Are you ready to fast-track your paralegal career? We’re here to help you! These 10 paralegal tips will help you stand out at your firm and accelerate your paralegal career.
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One thing that I didn’t realize is that a lot of paralegals will do their drafts and not finish the edits. You know, they go through and check everything, and they’re giving it to the attorney because they have to sign off on it. It is still their work product, and they’re thinking that the attorney’s going to give it this once over, right?
The problem is they’re not giving it a once over for grammar and spelling. They’re reviewing for substance. They’re looking at it like, does the legal argument make sense? Have they included all the relevant evidence? Things like that. They’re not going to catch that grammar mistake on page 10. They’re not going to catch the wrong bar number in the signature line or the wrong case number, even in the case caption.
2. Have the Mindset that You Own Your Career
I want to share a quote from Earl Nightingale with you that is an excellent paralegal tip. He said, “The driving force of a career must come from the individual.” Remember that jobs are owned by the company. You own your career.
Read more about 3 Mindset Shifts for New Paralegals.
3. Seek Feedback Throughout the Year
Have you ever done business with a company like a car dealership, or you’ve been on a call with a customer service grab like one of the cable companies, and the last thing they ask you is: Is there anything else I can help you with?
That’s usually followed by: You’re going to be getting a survey from our corporate headquarters, and I’d appreciate all fives on all if you were pleased with the service. If you weren’t pleased enough to rate me that high, I’d like to know what to do or something I can do to fix it. Now, I think we can all learn an important paralegal tip from that.
Why wouldn’t you ask the same thing of people you spend hundreds of hours working for each year? Why wouldn’t you go to those attorneys in advance of your performance review and not just once but on a regular basis throughout the year? Is there anything that I could be doing to better support you? If you were to rate my performance right now, and it’s anything less than outstanding, can we talk about why and what I can do to improve it?
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4. Be the Master of Technology
You don’t want to let technology pass you by, and this is one paralegal tip I tell every paralegal who will listen. Paralegals should know more about your practice-specific technology than any attorney on your team. Be the go-to person when it comes to technology. You don’t want the partner on your team going to the young associate down the hall for help with that new technology tool.
You want them coming to you, but don’t stop there. Once you master the technology your team is currently using, you should also be on the lookout for trends in your practice area. This way you know and can make recommendations on other technology that could benefit the firm and how your files are handled.
Here’s a quote from Stuart Brand that is relevant to this topic, “Once a new technology rolls over you, if you’re not part of the steamroller, then you’re part of the road,” and we don’t want to be part of the road.
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5. Level Up Your Note-Taking
I get asked, what is a tool that I wished I had when I was a paralegal? What if I could choose one tool?
My paralegal tip for leveling up your note-taking is to check out a reMarkable paper tablet. It’s remarkable. It actually is, and I’m a paper kind of person. I usually have notebooks all over the place. You probably use a Steno pad. This is wonderful. I would get this if I were a paralegal, and I would carry this with me everywhere I went because it’s amazing.
You have literally unlimited amounts of notebooks. You write as you would on paper, and the digital pen has an eraser. It’s so light and thin, and I can actually use it to share my screen. Not that you would necessarily need to do that often, but you could if you were having a team meeting or something.
You can also take the notes that you’ve written down here and convert them to text. It will let you send them to yourself in an email or turn it into a sharable document. You can learn more about it here.
6. Set Bigger Goals
The big question is, how do you set big goals without setting yourself up for not hitting that goal and feeling like your year was a failure?
Commit to the action it takes to get to the goal. Don’t attach yourself to the outcome because then you’ll still see some benefit from those actions. Here’s an example, let’s say you are a litigation paralegal who wants to set a goal next year to get your ACEDS eDiscovery certification.
You take some eDiscovery courses, and you get involved at a deeper level on your eDiscovery projects. You start attending local eDiscovery meetings. Then later in the year, you start taking a prep course to take the certification. But life happens, and a family member gets sick, and you’re the caretaker.
Learn about a path to eDiscovery certification.
So your free time in the evenings and weekends is no longer available for that prep course and you don’t sit for the exam. All of those actions that you took throughout the year, have significantly increased your eDiscovery project management skills and allowed you to meet some great people. You have maybe even found a mentor who’s taken and passed the certification exam.
All of those actions are so valuable to your career. And you know what I’ve been preaching as a paralegal tip for years: Focus on your career security instead of just your job security. They own your job, but you own your career, and it’s up to you and you alone on how successful your paralegal career is.
Try our “SMARTER” Goal-Setting Method.
7. Change Your Response Instead of Trying to Change Them
Don’t think that you can change the procrastinator attorney.
Instead, change your response. I get it. It’s frustrating to get those last-minute projects thrown in your lap or thrown in your inbox. There are so many jokes out there about attorneys being procrastinators, but it’s really pretty simple if you think about it. If you work with a procrastinator, you only have two choices: change them or change how you respond to them.
1. Change them.
Get them to stop waiting until the last minute to give you projects. I can hear the laughter out there now. I did a Google search on how to work with a boss who was a procrastinator.
If you really want to laugh and you’ve got an hour or two to burn going down the Google rabbit hole, do that search. One of the articles was in this newsletter for workplace issues. It gave at least five things that you can do.
Here is one of them word for word regarding asking your boss a question:
Send him an email one or two days before the deadline. Suggest how you will proceed if he isn’t able to provide you with what you need. You say, quote, the deadline on this project is tomorrow. I still need you to review it and give me your feedback before I submit it to the client. If I don’t hear back from you by 3:00 PM tomorrow, I’ll assume you approve of my efforts, and I will submit the project end.
