Monday, June 9, 2014

So What CAN You Do With a History Major?: Part 48

Work as a paralegal

In this post in our series "So What CAN You Do With a History Major?," I caught up with Michael Adams, a 2012 graduate of Messiah College, proud product of the Philadelphia public school system, and a history major.  Michael is currently working as a paralegal in his hometown.

JF: Michael, why did you decide to become a history major in college?

MA:  I was fully planning on majoring in computer science in college, but in my junior year of high school I met a man who would become one of the most influential people in my educational life. He just happened to be my American History teacher.  Unlike the factual narrative approach to history I was accustomed to, this teacher brought history to life. He taught with so much energy and his passion for history flooded into my life until the subject started to become one of my loves.  The rest is, as they say, history.  I became a history major at my mentor's alma mater and haven’t looked back since.

JF: Tell us about your current job?

MA:  I am a paralegal at The Law Offices of Michael T. van der Veen, a personal injury/criminal defense law firm in Philadelphia.  Most of what I do is interact with and build relationships with insurance adjusters, co-workers, and, most importantly, clients. I gather information to put together stories of how accidents or incidents occurred.  I assess the damages and/or injuries of our clients and relay those narratives to insurance adjusters. The law firm where I work is pretty small and close-knit, so being able to be flexible in the way I help people is essential to my duties.  

JF: How has your history major helped in you in your work as a paralegal?

MA: There is no simple way to answer that question.  When I arrived at college I thought I was an amazing writer.  But after four years of writing history papers I realized that I wasn't all that I thought I was on this front.  Since today much of my job requires me to write letters, history, as one of the core writing disciplines, continues to have an impact on my life.  

Along with writing, a good portion of my job requires me to understand people and empathize with their situation. I have to get out of my own proverbial shoes in order to understand the pain and suffering of our clients.  I also cannot be too attached to my clients since I need to be as unbiased as possible when recording their stories. History majors can relate to the idea of getting into a (usually dead) person's head to explain his or her life.  But they also understand that it is impossible to fully grasp a person's whole story.

Every once in a while I am needed to help research a topic (usually a law or statute relevant to a case). I found that when I was studying for my A.A.S in Paralegal Studies (after receiving my BA in History), my ability to find laws, statuyes, and cases were greatly enhanced.  The ease of being able to find relevant and pertinent cases was as enjoyable as finding primary and secondary sources (legal jargon calls them "authorities") during my undergraduate experience.  

Reading law documents can be difficult at times.  Anyone who has read a law or statute in their civics or history classes realize how dense and all-encompassing the law tries to be.  I thought reading Michel Foucault in my sophomore historical methods class was bad, but after reading US Supreme Court documents, my brain becomes just as fried.  

When it comes down to it, I can't think of any area in my professional life that the study of history has not strengthened.

JF: Any advice for current history majors--either about their experience studying history in college or their preparation for the job market?

MA:  Never sell history short.  The past is complex.  No blog, article, book, or anthology can fully account for this complexity.  History has the ability to transform the way you think about the world.

For a couple of my job interviews I received "softball" questions like: "Why were you a history major?" or "How has a history major influenced your life?" Those questions are golden opportunities to give amazing answers, but only if you've allowed history to penetrate your mind and soul.  History is not just something I study or write about, but thinking historically about the world has become part of my very being.

The study of history has taught me to listen more and speak less.

When people ask you why you studied history in college, your answer should be so amazing that they come out asking themselves, "Why DIDN'T I become a history major in college?"  

I'll leave it with this: take all of your research papers and reading very seriously (much more seriously than I) because the effect it can have on your future is incomprehensible.

Thanks, Michael.  I love the passion!