Her paralegal story starts out a little uniquely; Myra Rivera never planned to become a paralegal. “I actually didn’t choose it. It kind of chose me,” she says. But while she was in college, she got a job working at a law firm. “I was studying a social work major, but I really needed a part-time job. I found it as a receptionist in a small legal office, and the rest is history. It’s a very satisfying place to work; especially because you have such a personal connection to the people you help.” Myra also found that being bilingual was a huge asset as a paralegal. “I found I could really help people and the fact that I was bilingual was of so much use in this field,” she says.
She graduated in Paralegal Studies at Montgomery College, Maryland in 2004. When asked why she chose that particular school she says, “Because it was convenient to work, home, and my pocketbook. The tuition was very reasonable and they had classes at all hours of the day. The campus was also very convenient.”
Paralegals act as support for the attorneys they work for. This may not sound very glamorous, but as Myra puts it, “Sure, I do all the paperwork, filing, transcription, interpreting, etc., but nothing is better than holding that three year old who was burned by medication that the pharmacy dispensed incorrectly and finally seeing her smile after two years of skin grafts and treatment, and knowing that her college tuition is covered and she’ll be able to play again.”
Being a paralegal can be challenging, Myra states. “You have to be a people person to be in this profession and be very patient with people because they come in all the flavors imaginable. I remember this one client just wouldn’t let up. He called me seven or eight times a day. I explained the same thing over and over to him, but it wasn’t enough he had to hear again and again. Finally, when his case was settled and I made an appointment to meet with him so he could sign the settlement documents, he surprised the heck out of me. He brought me a box of chocolates, thanked me and said that I kept him grounded in a time that was so scary for him.”
Working as a paralegal is also immensely gratifying. Myra gets great personal satisfaction out of her work, but she says she had no idea how many lives she’d touched until after her daughter was born. “I literally got gifts from every single client that I’ve helped. Some of them still drop by with a “little something” for my daughter. It always amazes me how grateful people are by some simple courtesy or the time you take to explain something to them.”
When asked what advice she’d give to someone considering a degree in Paralegal Studies, Myra says, “Cultivate patience above all and have a sense of humor because you’re going to see a lot of scary things, but at the end of the day you’ve got to be able to laugh about it or it’ll eat little pieces away from you. Be friendly to adjusters and other attorneys, you’ll never know when you’ll be working with them again and they’ll remember, trust me.”
As a final note of potential paralegal advice, Myra laughs and says, “Oh, and practice your penmanship because in the age of e-mail, typed letters and masthead letterhead, nothing says “you’re special” more than a handwritten card thanking a client for their business.”