Do you this would work with your attorney? I know I was laughing, too, when I read that. It’s most likely that the project that you’re doing is something that has to be signed by an attorney who has a license to practice law.
But let’s give it a try and say that it’s not something that’s going to get filed with the court or sent to opposing counsel. Let’s assume it’s something that’s a draft or something that you’re putting together that the attorney wants to send to a client. Sending that project to the client if you don’t hear back from the attorney by 3:00 PM is still not going to fly. No, it’s not happening in the legal profession. Okay, so changing them is off the table if that’s the case.
Check out these 10 paralegal career takeaways from 2023.
2. Change how you respond.
If you work with a procrastinator, what can you do to change how you respond? Well, you could get access to their calendar so that you know of any deadlines coming up.
You could ask for weekly meetings with them, whether in person or on Zoom. Ask them what’s their top three priorities this week. One of the things that I teach in the Litigation Boot Camp is to get your eyes on everything that comes in on your cases so that you know there’s a deposition scheduled next month.
If you know that you can start pulling things together for it this month, you could also go into their office and say: I see we have the X, Y, Z deadline coming up late next week. I’m going to go ahead and get started on that. That way, you’re not asking them if there’s anything that you can do to help on the X, Y, Z case. You’re saying you see what’s coming up on the X,Y,Z case, and you’re going to start doing A, B, C.
8. Have the Confidence to Speak Up
Have the confidence to speak up when something’s going off track. Let me elaborate on what I mean when sharing this paralegal tip. If something is happening in a case, in a transaction, on a file, and you know from your experience, from the feedback you’re getting, or the training that you’ve received that something is going to go wrong, you can’t just put your head down, try to get the work done, and hope that you can pull it through it. Never.
We end up finding ourselves where the train has gone off the tracks, and now we’re being held responsible for it because we are the paralegal on the case or the file or whatever. Let me give you a specific example. I’ll talk litigation, but you could use this for any of your files, your transactions, real estate closings, etc.
Let’s say you are a litigation paralegal, and you’ve got a document production coming up. You are prepared to meet the deadline. It’s all scheduled out on your calendar. You set aside time every day to review the documents, to get them produced in time, and to do a quality control check before the end.
But let’s say the attorney keeps adding on more and more documents. Or asking you to do more and more things for each and every document. Instead of just reviewing for privilege, you’re going to review and tag hot documents. You’re going to review and find documents that are for a specific deposition coming up.
They’ve increased the scope, but you haven’t increased the time. You still have to complete it all by that same deadline. In order to do that, you skip past quality control, or you are rushed during it. When we’re rushed, we make mistakes. In the end, what happens? Maybe a privileged document gets produced to the other side when the attorney comes upon that mistake.
It’s going to be your fault. What they’re going to say is, why didn’t you say something? Why didn’t you tell me that you were overwhelmed and didn’t think you were going to complete this project on time? Why didn’t you tell me that because of all of the extra tags and things that I was having you do to these documents, you might not be able to do a good quality control check?
That’s what they’re going to come to you and say. So why not speak up? Have the confidence to speak up when you’ve got the opportunity. Yeah, you still might have to take the blame, but at least you spoke up and were able to say this is going to cause a potential problem down the road.
9. Do It Right the First Time
This is a crucial paralegal tip for all of you, and it’s a quote I heard a while back from a UCLA basketball coach, “If you don’t have the time to do it right the first time, when will you have the time to fix it?”
When I heard that years ago, I thought this was so true. Apply that to your daily work as a paralegal and ask yourself, if I don’t have the time to do it right the first time. When am I going to fix it? You know, if it takes one hour to do it right, but I only have 40 minutes. When am I going to find the hour to fix it?
This is why attention to detail is such a valuable skill. Paralegals need to spot things that need to be fixed before they become more significant problems, especially in our line of work. Working on tight deadlines and being able to pay attention to even minute details is critical but challenging. If you follow my next one on time management, it’s easier.
10. Be the Master of Time Management
Here’s our final paralegal tip! As a paralegal, you must manage your time. Here’s why it’s so important.
You have 1600 hours worth of work to complete in a year. If you work in a law firm, maybe that’s 1600 billable hours, but if you work at a corporate legal department or a government agency, this could mean it’s just the work that you have to complete. Let’s say that 90% of the time you’re in the office, you’re doing productive work.
Meaning 10% of the time, you’re doing other stuff, like grabbing coffee, chatting with coworkers about your weekend, and checking social media. If you’re being productive 90% of the time that you’re in the office, you’re going to complete that 1600 hours of work in 1,780 hours. With being 75% productive, meaning 25% of the time that you’re in the office, you’re not doing real work, those numbers change.
If you do work at 75%, it’s going to take you 2,135 hours to complete that same 1600 hours of work. That’s a difference of 355. How much could you get done with an extra 355 hours in a year? Maybe it means you don’t have to work nights and weekends. It could mean you’re able to make it to your kid’s soccer game, whatever’s important to you. Be productive while you’re in the office so that you can get out of the office sooner.
We hope these paralegal tips will help all of you grow in your paralegal career.
Check out these things I learned as a paralegal manager that I wish I knew as a paralegal.
Meet the Author
Ann Pearson is the Founder of the Paralegal Boot Camp, and host of the Paralegals on Fire! Podcast Show, and passionate about promoting the paralegal profession.
Ann spent 20 years working as a paralegal manager and a litigation paralegal before opening the Paralegal Boot Camp in 2010.
Ann’s training programs focus on adding immediate value to a paralegal’s career and bridging the gap between what a paralegal learns in school and what they actually do on the job.
Visit the About Us Page to learn more about why Ann started the Paralegal Boot Camp.
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