Legal Team Lifelines

Cannon Air Force Base’s Cannon Connections” reports on the work of one JAG legal team:

For two members of Cannon Air Force Base’s legal group, the vast quantity of information flowing through their days is both the best and worst part of the job.

Chief of Operations Law Capt. Aaron Kirk and civil law paralegal Staff Sgt. Fabiola Brown work with a wide variety of legal issues brought to the Judge Advocate General Corps.

“The ever-changing nature of the job — it is wonderful and it is stressful,” Kirk, an attorney, said.

Brown said civil law is different every day.

“No amount of research can really give you an answer at something so new,” she said.

Still, she likes getting the experience from attorneys and other paralegals, whether they’re right out of school or seasoned.

Brown’s job involves doing legal research for lawyers, checking bylaws of private organizations forming on base, making sure discharges are in order and more. She said paralegals produce much of the finished work and then attorneys tweak it and concur.

The only things attorneys can do and paralegals can’t are giving legal advice and trying court martials.

Brown said attorneys provide legal information in cases and paralegals add experiential knowledge. They are “each other’s lifeline,” she said.

Brown, who’s served as a paralegal for a little more than two years, became interested in the work while serving in financial management before she came to Cannon. A paralegal would come into Brown’s office with a lot of paperwork and the look of someone under stress, and Brown asked about her work.

Brown liked how the paralegal knew the happenings on base and admired her professionalism and close relationship with first sergeants and commanders. She cross trained to take on the job herself.

Brown said she finds it fascinating that legal personnel can advise a commander and then take the other side to let an airman in trouble know what to do.

“So not only are we prosecuting these cases, but we’re also protecting our people,” she said.

There’s a lot to like about the presentation in this story. It acknowledges not only that the attorney and paralegal work as a team, but that they each bring something to the team that the other does not. They seem to have clearly defined roles, each being the others’ “lifeline.”

Notice also that Brown was attracted to the paralegal field by the professionalism of another paralegal. While professionalism goes from inside it has very visible external markers. If you have the confidence, competence and attitude of a professional, even those who don’t know you will see the professional in you.

One downside to the story is that the paralegal observed by Brown had the look of someone under stress. Stress is indeed often part of the day-to-day operations for paralegals, but it is not good if that stress is so un-managed that it is visible on a constant basis. Since Brown recognized the paralegal as both under stress and professional, I assume the paralegal was managing the stress to a substantial degree.

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