4 Ways to Transition Into Your New Paralegal Role Smoothly

Are you getting ready transition into your new paralegal role? I was fortunate to start my paralegal career at a law firm where the managing partners saw the value in making sure employees were taken care of. I loved my job, helping others, and the benefits were unbeatable.  Sure, there were times when I felt like quitting because of mounting discovery or tenacious clients, but I really enjoyed showing up every day. I’m from a small town so I didn’t have a good understanding of how our role as paralegals could be so diverse because of the different areas of law. I wanted to expand my knowledge as a paralegal and to do that I would have to start over somewhere new.

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I felt like being pulled out of my comfort zone, I was deeply tested on my ability to adapt to change. Even though I made the choice to leave the firm I was comfortable at, didn’t mean that a thousand worst-case scenarios weren’t running through my head. I was so anxious about the future and about failing. I tried to think of every excuse to stay put and I even remember telling myself that it was easier to stay put than it was to leave. In reality, it just felt safer.

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It took me over a year to accept another position and give notice to my attorney. And the guilt I felt was unimaginable. It felt like I was betraying the people who put their time and effort into teaching me. But that wasn’t the case at all. They were full of pride that I had the courage to get out there and try something new. It was hard to be my own voice of reason, but I knew that I deserved to be a more well-rounded paralegal. Starting at a new law firm can be scary, but in this blog, you’ll learn a few tips on how to make the transition into your new paralegal role a smooth one.

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1. First Impressions

To me, my first day was about the first impression. I wanted to act as naturally as possible while still maintaining a professional demeanor. I was showcased around to meet staff and attorneys alike and get the lay of the land in the offices. Everyone was so nice, and I felt so comfortable and at ease.

I’ve worked at a law firm before where your first day was nothing special and there was nothing welcoming about it. It’s amazing how each law firm and attorneys have such different ways of doing things. I remember I walked in the doors, stomach still in my throat, with the goal of making a good first impression on everyone I would meet. I focused on the following:

  • Shaking hands;
  • Being direct with my word choice;
  • Looking people in the eye when talking; and
  • Having conscious, positive body language.

Shaking hands with someone has always been seen as a sign of respect.
 The more seasoned attorneys appreciate this gesture, but I feel like it still sends a clear message about respecting everyone you meet. I am guilty of fumbling over my words and oversharing, so I had to really practice being direct with my word choice. I didn’t want to bombard my new co-workers on the first day, so I focused on the more direct comments during conversations to avoid any misinterpretations.

Looking people in the eye while they talk shows that you’re actively listening to what they are saying and shows that you respect their time. While you’re doing that, be aware of how you’re standing and what you’re doing with your hands.  If you’re someone who gets nervous and twiddles their thumbs, try putting your hands in your pockets. Having conscious positive body language while meeting someone new indicates that you’re genuinely engaged in the meeting.

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A confident paralegal giving her employer a great first impression, creating a way for transition into her new paralegal role.

2. New Hire Paperwork

I sat in a conference room to complete the new hire paperwork. This really is a symbolic time as it marks the start of your transition into a new job. A lot of information comes at you fast and so much paperwork. The best thing you can do is to advocate for yourself and ask as many questions as you can. The laws and rules are always changing so you want to make sure you understand how they apply to your situation specifically.

Make sure to ask when you’re eligible for firm benefits such as 401k/retirement accounts. You might think you can remember it all, but it’s so much easier to take notes as you’re going through everything. I wrote down a list of questions I had as I was filling everything out that way, I would remember to ask them before I left. I don’t think it’s useful to try to ask these questions a week or two after you’ve been working. 

In this profession, you must respect everyone’s time. Firm administrators are often extremely busy with managing the day-to-day firm activities and they have set aside a specific time for you. So, make the most of that time. If there is information you don’t have that day, make it a priority to get it to your HR or admin person as quickly as possible. You don’t want to hold someone else up from doing their job. When I read through the employee handbook, I marked up things I wanted clarification on. I could tell it was appreciated and showed that I am committed to learning what it takes to be a good employee. You will find that this benefits you as well during your transition into your new paralegal role.

