It’s the same with paralegal certificate programs. They teach how to survive through the basics. A paralegal certificate program can’t teach you how to be a successful paralegal. Having a successful paralegal career comes with determination, continuously refining (and redefining) your skill set, and a mindset of owning your career.If you asked 100 paralegals who all went to 100 different paralegal certificate programs, they would all tell you the same thing: the schools taught us theory and terminology, but not the skills that were needed when on the first day of that first paralegal job. In defense of all paralegal certificate programs, it would be difficult to teach every skill a paralegal might use at every different type of employer in dozens of different practice areas. The skills that you need as a litigation paralegal in a law firm are going to be completely different than the skills you need as a commercial real estate paralegal working in-house. This problem is not unique to the paralegal profession. It’s the same when lawyers graduate from law school. They know the case law, rules, regulations – but they have a lot to learn before they’re actually practicing law. Ask any of your friends in the finance industry. They might have passed their exams, but they still have a lot to learn through on-the job training. If you have recently graduated from a paralegal school, consider taking some advanced training courses in a specialty area (such as e-discovery, real estate or intellectual property) if your school offers them. The only way to get the critical skills that you need for a successful paralegal career is to take the initiative and go get them: either through advanced training or extensive on-the-job training. Without them, you’ll be like me and my sailing: stuck on that small sailboat in the middle of a small lake and find yourself in trouble if the weather gets bad. Consider some of these options for furthering your paralegal education:
- Local paralegal association meetings and events
- National paralegal conferences
- Online courses
- Your local paralegal schools (not just the one you attended)
- Find a mentor
- Your employer’s intranet site (many will archive prior in-house training events)
- Ask to “shadow” a senior paralegal for a few days
About the Author
Ann Pearson is the Founder of the Paralegal Boot Camp, specializing in training for paralegals that focuses on the important paralegal skills not taught in certificate programs.
Ann started her paralegal career as a litigation paralegal and then was a manager of paralegals for many years prior to starting her own company in 2010. When she’s not working, you can usually find her somewhere near an ocean – either scuba diving, boating, cleaning up a beach, or volunteering to help save sea turtles.