My path to being a paralegal is a tortured and mutilated one. It wasn't actually much of a choice, honestly, more like something that just happened.
I went to college having no idea what to do with the rest of my life. I studied History for lack of having interest in anything else. After graduating, I held a series of pointless jobs including bookstores, warehouses and telephone customer service for an interior design supply company (headset tethering me to a terminal and everything). I briefly had a job moving furniture for a museum, the closest I've ever gotten to actually using my college degree. That job was a temporary 3-month contract deal. When that was about to end, I got a return call from Bankruptcy Court about a position I had applied for 3 months prior. (Insert obligatory bureacracy joke here.) Having no other job lined up, I took the offer and started work.
At first, it was a paycheck. Apparently, I learned quickly and within a year was deemed worthy of promotion from the Intake Desk back to the ranks of Case Administration. Later, I helped coordinate the transition from NIBS to CM/ECF in one of the first Federal Courts to use it. I even wrote a manual for the Court's employees on how to docket things in CM/ECF.
As happens with Courts, a new Clerk soon took over. The Clerk's Office was expanding, and new administrative positions were being created. I applied for the newly-created Trainer position. During my interview with the Chief Deputy, I was politely informed that holdovers from the previous Clerk's administration would not be given any promotions, and the new Clerk would be bringing in exclusively outside people to fill the new positions.
My hopes of making a career out of government service crushed, I looked to other pastures. With numerous years of Court experience, but little practical paralegal training, finding something was not easy. I was eventually offered a job with a creditors' firm. Attracted by the small size of the firm and location outside the urban jungle, I accepted the offer.
My joy at having a new opportunity was short-lived. It turns out the place was a "churn and burn" factory where I would spend the next 6 years filing tens of thousands of motions for relief in Chapter 7 and 13 cases on behalf of mortgage and auto finance lenders. The managing partner (let's call him raging jackass) was a lying sack of sh*t who started hiring unskilled young women (a bartender, a waitress, a deli) who he would give office jobs to in exchange for horizontal extra-work favors. I learned to tolerate the situation, mostly being left alone to do my work (I was the entire bankruptcy department). It reached a breaking point when raging jackass kept increasing my workload, refusing my requests for any help, and then refused to give me a raise even though I was single-handedly running half the firm.
I spent the better part of a year sending out resume after resume, and going to numerous interviews. Having spent years both at the Court and Sh*tLaw networking and making contacts at numerous firms, I had learned which firms to avoid. Unfortunately, they seemed to be the only ones hiring. I turned down a couple of offers that would only have changed the location where assholes would abuse and overwork me for no additional pay.
Eventually I made contact with a recruiter who was seeking out candidates for a firm that wanted to be choosy about their hiring. Apparently someone I knew recommended me to him (to this day I have no idea who). I was set up with an interview in the late afternoon of the day before Thanksgiving. I'd never heard of the firm, but did a little research and was impressed with what I could find out. They were an out-of-state firm growing their operation here, and needed experienced help fast. The interview went well, the office manager and associate performing the interview were extremely nice, and asked all the right questions. I didn't hear a single "buzzword" during the whole thing.
I got a call within 2 hours from the recruiter saying I must have done something right, because they were quite impressed and I was the leading candidate. I would have an answer early the next week, after the holiday weekend. Sure enough, Monday morning rolled around and I was given the good news: they would hire me, match my current salary and set me up with my prior work experience counting towards seniority for vacation time.
Now came the real quandry: what to do about my current job? I'd seen other people try to quit with 2 weeks notice, and that never went well. Sh*tLaw was not a very understanding environment, being run by a raging jackass and all. Being somewhat fair, I elected to give them a week, getting the work as caught up as possible. There was one person at the firm I could trust, raging jackass's son, the law clerk. Late in the week, I confided in him that Friday would be my last day, and I secretly got him up to speed on what was going on so the firm wouldn't be caught with it's pants down (I'm not THAT cruel). Friday came, and I drove to work in a borrowed pickup. The end of the day came, and I stayed late (not unusual - 14 hour days were normal). Once everyone else was gone, I packed up all the personal stuff in my office and left a resignation letter on raging jackass's desk along with my keys.
I have never regretted the decision. My current firm is a good place to work, and a far cry from most of the horror stories you hear about BigLaw.
I'm not much for "moral of the story" stuff, but if there is one here, it's about patience. The right job will find you if you put up with the crap long enough. The trick is not being afraid to leave what you have.