Should You Go with Your Gut?
First published in the San Diego Paralegal Association Newsletter
“I think back to Game 2 of the NBA Finals against the Boston Celtics in 1984, when I let the clock run out. We lost the game, and the series. I was thinking too much. I should have gone with my gut and taken the shot as I was going to do.”
— Earvin “Magic” Johnson in Come to Win
Aptly, the chapter in Come to Win that features the interview with Earvin “Magic” Johnson is entitled “Making Assists”. Johnson, more popularly known as “Magic”, currently holds NBA records for career average assists per game during the regular season (11.2) and career average assists per game during the Playoffs (12.3). Clearly, assists were his strength. He retired as an athlete having been an NCAA champion, a five-time NBA champion, a three-time NBA MVP, and an Olympic gold medalist. A very successful career in basketball, by most standards. Still, he did not retire without regrets. In Come to Win, as he reflects specifically on his team’s loss to the 1984 Boston Celtics, Magic discloses his regret over not having taken his shot in the pivotal, fleeting final moments of Game 2. He hesitated as time ran out. In the course of his hesitation, Magic chose to look for a teammate he could assist with that final shot, even though something inside him said that the shot was his. Before he could find his gumption, or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the game was over. The clock ended that final quarter, and there was no more time for indecision. Magic never forgot that loss. He would find himself in a similar situation in 1987, and at this second opportunity, he did not falter. The Lakers won The NBA Finals that year.
When I began working as a paralegal back in 2001, I had returned to the States from Chile just a year and a half before, where I had been a researcher. In my very first role as a paralegal, I was like Bambi standing alone in an open field: anxious, naïve and vulnerable. I was hired by a seasoned attorney with a penchant for incisive criticism, balanced uncertainly against the occasional positive affirmation. He was a hungry lion because he stalked my errant choices imposingly, and pounced before I could go too far. Initially I bristled, recovered, and then stood firm –foolishly– against his correction. However, my new boss was practiced at sniffing out false courage and unfounded confidence. I knew nothing, and he conversely knew almost everything, especially that I knew nothing! His methods were effective at diminishing my ego and, frankly, getting me to cower. I did not learn much in those first weeks. The moments of kindness were rare, and therefore it was the censorious feedback that impacted me the deepest. I found it injurious to hear that work I had done made “no sense” or that I could not be trusted to complete what seemed like simple tasks. I would later learn that few of the tasks I had been assigned were truly simple, and that it was my ego that prevented me from learning and growing. Before then, I floundered, erred and quite wildly took my own instruction. My instincts told me to ask for help. My ego told me that I was that help, that I could solve my work problems alone. I would eventually acknowledge my shortcomings but not before being terminated, re-hired, and re-assigned.
In my new role, startled at the near prospect of having been unemployed, I learned to quiet my ego and listen to my gut. When something inside me said, “I’m not sure you understood that. You had better ask for clarification,” I did. It worked! I began to excel in my role as the staff support person who took initial calls. Asking questions became habit-forming, and no question seemed too simple. In fact, seeking clarification meant my survival, and I intended to thrive in this new role. I became quite thorough in my questions to prospective clients, about their injuries, whether they were in the “course and scope” of their employment when the injury occurred, what exactly had they been doing and how did it fit into their job description. I would then present the case to a senior attorney who could decide if we would be accepting the client, and ask if I should clarify any of the details. In time, my instincts guided me to identify additional claims that the client had not seen, and I would query my bosses about the viability of those claims and whether a case should be two contracts instead of one. I was in due course moved back into the role of a paralegal, and was steadier on my feet. I had learned that my role, as a member of the support staff, whether I was the Initial Calls Clerk or a Paralegal, needed to be founded on curiosity, a willingness to capture as much information as was practicable, and an ability to organize into digestible segments the abounding information I gathered.
Most importantly, I learned that in order to be both successful and useful in the difficult role of support staff, I had to know that the quiet voice was my discerning instinct and the louder voice my ego.