It was the early 1990s, and Antonietta Supa had just been hired as the legal librarian for a major aviation law firm. There was no Internet, no Google, no online database; the most advanced research technology she had was the now-ancient microfiche. But now, she would be faced with an assignment that might’ve given even the most experienced investigators a run for their money. Here was the scenario: a foreign government had been sold the specifications for a rifle model from a gun manufacturer, with the condition that these specs not be sold back into the United States. However, a decade later, that same government carelessly sold them to a game manufacturer, and were sued to have their license to use the gun revoked. “My task was to see if the specs were really that secret, and if I could, as a public citizen, locate the specs in public records.” It wasn’t an easy job; she had to sift through Congressional records on microfiche and film for hours upon end, just to look for any hint of evidence. But along the way, she was fascinated by something else she learned – that the gun used by our troops in Vietnam, after the government mistakenly switched the recommended gun powder, would congeal from the heat of the Vietnam jungles and blow up in our own soldiers’ faces, killing them in too many cases. Ultimately, she did find a copy of the specifications that was in the public record and the attorneys won the case. Yet, this also highlights what Antonietta considers the best part of her job: learning something new and captivating every single day. This would be what would carry her throughout her career, even today – thirty years later.
“I always wanted to be a teacher,” she says. Thirty years ago, Mrs. Supa was a young aspiring educator, with little knowledge of aviation law. However, since she was young, she took to learning, and legal topics in particular captivated her. “I was fascinated with stories about crimes of the century, such as the Lindbergh Kidnapping,” she recalls. “It was always very interesting to me to understand the makings of the work it takes to argue a trial and to gather evidence and piece the puzzles of a case together to win a verdict.” But it was really in college that she began to solidify her interest in law. “I was exposed to more legal topics and it just broadened my interests from when I was a child.” There was just something about law that appealed to her – the mechanism of putting the puzzle pieces together, developing an argument, and arguing a trial just seemed to be something she was interested in. In the end, she decided to major in Library and Information Studies, after gaining some experience as a librarian throughout her time in college.
That’s where her current job came into the picture. Through the recommendation of a friend, she was able to interview for a legal filing position at the law firm, one of the biggest aviation law firms in the United States. It was only supposed to be a temporary job, something she’d do on the side for a few weeks over the summer. However, when the librarian at the firm passed away suddenly, that all changed; they asked her to stay on full-time as the librarian, and she agreed. Which, thirty years later, is a decision she doesn’t regret in the slightest. “There’s never a time when I truly know everything, and I have such a wonderful opportunity to learn about the world.”
Now, her role is widely expanded compared to what it was thirty years ago. “I need to understand where to find an answer to any kind of legal question. I need to know databases for periodicals, for Congressional sources, for how to fly an airplane or for where to find an insurance form.” She also has to manage the firm’s website, and help attorneys with legal court submissions, and making PowerPoint presentations for the law firm. And she even “taught the Internet and searching to attorneys” when it was first blossoming as a key source of information in the mid-1990s. For some, this might just seem like dull work that gets old after a while. They might think they’d be bored after years of doing, essentially, the same job at the same company, with all these different roles to play. But for Antonietta, that’s the complete opposite of how she feels about her job – “I’ve stayed at the firm for so long because I enjoy helping the associates I’ve worked with over the years,” she explains. For her, it’s especially fulfilling to help transfer her own knowledge to the associates and attorneys to help them grow and succeed. “I am most proud having helped our senior partners go before the Supreme Court for historical aviation cases,” she continues. “It makes me feel like a part of history and a part of the changes to legal ruling.” In other words, she attains a sense of accomplishment in doing this; it’s given her a purpose throughout her three-decade career.
But the most important part of her job? “Learning,” she says. “I’m always learning something new each day I work.” That’s really what breaks the monotony for her, and keeps her passionate about her job at the law firm. It’s almost out of necessity, she elaborates – surviving for thirty years in a law firm requires you to advance your own knowledge enough to stay ahead of the curve. And while she did not necessarily become a teacher like she always dreamed, she does consider herself to be a teacher of sorts – even as the firm’s librarian. “I often need to learn a topic in order to teach them where to find an answer to a legal question.” But for Antonietta, the desire to learn has simply been a part of her, as a person. “It is the only way to stay interested in a field – if it does not get old and you are constantly striving to understand something that will help someone somewhere succeed and get some justice.”
Learning. Something that, for far too many, comes to be increasingly taken for granted as the years go by, after our first captivating experiences in elementary school. In those days, we’re all eager to learn, to discover something new, to take in all the knowledge we possibly can in the span of a day. That’s the curiosity that sparks imagination – the fuel for innovation, the key to advancement. But in some people, this curiosity and eagerness to learn doesn’t fade with time; rather, in many of the most successful and content people, it grows with time, leading to innovations that have the potential to benefit society as a whole. It’s all part of the growth mindset, which keeps people engaged and passionate for as long as there are new things to learn. This is exactly what has kept my mom, Antonietta Supa, motivated throughout her life, and what will continue to do so in the years to come. In terms of her career, “I really wouldn’t have changed a thing,” she says. “But if I had one wish, I’d add an extra day in the week, so I could help out the attorneys more and have some more time to learn.”