Leaving the Profession Better than You Found It, While You Are Still There .

Michael Bragg
January 20, 2011 — 1,596 views  
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In my now 31 years plus years in the legal profession, the first 7 years as a Soldier in the United States Army, I have learned many things and have been placed in some of the most unique circumstances that any person could face.  Some of which, if I were to talk about, could result in people showing up at your door (Only kidding!!).  

Anyways, I wondered what this experience does for me now.  Well, it provides me with the opportunity to honor the many people and organizations that entrusted me to a job for them doing something for somebody else, Paying it Forward.


Paying forward has been something people have talked about and even made movies about for years.  The concept is not new but many times, people in the legal profession may not think they have the resources to do so.   Well, the only resource your need is YOU!!

Once or twice a year, I am asked by the Tampa Bay Paralegal Association to basically offer some mentoring to students in the paralegal program at Hillsborough Community College.  This is done through interviews with the students and answering questions they have regarding the profession.  I am more than glad to take time out and speak to them about a career that has been so broad and diverse.

I am not alone in this type of experience though.  Many people I deal with on a daily basis have had similar experiences, although different jobs and titles, but diverse experiences in their profession.  We have all earned our praise and even some criticism along the way but one thing remained constant we learned.

When a young paralegal approaches me and ask me “What is the one thing that I can offer them to help them grow in their job?”  I tell them simply, leave the job better than you found it but do this while you are still there. 


My late father told me at a young age “Son, if you do the best you can do, no one can question your willingness to do the job. Sometimes it is only the skills you need to learn to do the job.”

In many professions, including the legal profession, the mentality of wanting to get ahead of others is ever prevalent.   The want to succeed and be at the top is something that all of us have had in our mindset at one time or another in our lifetime.  It does not have to be so. 

This can be done with a team approach and working with others to help them grow in their profession also.  Be it a young paralegal who has just graduated from a paralegal program to an older paralegal who decided that a career change was in order after they retired.  We all can provide this service by paying it forward.


One way is to take time out to have a teaching moment.  While in the Army, as a Non-commissioned officer, I was called upon to be able to teach soldier skills at a moment’s notice. Without warning, I would have to conduct a class on everything from field cleaning an M-16 rifle to how to don a chemical mask within 5 seconds.  

When I left the active service, I took this ability to have teachable moments with me.  So when I learned a new skill and new way of doing something, I shared it.  I still do this today.  

This teaching opportunity does not have to be one on one.  It can be in the form of giving someone a copy of article you read, a new website you find, or even passing on a tip on how a court may want something done. It could be as little as a few minutes to meeting someone over lunch to discuss things further.  When the opportunity is there, use it.


Another way is also by coaching up someone.  In the NFL, player’s mistakes are caught on film.  Could you imagine that if the mistakes you made were there for all to view over and over again?    Coaches may criticize a player for what they do, but they also show the player things they did right.  This many times leads to the player performing better on the field the following week.  The same can be applied to the legal profession. If you need to criticize someone, if all possible do it in private.  Coach them up, show them what they are doing right, but also show them ways to correct what they need do so to be better.  Doing this will show you respect not only them as a professional but you also respect the profession.  


Respecting the profession is the next way to pay it forward.  You are given a position of trust in what you do.  You have the responsibility and the obligation to follow the professional standards set forth in your job.  In Florida, paralegals are now registered with the State Bar of Florida.  A Florida Registered Paralegal has certain standards and guidelines they must meet to have maintain this designation.  It is important to help other understand the importance of set standards like these and other national standards set by the American Bar Association (ABA), National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA), or the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA).  These organizations can provide an important guide to helping you be the best you can be.  Respecting the profession will show others the respect you have not only for the job but for others.


We all like to be the person who gets 15 minutes or even 15 seconds of fame.  To tell someone that they have done a great job is always rewarding and even better to hear. Doing a great job should not be a part-time endeavor but should be something you can provide always.  If we need to accept that for many this time has come and gone.  We earned our praise, so why not pass it on so others can do the same.  Share the wealth and knowledge you have learned and pass it on.  Don’t be a closed book with the skills you learned. Let others know that they can succeed where you left off and you will be there to cheer them on.


As a father of a great 11 year old boy, I know it is not about me anymore.  I want to pass on to my son, the great things I learned from my father who learned from his father.  I want him to learn about life and be the best he can and accomplish things on his own.   Knowing that he can succeed at something is the greatest feeling I can have.  Knowing I helped him along the way is my own reward and no praise, certificate or even big trophy can ever replace.   I know that someday he will do the same, pay it forward.

Michael Bragg


MICHAEL BRAGG is a paralegal with Banker Lopez Gassler P.A. where he specializes in aviation litigation, products liability and personal injury. He focuses on all aspects of case management, from early discovery and document management to assisting attorneys at trial. Mr. Bragg has lectured to various professional groups and is a frequent speaker on litigation topics.