By Vicki Voisin, CLAS
Congratulations! Today is your day.You’re off to Great Places! You’re off and away!~Dr. Seuss
Dr. Seuss is my favorite philosopher. I find inspiration in his whimsical words of wisdom, particularly those in his book, Oh! The Places You’ll Go where there is a message for everyone, regardless of age. This, of course, applies to paralegals.
The words of Dr. Seuss certainly relate to my paralegal career path, as well as my path with NALA:
You’ll be on your way up!
You’ll be seeing great sights!
You’ll join the high fliers
Who soar to high heights.
We all travel down an unknown career path that begins with our education, continues with our work, and then is capped with all of the extras we add along the way…such as certifications, association involvement, speeches, articles, teaching, honors, and awards. None of us knows the sights we will see or the heights we will reach, but we need to keep track of the road we take so that at the end of any given day we will be able to measure our achievements.
I learned this recently when I was asked to be an expert witness in a legal malpractice case. The lawsuit alleged a paralegal employed by a law firm acted outside the scope of her authority. The key issue was the unauthorized practice of law.
Me? An Expert? I knew I possessed the required expertise but yikes! I had to submit a curriculum vitae (or ‘CV’ as it is customarily truncated) to demonstrate my professional qualifications and my knowledge.
Oh, dear…I did not have a CV! During the course of my career I have asked for dozens of CVs from potential expert witnesses, but never in my wildest dreams did I think I would ever have a need for one myself.
I had the trusty (if rusty and dusty) résumé ready ‘just in case’ I ever decided to look for another job. Since the same law firm has employed me for more than 25 years, you can imagine that the résumé was reasonably up to date but had not been used often.
Trouble is, a resume is not a curriculum vitae.
A résumé is a one or two-page summary of skills, experience and education. It is intended as a concise opportunity to capture a prospective employer’s attention…a prospective employer who, statistically, will spend less than a minute reviewing it.
My résumé demonstrates that I would be a very good candidate for a paralegal position, but it does not prove that I am an expert in ethics for legal professionals. To accomplish this, I definitely needed a CV.
‘Curriculum vitae’ is a Latin term meaning ‘course of life’ or ‘a running life’. Contrary to widely held opinion, it does not translate to ‘padding your résumé’.
A CV is a longer, more detailed, and more complete summary of a person’s education and work history. It includes teaching and research experience, grants and fellowships, accreditation, publications, presentations, awards, honors, affiliations, offices held, and other details.
Dr. Seuss I am not, but in my panic over the CV I did not have, I found myself wondering:
Where did I come from?
Where did I go?
How did I get here?
Does anyone know?
The threads of my professional life were scattered hither and yon. Notes were scribbled on dozens of legal pads and crammed in haphazardly labeled files along with newspaper clippings, copies of speeches and articles, flyers from seminars, and back issues of Facts & Findings and other professional journals. And, of course, I had many wonderful memories.
Pulling everything together to create my curriculum vitae was tedious and time consuming. I painstakingly collected and reviewed nearly 30 years of credentials that, when pieced together, demonstrated the expertise I had achieved during my career.
The result was a CV that surprised even me! There it was in black and white…everything I had done, the places I had been, and the people I had met. Dr. Seuss was right: I had soared to high heights and my CV offered proof that I knew what I knew.
My CV began with a professional profile followed by details of my education and work experience. Next came professional involvement in associations on the state and national level (my service to NALA looked very good there), honors, and awards. Then came the long lists of published articles and presentations that more than demonstrated my knowledge of ethics issues for legal professionals.
Absolutely no personal information is presented in the CV. There are no photographs, no salary history, and no references. The fact that my favorite pastimes are running and reading legal mysteries is not there. My ability to bake a cake that will knock your socks off is not mentioned. None of that speaks to my level of knowledge and expertise.
The point of all this digression into the Land of Seuss is that we are all off to great places and soaring to high heights. I cannot overstress the importance of keeping a record of where your career has taken you. This inspired another ‘Seussism’ of my own:
We get in our rut
We put blinders on
We forget where we’re going
We forget where we’ve gone!
You should begin the creation of your own curriculum vitae this very instant before you forget where you have gone. I can assure you that a nostalgic journey through 30 years of files is not fun. You can spare yourself this pain by taking a few simple steps.
First, keep copies of absolutely everything. This includes newspaper clippings, articles, pictures, notes, awards, honors, certificates, seminar flyers, etc. Put these in just a few files that have very general labels (e.g., “Articles”, “Speeches”, “Awards” etc.). Do not use too much detail or locating what you are looking for may become difficult.
Next, begin writing your own CV. I will not presume to tell you how to write it. There are many formats available on the Internet. You must, of course, represent your achievements honestly and accurately.
Then, after your CV is written, keep it current. In the computer age, this is almost effortless. Every time you do something, such as giving a speech or writing an article, add it to your CV.
My experience is a perfect example that it is never too late (or too early) to start your CV. You never know when you will be asked to document your expertise, so be sure to record your career journey with your curriculum vitae. Even if another soul never looks at it, your curriculum vitae is like a road map of where your career has taken you, and where you might be going.
As Dr. Seuss would say:
Be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray
Or Mordecai Ali Van Allen O’Shea,
you’re off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting
So…get on your way!
©2009 Vicki Voisin, Inc.
Do you want to use this article in your newsletter, ezine or Web site? You can, so long as you include this entire blurb with it: Vicki Voisin, “The Paralegal Mentor”, delivers simple strategies for paralegals and other professionals to create success and satisfaction by achieving goals and determining the direction they will take their careers. Vicki spotlights resources, organizational tips, ethics issues, and other areas of continuing education to help paralegals and others reach their full potential. She publishes a weekly ezine titled Paralegal Strategies. More information is available at www.paralegalmentor.com