We asked paralegals across the country “What one tip would you give to a new paralegal that you wished someone told you early in your paralegal career?” Here are their answers that we want to share with new paralegals. Note: We only added names if the person specifically checked the box “ok to share your name with the tip.”
These tips are not listed in any particular order. Thank you to all of the paralegals who submitted their tips! As one of the paralegals said: Share the knowledge! Well said. All paralegals benefit from sharing knowledge with others to make the profession better as a whole.
50 Tips for New Paralegals
1. Don’t give up on being a paralegal!
If you don’t like your first job as a paralegal, don’t give up! It might just be that the practice area is not the best one for you…or it might be the people you work with. If you find yourself not happy, ask if maybe there’s another area you want to work in. For example, I started out in real estate and I hated it. I almost quit my paralegal job. Then there was an opening in the litigation department. I’m so happy I did it! I’ve enjoyed being a litigation paralegal now for almost 20 years. ~ C. Williams
2. Stay Focused! It will get easier as you go along, don’t let one bad day ruin your experience. ~ Joseph O. Luckett
3. Never EVER give an Attorney an original copy of anything!
4. Always have a steno pad/notepad with you when you walk into your attorney’s office. Always keep a to-do-list with follow-ups either electronically or on paper.
5. Microsoft Excel is your friend! If you don’t know it already, learn how to use it. If you’re already familiar with it, become an expert. From tracking time and expenses on a client matter to tracking pleadings, discovery, and deadlines – it will help you stay organized and present your data in an efficient way. ~ Victoria Ellsworth
6. There are no stupid questions. If you don’t know or are not sure, ask.
7. Billable hours are a lot more important than you think they are. If you work in a defense firm, do what you can to meet or exceed those hours. When times get slow, many firms use those billable hour numbers to determine who stays and who goes.
8. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side.
You’re usually just trading one set of problems for another. ~ Jill Brennan
9. Double and triple-check your work. Small mistakes will start to erode the attorneys’ confidence in your work. (Watch our video blog on this topic!)
10. Most attorneys are procrastinators and their procrastination will lead to you working long weekends.
11. Don’t be “that paralegal” who has to do CYA emails for everything. When mistakes happen, a good team pulls together and fixes it. A bad team points fingers and blames others, but attorneys just don’t care. They just want it fixed and not to happen again.
12. Be prepared to work long hours.
Especially if you’re in a busy litigation firm, but really this can apply to any practice area. You really cannot have the 9-5 mindset as a new paralegal. Be known as the person who is willing to do what it takes to get the job done.
13. If you don’t know the answer to something, say so. Don’t guess.
14. Dress professionally. ~ Amy A.
15. Schedule time every day to respond to non-urgent email messages. If you stop what you are doing to reply to each non-urgent email as it comes in, you will never have time to complete any other task that you are working on. ~ Susan Jaffe
16. When under pressure, maintain your cool. A stressed attorney does not need a stressed Paralegal – keeping your cool will assure your attorney that you can handle whatever task they are throwing your way, it may even help them become calmer in the situation and in future hot issues they encounter.
17. Communicate, communicate, communicate – with the client, boss, and other staff members – constantly.
18. Don’t ever go for more than 6 months without taking some kind of continuing education. Even if it’s only a 1-2 hour course or something. Otherwise, you will fall behind where you should be in your career.
19. Tip for new paralegals – The money will come. Be patient and stay happy.
If you work with a group of people who you truly enjoy working with…that’s worth more than the $3,000 raise you could get if you left.
20. Develop a solid rapport with your attorneys as well as getting to know their working styles. Each attorney will have a different personality, communication style, and preference in the final work product. It is so important for new paralegals to understand this and understand they will need to adapt to each of the individual styles for the attorneys they will support. ~ Steven Goodworth
21. Use technology to your full advantage. If you are in litigation, know Lexis Nexis and Westlaw like the back of your hand. Whatever technology is applicable to your practice area, know it better than anyone else on your team.
22. Update your resume every single year, even if you’re happily employed. That way you can add skills that you might forget about if you were to wait 5 years and try to remember all the great accomplishments you had a few years ago.
23. Don’t get involved in the gossip group.
Attorneys pay more attention to that kind of stuff than you think they do. You don’t want them to associate you with that group of people at the office.
24. Take every opportunity to learn as much as you can. Listen and take notes. I cannot emphasize that too much. ~ Roxanne Reynolds, PLS
25. Don’t burn the candles at both ends. You need sleep, food, and water to survive. Without those things, you’re more likely to make mistakes.
