Former Deputy Judge Offers His Thoughts on the Life of a Paralegal

Major General Charles J. Dunlap Jr. visited the Air Force Academy recently for a speaking engagement. While there, he took the chance to visit the Academy’s legal office led by Colonel Dawn Zoldi. Major General Dunlap was afforded the opportunity to speak to the legal office staff about his career with the JAG Corps and the Air Force. He began by saying that while everyone must develop their own personal philosophies, he “thought seeing an example might help some folks get started.”

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Some key reflections that Major General Dunlap found helpful in his career include:

Service: A lot of promising paralegals (military or private sector) fail to meet their potential because they often lack qualities that complement their firms. Success does not depend on having a superior intellect or talent, but rather a great work ethic and positive attitude.

Know your client’s business: The research and knowledge required for each individual case is one of the most important aspects of the life of a paralegal. “All the knowledge of the law in the world won’t help you if you don’t understand the facts involved, or the context in which it will be applied.”

It’s not supposed to be easy: Becoming a true professional takes dedication and patience. In the age of online research and instant gratification, there is enormous value in taking your time and researching other issues that might not seem like they have immediate relevance.

Mentors: A mentor can be the greatest asset you have in your early career as a paralegal. Find someone who is willing to tell you what you need to hear over what you want to hear.

Major General Dunlap boasts a 34-year career in the JAG Corp, and he served as the Deputy Judge Advocate General from 2006-2010. He currently teaches courses on national security and international law at Duke University School of Law.

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