This week we were able to catch up with Michael J. Adams, a Messiah History alum! Michael graduated in 2012 and is currently working as a paralegal in the Law Offices of Michael T. van der Veen. He graciously took the time to answer some questions about life after graduation, explain how history has impacted his career choice, and offer wisdom to current undergraduates in history. Thank you Michael!
1) Can you talk a little about what life has been like since Messiah, and how you ended up working your current job at the Law Offices of Michael T. van der Veen?
My life since Messiah has been fairly busy and I’m incredibly grateful for that. Once I graduated I had an internship as the Pastoral Aide at Harrisburg Brethren in Christ Church through the Mennonite Central Committee. Then I decided to move back home (Philadelphia, PA) and start over. Going into Messiah College I knew as an absolute fact that I wanted to be a lawyer. But, as I continued to learn about the Lord and more specifically my calling in life, being a full-pledged lawyer was not that appealing. Besides, I already have enough debt coming out of Messiah. Can I get an AMEN?
With that dream deferred, I was left to figure out what I wanted to do with a big chunk of my life. I knew that I loved the law, American History and research, (despite my prose being average at best), but I didn’t know of any options. In the summer of 2011, right before I started my senior year, a TV show premiered called Suits (which I still love to this day). The show is about a bunch of corporate lawyers, but what really piqued my interest were the paralegals/support staff. I had never thought about that as an option. The more I considered it, the more appealing it became. So, once I came back to Philly, I immediately enrolled into Community College of Philadelphia’s (CCP) Paralegal Studies program. Since I already had my Bachelor’s, I was able to graduate in less than a year.
I took an internship class at CCP and was assigned as a paralegal intern at the Law Offices of Georgette Miller, a bankruptcy firm I absolutely loved and thrived in it. In fact, the firm wanted to hire me at the end of the internship, but did not have the budget at this time. However, I was able to find a Human Resources job at one of the largest firms in the city, Drinker Biddle & Reath, from one of the paralegals at the bankruptcy firm. It was as if I was working in a similar scenario as my favorite television show! Unfortunately this was only a temporary position, albeit for an infinite duration. After working there for almost a year my direct supervisors were pleading with management to hire me full-time. The management was being slothful, so I began to job hunt a little. My old professor at CCP sends out a weekly “job of the week” email and I just started to randomly apply to the posting. Fortunately, the Law Offices of Michael T. van der Veen called, and the rest is history.
2) Had you always been interested in law, and why did you choose to major in history during your time at Messiah?
I’ve always been interested in law. In high school I was the captain of the Mock Trial team solidifying, in my mind, my prowess of being an advocate of the law. The reason I began to study history also goes back to high school. My absolute favorite teacher, Chris Frank, taught American History and helped me fall in love with it. He presented history as more than just the facts, numbers, and dates. He introduced the larger context and how it has influenced our lives today. He was an amazing teacher who was also a Messiah College graduate. So naturally, I had to follow his steps.
3) How has the study of history aided you or impacted your career journey since graduating Messiah? Furthermore, if you had to pick one event or experience during your years at Messiah that has most prepared you for life after graduation, what would it be?
I’ll answer the second question first.
I can’t simply pick one event that has prepared me for life after Messiah. But I can pick two, well kinda. The first was being a History Department Diplomat my senior year. One of the necessary skills that we, as history majors need to have is the ability to articulate responses to Dr. John Fea’s favorite question “Why did you study history?” As a diplomat, I was given the role of helping people get excited about history. I hope I was able to show the life changing aspect of history through it’s ability to open one’s eyes to another life in another country in another century. There is no other degree that prepares you as extensively as history…Let me stop before I start preaching again, but you get the picture!
The second way that studying history has aided my career journey is that it challenged me intellectually. The process of getting out of one own shoes into another person’s is a deeply personal affair that takes a special type of training. It has been incredibly helpful especially due to the fact that I work in a personal injury law firm. As a personal injury staffer, I interact with clients that were injured in car crashes, slips and falls and premises liabilities. One of our jobs is being able to clearly articulate what happened to cause the injury, but the most helpful element is being able to talk, empathize and help the lawyers be the best advocates for the clients. There is a lot of storytelling in our process and it’s one of the elements of my job that I am most pleased with; my ability to articulate how the client is feeling so that others are able to dive into his or her shoes. If I do that aspect of my job well, the client will receive fair compensation. I’m able to excel in that because of studying history at Messiah.
4) Do you have advice for undergraduate students looking to go into graduate school, or to take their study of history into another discipline (like law)?
My advice is threefold. First and foremost, pray and ask for discernment on where the Lord wants you. I didn’t do that until the end of my junior year of college and wish I had done it earlier so that I could’ve dropped my pre-law minor sooner rather than later. Jesus is the author of our lives and knows our gifts far more than we could even ask or think. Just ask him.
Second, build relationships. First with your college professors, (Dr. Jim LaGrand and Dr. Fea are the example in my life). When I was going through my undergraduate studies, every once in a while, I would venture into one of their offices to ask for help, mostly because I was very bad at writing, and for a sense of clarity. Fun fact, some of our professors have actually gone to seminary! I won’t tell you which one. Then find an internship and put yourself out there. For some people networking is fun and natural, aka extroverts. But if you’re like me, networking is a stressful endeavor, but I promise you that it works. It’s how I was able to get all of the jobs that I had.
Lastly, be confident in your abilities. You have God-given and ordained talents and skills that make you stand out from others. Through the first two steps, start to develop them. If you’re not a good writer, consider public history or maybe law school and then begin to work on skills to help you become a better future pubic historian or law professional. Even though I’m no longer a practicing paralegal in my firm, (I’m the Office Manager) I have the opportunity to interview a lot of people. Some of their greatest flaws is that they just aren’t confident in their ability to articulate why they should be hired. It sounds like a simple concept, but in actual practice, it proves quite difficult.
In short, have a plan, pray about the plan and execute it.