Paralegal -- rewarding choice, challenging assignment

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. April Horn
  • 71st Flying Training Wing Legal Office

VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- When I decided to cross train almost a decade ago, I was looking for a job that would transfer to the civilian sector. I wasn’t planning on staying in the Air Force.

I chose to cross train into legal. I thought being a paralegal would be a very prestigious and desirable job as a civilian. Now, 10 years later, I can say that being a paralegal is not as “prestigious” as I thought it would be, but it has been a very rewarding choice.

Paralegals help attorneys give advice to commanders and first sergeants on good order and discipline. They also draft legal reviews, wills and powers of attorney.

For the most part, the career field is comprised of seasoned NCOs just like me who elected to cross train. Working with commanders and first sergeants has been very eye opening and a great learning experience as I see them lead and influence their Airmen.

My first will signing and notarizing ceremony was for a retired-military family member dying of cancer. We went to her house because she was unable to come to us. Both she and her husband were so appreciative. She died a few weeks after our visit and that will helped her husband tremendously. It was a rewarding experience to provide help in their hour of need.

As a paralegal, I work alongside attorneys and have mentored many captains with six months of active duty that don’t yet know how the Air Force works. It is amazing to watch these officers grow and become leaders in their own right.

I can’t talk about being a paralegal without mentioning courts-martial. Processing courts is an intense and challenging task. The work we do can make or break the entire process.

Paralegals are behind the scenes of everything that happens in the court – preferring the charge sheet, traveling the judge, witnesses, preparing evidence, confinement and even post trial actions. We listen in on witness interviews and can be called to testify as to what was said.

When I was deployed, I testified against a defendant who tried to withdraw everything said during his interview. Because of our integral part in the courts-martial process, the defendant was unable to withdraw his statement.

Although paralegals don’t have a speaking part in courts, we are able to participate in Administrative Discharge Boards. These boards are similar to a court but are convened when a member is being discharged administratively due to fitness failures, drug abuse and minor disciplinary infractions.

I had the opportunity to do an opening statement for a four-time fitness-failure discharge and also participate in a discharge board for a master sergeant who used marijuana. I was probably more nervous than the member being discharged. But I was proud to participate.

The paralegal career field is a unique and challenging assignment. So much so that instead of leaving the Air Force, I decided not only to stay in for another enlistment but to make the Air Force a career.

If you think paralegal might be for you, give me a call at 580-213-6178.