26. No two attorneys are the same. Get to know the pet peeves of each one. ~ M.R. Fontanez
27. It is critical to stay up-to-date on court document filing requirements because they change the formats often. ~ Ebony Siggers
28. Always begin with the END result in mind, taking time to weigh out the best and most efficient way to accomplish something the attorney is asking for oftentimes yields a healthy discussion and possibly even changes what the attorney thought he/she wanted. This also helps boost confidence in your skillset and shows an Attorney you are invested in a good work product which ultimately makes them look good. ~ Laura Neubauer
29. Tip for new paralegals in litigation: start putting together your trial notebook as soon as the complaint comes in. You can add to it throughout the discovery phase and use it throughout the life of the case, even if the case doesn’t end up going to trial.
30. For the sake of the team and/or the case, and no matter who asks, don’t take your position so seriously that you are unwilling to give assistance when it’s asked of you.
31. Start applying for jobs sooner! ~ McKela Simon
32. Never assume anything!
Be willing to take a couple of minutes to pick up the telephone, call and verify! Especially if you’re getting information off the internet because this simple tip will save you a ton of time, unnecessary work, and frustration down the road. Contrary to what some people think, the internet is not the Bible. ~ Terrie Johnson
33. Technology should be your friend. If it’s not, you’re not going to go as far as you could with your career.
34. Be able to read and interpret The Rules — Federal, State, Local, Administrative — where to go and how to find what you need to know. ~ Karen Monti
35. You have to be flexible as a paralegal. Your “to-do” list will be constantly changing. When you walk in tomorrow morning, it’s going to be a different fire that has to be put out.
36. Wait for your time to shine.
Don’t be in a rush to volunteer yourself for work you’re not as knowledgeable as you think you are. You don’t want to leave this impression with the attorney in charge. You may not believe it, but we’re learning constantly just being in the legal environment. Just be patient. The time will come and you’ll be able to jump in and show them just how much you’re capable of. That is your time to shine. ~ Patty J. Militello
37. Whatever area of the law you choose, read the applicable statutes, laws, and regulations. Don’t rely on summaries (though several are quite valuable). Read first for understanding, and one more time for comprehension. I work in Securities and have read the 1933 and 1934 Act at least four times. ~ Allen Mihecoby, CLAS, RP
38. Interview more. Practice makes perfect.
39. Learn as much as you can about e-discovery if you plan to go into litigation. It’s going to be nearly impossible to get a job as a litigation paralegal without at least a basic knowledge of e-discovery.
40. Don’t waste your money on a Master’s Degree! No one is going to pay you any more money or give you a better “title” than a paralegal. All you need is an undergraduate degree and a paralegal certificate – unless you just have a personal goal of getting that graduate degree and being in debt for many years.
41. Perhaps, more than anything else or any other professional skills, paying attention to detail is critical. There should never be any shortcuts or outright elimination of proofreading, cite-checking and overall ensuring that the final legal document is accurate, compliant with applicable court rules and procedures. That same care should also extend to the e-filing of court documents otherwise it will all for naught and the client’s interests will be negatively impacted. ~ Gabriel Preda
42. There are so many tips for new paralegals! If I had to limit it to one, it would be: Ask questions if you are unclear about the task(s) you are given.
43. Remember you always have to start from the bottom to get to the top. Don’t go in thinking you know it all. There is always something new to learn. ~ M.R. Fontanez
44. Try to work out your conflicts with attorneys personally. Don’t go talking to colleagues or HR about it and expect that they will magically fix it. It usually just makes things worse. Talk to them yourself!
45. Sometimes it’s the least “sexiest” practice areas that are the most rewarding. So many graduates look to litigation because they think they will be going to trials and depositions, etc. And they only go to trial once every 5 years. I went into commercial real estate at a time when no one thought it was interesting. I have such a challenging and rewarding career!
46. I wish I’d stayed at the mid-size boutique firm I first started at years ago. I left for more money to go to a big firm and it was a mistake. Mid-sized firms treat their paralegals more like real professionals and you feel more like you’re part of the team.
47. Be aware of your presence on social media. ~ Shawn Andrews
48. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. ~ Alicia Kendrick
49. ‘No’ is a very important word. You’re allowed to use it. Say no to jobs that don’t entice you. Say no to people who bring out the worst in you. Say no to all the opportunities that prevent you from pursuing the bigger, braver, bolder life course that you’d rather be on. Say no confidently, strategically and as regularly as you need to. It is your right and in some cases, your greatest asset. ~ Erika Hartman, CP, FRP
50. Own your career!
No one is going to care as much about your paralegal career as you do. Not your attorneys. Not your managers. And not your colleagues. It’s up to you how far you want to advance your paralegal career. Don’t wait for someone else to do it for you…you could be waiting for a very long time. ~ Ann Pearson