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Paralegals getting to know one another as part of the ways to transition smoothly into their new paralegal role.

3. Getting to Know Your Co-workers

I would go to work, do my job, and go home. I wouldn’t talk to anyone, I didn’t socialize in the break rooms, and I stayed to myself. It didn’t leave much room for being a team player, which is something attorneys expect from a paralegal. I think it’s important to know who you will be working with day to day when starting at a new law firm because we spend the majority of our time with these people, away from our families. 

I’m not saying you have to be friends on social media or go out on the town together, but I think you should try to “learn” your co-workers. You can do things like pay attention to what they like and what they don’t like at the office. For example, in my first week I learned that one of my co-workers does not care for strong scented candles or wax warmers. Besides, being a paralegal is an extremely stressful job sometimes, and everyone operates differently under stress

A paralegal I used to work with viewed me as a threat instead of someone who could make her life easier. I couldn’t make her like me, but the situation did give me some insight into the importance of getting to know your colleagues. Being a mom there is no such thing as privacy for me. At work, I had to learn that not everyone has kids, so their view of privacy is very different than mine. I had no problem talking to a paralegal through the door while she was using the bathroom because a judge was on the phone demanding to speak to someone. 

People do it to me all the time at home, what’s the big deal? The paralegal wasn’t a mom though and did not appreciate my efforts. Starting at a new law firm, you have to learn everyone all over again. Even if you’re not starting over, it’s not too late to start paying attention to the habits of your fellow co-workers. The same way you learn the habits of your attorneys, you should do the same for your co-workers. We are all working toward the same end goal, and we’re going to need to support each other when you go through this transition into your new paralegal role.

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4. Finding Your Routine

I stayed at a job too long once because I was used to my routine and didn’t want to change it.  The idea of having to literally start all over again and transition into your new paralegal role is terrifying and even more challenging if you’ve been at a law firm for many years. I transitioned to the next chapter of my paralegal career earlier this year and it was a struggle for me at first because I was all out of whack with my normal routine. I kept forgetting people’s names, and second guessed myself on everything I did because I was afraid to mess up. I did, however, immediately start practicing my new routine. 

At first, it was tough because I was still getting used to my new space plus all of the day-to-day operations at the office. Again, it’s amazing to me how many law firms do things so differently from managing employees to organizing and storing files. Each firm I’ve worked for has been unique. I had to remind myself to be open to new ways of doing things. Once I mastered the alarm system, and started remembering at least the attorney’s names, I started to make some headway in my new routine. 

You might wonder why finding your routine is so important. I believe that the sooner you get into your new routine, the easier your transition into your new role is. Our daily routines form our habits which is the foundation for us as paralegals to be consistent with our roles and duties. Our responsibilities differ in many ways but forming a routine is something every paralegal can benefit from.

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We all know that the transition into your new paralegal role can feel overwhelming and daunting. Remind yourself that you’re doing something that will benefit your career, and that you are committed to your personal growth. 

If you’re willing to show up on your first day ready to make a good impression and get all of your new hire paperwork out of the way; with the willingness to get to know your co-workers and solidify your new routine, you will be able to hit the ground running in your new career. 

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Meet the Author

Christina West is a paralegal at Parkowski, Guerke & Swayze, P.A. After practicing in personal injury for six years, she decided to expand her knowledge of the law and transitioned into a real estate paralegal role. After a year of learning all things real estate, her journey led her to her current firm where she handles estate planning and business corporation matters. She is a Delaware native and graduated from the University of Delaware with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. She continued her education at Delaware Technical Community College earning her Paralegal Certificate in 2017.  She lives at the beach with her family and enjoys reading, movies, and being outdoors.

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