My Long Road to a Legal Job and Success

I graduated from Florida International University with a Bachelor’s degree in health information management and a minor in business. After graduation, I worked two different jobs within the field. I first worked as a scanning clerk with a Hospital. My main duties were to organize, scan and index medical records and then log the medical record for storage. My second job was as a health information analyst with my father’s medical facility. My primary duties included reviewing medical records for necessary signatures and documentation/substantiation. Importantly, my job as an analyst introduced me to the legal aspects of my field.

With my dad’s facility I learned there were certain types of medical records that were frequently subpoenaed such as an operative and/or anesthesia report, progress note, or order that was not signed by a physician. I had to make sure that the entire medical record was complete before giving the record to the third party copying service. They only came once a week.  Some law offices needed the records before the service was scheduled to come. In those cases, if there were less than five records to copy, my supervisor would let me copy the records. If there were five or more records, my supervisor would call the service to come that day.

On one occasion, I received a subpoena deposing my father. The subpoena stated that they would audio record the deposition, which my father agreed to. Once my father and the lawyer agreed to meet, the lawyer came with a videographer. My supervisor told me to advise my father to wait in the doctor’s lounge. My supervisor questioned the lawyer regarding the videographer. The medical director met with the lawyer and told the lawyer that my father agreed to the audio and not the video recording. The lawyer argued that it’s mostly audio but the medical director along with my supervisor said that it should have been clearly stated in the subpoena. After that being mentioned, the lawyer left. After that happened I re-read the subpoena myself, and it made no mention of a video recording for the deposition.

Later, I became certified as a Registered Health Information Administrator (RHIA) from the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) on October 11, 2008. After I became certified, my mentor/professor and many of my classmates referred me to managerial jobs in Miami. As much as I appreciated my colleagues and friends looking out for me, I knew that I wanted to work closer to home in West Palm Beach. Working nearby my family was an easy decision, yet I found it hard to accept earning only ten dollars an hour working per diem with no set schedule. At a local Medical Center, I became acquainted with a couple coders who also worked for the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center. The coders informed me of an entry level supervisor position and they thought I would be a great candidate for the Lead of Health Information Management Service (HIMS). Some of the job requirements were an Associate or Bachelor’s in Health Information Management and RHIT or RHIA credential. I applied and interviewed with the Chief of Medical Administration Service (MAS) and the Coding Supervisor. Initially I was very positive about the interview then the experiential and hypothetical questions made me think of what I thought was a less than stellar performance. After the interview the Chief of MAS gave me a tour of the department and introduced me to the clerks and other supervisors. I thanked them for their time and left. The next day the coders and I spoke about the interview. One of the coders asked if the Chief of MAS gave me a tour. I answered “yes.” William then told me that the other candidates were not given a tour because I was chosen for the position. I only worked with William for about a year and as much as I wanted to believe him, I just wasn’t sure. Then I received a call from Human Resources that I was hired. I informed my boss months in advance. In December 2010, I got the job. In February 2011, I got married. In April 2011, I became a federal employee starting at a GS 6 step 3.

When I started working for the VA, I thought this was the time to prove myself. I made sure to take the information from my bosses and advice from my professional cohorts and make my own path to success. One of my duties was to monitor workload and productivity. One of the scanning clerks consistently scans 60 to 80 documents a day. The daily quota is 150 documents. He has been working for the VA ever since it opened in the 90s and has been on professional improvement plan (PIP). Ideally PIPs are only for a month or two and the supervisor is supposed to monitor the clerk’s success or failure. His PIP lasted for years! What I learned is that you can tell a person what to do but will the person do it even if it’s their responsibility. After a couple years of working as a Lead, I wanted to schedule a meeting with the Chief of MAS and address some of the issues and concerns I had. The Chief of MAS informally knew of the issues but I wanted to give her my perspective. It did not go well. She told me I was unsuccessful and verbatim said “you come to my office every day to cry and complain”. Then she said there is a position open in a department called NON-VA CARE. She called the supervisor and said that I wanted to work for them. After I was dismissed, I called the supervisor and said that the Chief of MAS mainly spoke of my “intent” and apologized for what happened. The supervisor said it was alright and she welcomed me to the department. I worked for NON-VA CARE for a couple years before I found out my previous job had been posted as a GS 8. Initially I did not want to apply, but then there was a change in management so I applied for it. I did not qualify since you cannot skip an entire GS level. It was definitely frustrating. Then a newly created Legal ROI (Release of Information) clerk position opened as a GS 7. I applied and got the job.

Finally, I am content as to what I am doing and where I am working. As a Legal ROI clerk my main duties are to fulfill requests for records to lawyers and assist the paralegal and lawyer of the VA with torts. The one thing I am not fond of is status request on a request for records. Even though I inform lawyers on previous calls that I am given a 20-working day period to complete a request, they still call the next week regarding the status. It is a lot of work to review an authorization to see if I can disclose the entire record. If the authorization does not meet criteria, I have to review the record for redaction. Redacting can easily take me a couple hours of my time. Not to mention I must answer phone calls and respond to emails in between. Worse is when I spend my time redacting the record, then I call the law office and say the record is ready and the law office tells me they no longer need the record.

After I married my husband, Juan realized he needed a consistent job as most of his jobs are seasonal. Juan’s jobs are in the audio/visual technician field whose duties are to handle and set up audio/visual equipment, such as visual screens/monitors, projectors, computers with PowerPoint presentations, speakers, sound system, microphones, etc. Juan spent a couple months job searching online mostly through Indeed and Monster. Juan shared his frustration and told me that he is not going to accept a job that pays close to nine dollars an hour when he knows he can earn more. Through Indeed Juan found a job with a law firm. Juan mostly handles mail but there are times he covers the phone and helps troubleshoot computers. There are a couple pet peeves Juan has with the job. One is a last-minute request from a paralegal or lawyer to prepare something for a case, such as copying a paper file to an electronic file or transferring a file from one computer that may not be compatible with another. The other is FedEx. Most of the times they are late for pick up or drop off. There were a couple times Juan had to drive to a FedEx center to send out or pick up a package. The reason why these are pet peeves is that the firm does not pay overtime even though it’s close to closing the office.

Finding a law job that you are happy with and pays well is a rare find. Networking within the field is a big help. As they say, “it’s not what you know it’s who you know”. The frustrating thing for most people job searching is opportunity. As some college graduates say, “how can I have 2 to 5 years of job experience if they do not give me a job”. One thing to work on is your resume. Have others critique your resume so you have an idea as to best revise it. Another thing to work on is networking. It does not have to be at a job fair. It happens every day! You do not have to be the most outgoing person. A simple hello can start the conversation. One last thing to do whether you do or do not have a job is stay positive. Nothing lasts forever and there are legal jobs out there. As long as we want something better for ourselves, we can always look for greatness or success.

Authored by Rebecca Manriquez Pimentel

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