By Beth Hill
A quote from George Burns says it best. “Get your good better and your better best.” This is good advice because there is no time to rest on one’s laurels. As paralegals, we are responsible for our own professional growth and career development. It is not up to our employers to nurture our knowledge. We must each take the tactical steps necessary to ensure continued growth.
The legal profession is on a course of constant change. Law firms, in particular, used to be able to count on client loyalty and a sizable retainer from clients who regularly provided the firm with work, which in turn helped to reduce certain costs, such as marketing costs. Today, however, clients shop around and demand top legal services at reduced costs. They can often change counsel on a case by case bases. In today’s uncertain market, it has become increasingly important for paralegals to develop a strategic plan to keep their careers on the correct paths.
How will your job be different in five years? What will happen with the firm for which you work? We really don’t know what the future holds, but what we do know is that change is constant. Succeeding in a demanding, changing workplace requires a strategic career plan. Employers want to retain employees who provide the best value. Look at yourself as a business with a product to sell, and create a strategy for marketing your work-place value. You can employ a strategic process of improving your worth and setting new goals for your career path.
How do we keep that competitive edge? Below are some important steps you can take today to furture-proof your career.
The skills you have today may not be sufficient for tomorrow. Much of the change today involves new technology. Technological skills are some of the most sought after skills in the present legal market. You will most likely find yourself at high risk of losing your job if you are without the technological understanding and ability. Paralegals must make themselves proficient with a growing array of word processing, spreadsheet, telecommunications, database, presentation and legal research software. Force yourself to keep your technical skills current.
Knowledge Is The Key
Learn all you can in the area of law in which you work in to set yourself apart. Distinguish yourself with your knowledge. Invest in additional education; read books and magazines; take webinars; and attend seminars and workshops. Determine what you need to know and learn; and work to overhaul your professional image. Participate in professional development; become a member of your local paralegal association which promotes professionalism, ethics and eduction for its members. Becoming a valuable paralegal involves expense, tuition, time and effort. A little investment of your own funds and time will pay lasting dividends for years to come. Pay for additional courses and take exams such as the PACE to validate your skill set and knowledge.
While it’s important to know all you can about the area of law in which you currently work, it is just as important to realize that in a down-economy, the type of work you do may need to shift to another area in the firm. For example, real estate work may have been plentiful in the past, but today, bankruptcy, collections and foreclosures have increased, and your help may be needed in those areas. If you can demonstrate your knowledge and willingness to make the change, you are ahead of the game.
Develop Transferrable Skills
Continue to work on developing transferable skills that are universally sought by employers. Leadership, communication, innovation, stress management, and interpersonal skills are fundamental requirements.
Create A Success Journal
This is important to think about when you are not looking for a job. Be proactive and take inventory of what you do well. Track you duties, projects and results.
B ecuause we don’t know what the future holds, setbacks are inevitable. Those who will emerge successful are the ones with the ability to bounce back. We have to develop our resilience skillsand use that resilience to meet the challenges that have become a regular part of our work. Resilience is your capacity to deal with stress, aversity and uncertainty. When we practice resilience, we are in a better position to adapt to ongoing changes.
Let’s face it: some attorneys do not utilize paralegals effectively. They just do not know what type of work to give paralegals. Take the initiative and seek out substantive work. Know all you need to know and understand about the area of law in which you work. This in turn will demonstrate your abilities, and the profitability for the firm will increase. Effective paralegal utilization equals increased profitability. Avoid limits on the scope of your position. Seek new assignments and challenges. Find a niche area of expertise and become that go-to person.
You cannot underestimate the importance of communication with the clients you serve. It is fundamental to the practice of law. Paralegals serve as an important liaison between clients, experts, vendors and other legal professionals. Keep communication with clients a top priority. Return calls promptly and keep clients updated on their cases. Happy clients also make happy bosses.
Work With Passion
Be passionate about your work and you will have the greatest chance of success. I believe paralegals are passionate people We believe in what we do, and we believe that our work makes a difference in the lives of others. It is that very passion that drives us to be the best that we can be. When we work with passion, we work harder, have more energy, get more creative and most of all we inspire others who work along side us.
With the New Year well underway, which promises to be filled with challenges and uncertainties, now is the time to focus on your personal strategic plan to future prof your career. As Judge Judy accurately declares, “The time to change was yesterday; the time to wake up is now.”
Beth Hill has been a paralegal for 26 years specializing in Estate Administration, Estate Planning, Tursts an Trust Administration. She is currently employed at the law firm of Burt, Blee, Dixon, Sutton & Bloom, LLP in Fort Wayne, Indiana. She currently serves as the Vice President and Secondary Representative of the Northeast Indiana Paralegal Association. She can be reached as firstname.lastname@example.org