking legal behemoth understood how the disparate parts of the project came together. There was a problem though, the first run at the project had actually made a loss for the firm as they had charged a set fee for its completion rather than bill per hour of work. The department head looked to me for efficiencies and my various suggestions were to be incorporated into the process. An important change in management structure also occurred at this point: I was to be supervised by just one lawyer and they would be permanently working from home, leaving me with no at-office oversight. As I was introduced to them over the phone they asked whether another paralegal was needed to assist me (the project was to be repeated many more times). I, of course, made sure an extra pair of hands came on board my soon-to-be very leisurely cruise ship. In complete control of the project’s administrative elements, I cut down the time it took to finish the project from 4 months to 5 weeks. I automated various steps, combined sprawling documents, reduced pointless spot checks, but not once did I stay in the office past 4.30pm.

The project was so efficient that it wouldn’t have taken up enough time in a single person’s work day, and as only myself and the other paralegal knew this we carried on for over a year. Out of every 5 weeks there was no more than 2 weeks of actual work involved, most of the time was spent waiting for responses from third parties. I would work from home (i.e. be logged into the system) for 3 days out of 5, meaning that, essentially, I had 4-day weekends. I had even redirected my work phone to my mobile just in case my supervisor decided to give me a rare call. Despite all this, on my last day at the firm, the head of the department vowed to give me the finest of references, while HR informed me that I had 6 days of unclaimed holiday and therefore would be paid in lieu.

I walked out of there like I had just pulled off the heist of the century, but in reality my time at the firm had left me with a sense of dread at the nature of work in our prevailing system; the bureaucratic inefficiencies perceived to be inherent in socialist systems were clearly prevalent in ours on a grand scale. ‘Capitalist efficiency’ appeared to actually be deep inefficiency, but monetised.