My fellow Paralegals, do you ever feel you’re at a dead-end in your job? Do you ever feel like your voice is not being heard? You could be feeling what a lot of us feel – you are being underutilized.
Look at the definition of a Paralegal. “A person, qualified by education, training or work experience who is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, corporation, governmental agency or other entity and who performs specifically delegated substantive legal work for which a lawyer is responsible.” (American Bar Association) This is an awesome definition of a Paralegal.
Now we just need to get this definition out in our own offices and help our attorneys understand what a paralegal can do for them.
The following information will give you some hope, encouragement, and motivation to become an important part of your firm, utilizing your skills to the fullest!
Some of the reasons why attorneys do not fully utilize their paralegals:
- Years of habit
- Underestimating abilities
- Possessiveness of duties
- Lack of trust or impatience
- Unwilling to train paralegals
How can we break the cycle of underutilization?
1. Recognize Weaknesses
Take a hard look at yourself first; you have control over your actions. Once you have identified your weaknesses, develop strategies to compensate for those weaknesses and try to avoid repeating mistakes. For example, I find that if I write everything down – my ideas, to-do lists, instructions for common tasks, and save templates of work that the attorney has approved, it prepares me for responding to projects more efficiently. You can also seek out additional paralegal training to strengthen your areas of weakness.
2. Embrace Technology
Okay, as much as I want to fight this, technology is here to stay. Becoming more tech-savvy can advance your career and make your life easier. Invest in completing online tutorials to master programs you use daily and to learn new ones. For example, taking an advanced course in Excel is highly advantageous. Technology can be your gateway to being invited into the arena where substantive work is done. For me, it was and still is, learning OneNote. My attorney uses it all the time, and I struggled with it. Finally, I took the initiative to look at videos of how to do it, and surprisingly, I am doing MUCH better!
3. Be Patient
Patience is something I work on all the time. Overcoming why attorneys underutilize paralegals does not happen overnight. Trust takes time to build and must be done by proving your ability and consistently delivering quality work when given tasks to complete will go a long way to being utilized correctly.
4. Develop Contacts
I cannot emphasize this enough. I wholeheartedly believe it. Don’t be afraid of reaching out to people; networking is a great tool. Challenging yourself to do and learn more, obtaining certifications, and furthering your education will show your attorneys that you are dedicated to being a part of a team capable of handling more substantial work.
Another helpful idea is mentoring. Either mentor a fellow paralegal or enlist a mentor to assist you. What an awesome feeling to help a student or current paralegal achieve their potential!
We can flourish and succeed by applying these groundwork principles to your role as a paralegal and knowing your cases, taking the initiative, offering better solutions, voicing your opinion, and having a good attitude. Paralegals have the opportunity for education, certifications, and knowledge to do our job and assist our attorneys and clients to the best of our ability. By taking care of ourselves, the attorneys know we are here to help and will be better utilized in performing the tasks and, ultimately, a part of the success of our firms. With confidence and perseverance, Paralegals can change the stereotype, become more efficiently utilized, thereby making a difference!
5. Be the Calm, Not the Storm
In keeping with the well-known phrase of Paralegals: “Keep Calm & Carry On,” when faced with a challenge, breathe, and work hard to be the calm during the storm. This helps to give you an advantage when facing challenges and shows your attorneys that you can handle crises or emergencies in a professional manner. It will also help them to remain calm as well. I know that may be difficult because we know how they are!
You won’t be able to think of good solutions while having a panic attack or while passed out on the floor. I’m sure we ALL have experienced this at one time or another. Your calmness will reassure those around you that you have things under control.
6. Find Your Voice
Finding my voice used to be one of the hardest things for me. But it is also very important. To have the confidence to voice your opinions or suggestions to your attorney is key in becoming better utilized. It shows you have an interest in the cases and want to help. Be prepared for discussions by knowing the cases. Don’t be afraid to voice your opinions to your attorney. Fear of failing is probably in the back of everyone’s mind; put that behind you. Experience creates confidence. Seek out public speaking opportunities (voluntary bar associations are a great way to do that).
7. Be Prepared
If possible, meet with your attorney weeks before depositions, mediations, trials, etc., to start preparing as additional documentation may be needed. Review the file before speaking with your attorney, experts, or clients, so you are prepared to answer any questions. Take notes on everything and create a method to manage your time to ensure assignments are completed timely. The more you do this, the more your attorneys will rely on you and realize your potential.
8. Be Resourceful
If you are honestly stuck on an assignment, then ask your attorney for the answer. However, know Google is your friend; don’t ask questions that can be easily found online. Don’t underestimate the value of picking up the phone; develop the gift of gab. Don’t reinvent the wheel; if you find yourself doing the same assignments repeatedly, create a database to easily pull information in the future. Take pride in being a super sleuth!
So, my fellow Paralegals, I hope you embrace the information above when you’re feeling like you are being underutilized. Create an awesome YOU, “Keep Calm,” and kick b***!
Meet the Author
Mary Katherine Mayer is a NALA Advanced Certified Paralegal in Criminal Litigation and the Recording Secretary for the Arizona Paralegal Association. She works for the Yavapai County Public Defender’s Office in Prescott, Arizona, and has worked in the legal field for over 30 years. She is a member of NALA.