For my first co-op at Antioch College, I headed to New York to work as a paralegal intern at a law firm called Outten & Golden. A paralegal intern helps the paralegals, who in turn, are the ones who help the attorneys do their jobs. The attorneys at Outten & Golden advocate for workplace fairness and employee rights for workers in New York as well as throughout the nation.
My day starts with a commute that is longer than ideal, but is pleasant enough to be able to take a nap. Once I arrive in the city, I walk 15 min to reach the red brick building in which the firm is located. I make sure to get there with plenty of time to spare, because it takes a while to get to the 29th floor through the morning rush.
My work hours are from 9:30 AM to 5:30 PM, with an hour for lunch, which we are allowed to work through, but they are pretty insistent on you taking your lunch hour. This is just one way in which you can see that Outten & Golden treats it’s employees well. They also have a happy hour with drinks and finger food to welcome new employees, as well as hand out free totes with the company logo on it to all of it’s employees.
During work hours, I spend most of my time at my desk, entering data, pulling legal documents from court websites, and receiving calls from prospective clients or calling back ones who left messages on the company voicemail. I also print documents to be compiled into binders, as well as scan documents from clients. However, I believe the majority of my learning has come from talking to prospective clients. Everyday, I talk to people I’ve never met, and hear about all kinds of workplace experiences, many of which are unpleasant and exploitative. Co-op is about getting work experience, and I’m getting a great one, while simultaneously learning about how many bad experiences there are as well. The hardest part for me is not getting too emotionally attached to people’s circumstances, because after you tell them that you will get their information to the attorneys and that they will get a call back, you never know which ones you yourself are going to have to call back to say that Outten & Golden will not be taking their case.
I was talking to my cousin a month or so into my job when I realized just how much I had learned about employment and employee rights in the short time I had been there. My cousin has been working at a movie theater for many years and she told me about the blatant gender discrimination that she experiences at work, as well as how she works overtime, but doesn’t get paid for it because her boss makes her sign out, so that as records go, it looks like she’s not working those extra hours. These are issues Outten & Golden addresses often, and I became very excited discussing these issues with her. I realized I had become even more passionate about employees being treated right. I really wanted to fix the situation my cousin is in, and can only hope things will change for her soon.
I always wanted to know exactly what career I will be pursuing. But over the years I’ve come to understand that it is a complicated process and that I don’t need to know the future in order to live meaningfully now. And through this experience of working at a law firm, I’m figuring out that there are so many complex questions you need to ask yourself about what kind of work you want to do. It’s not just, oh I want to be a lawyer, a teacher, a cook, or a surgeon. You have to ask yourself: What kind of environment do I want to spend the majority of my day in? Do I want to be outside? Inside? At a desk? Moving a lot? Or, What kind of people do I want to surround myself with? And what physical activity do I actually want to be doing?
Every day at the office I think about what kind of work I want to do most. And everyday I come up with some answers and more and more questions for myself. I think this was a great first co-op for me, and I am very grateful for all who helped me through this process and for Outten & Golden for having me.