A new litigation paralegal should look at three key areas early in their career. If you only focus on the paralegal skills that you might be lacking early in your career, then you might spend too much time focused on how many decades it will take you to gain all of those skills.
Prefer to Listen Instead of Read?
These three key areas to focus on early in your litigation paralegal career are about more than just paralegal skills. They are mindset, behaviors, and skills and are the key to your success.
Now, the problem too often is most people just focus on paralegal skills, and ignore the other two. I can tell you, in the last 30 years, I’ve met a lot of paralegals who had excellent skills, but not the right mindset or behaviors.
And because of that, they haven’t seen the same success as other paralegals. The same could be said about someone who has the right mindset, the right behaviors, and lacks the skills.
You can see in the Venn diagram below, that they all intersect. And there are three key areas that stem from each of them.
I developed this framework years ago when I designed the Litigation Boot Camp. I call it the Litigation Paralegal Career Accelerator, and I developed the course curriculum around those nine critical areas.
First, we focus on mindset:
- You can be a rockstar paralegal now, not 10 or 15 years from now
- Own your career
- Own your cases
Next, we look at behaviors:
- Be proactive
- Pay attention to detail
- Master time management
Finally, we center on litigation paralegal skills:
- Master the discovery phase (because that’s where a litigation paralegal spends most of their time and energy)
- Sharpen your technology skills
- Level up your trial prep skills, even if you don’t go to trial
The problem with focusing on just one of these areas is you might think that it will take years of experience to get it right.
I’m telling you it doesn’t have to, but it does take all three: mindset, behaviors, and skills. Now notice how there isn’t anything about education in there. That’s because, as you know, if you’re working as a litigation paralegal, they don’t teach you how to be a great litigation paralegal in any paralegal certificate program. And education is not in this Venn diagram because there are plenty of successful litigation paralegals out there with no paralegal certificate.
Now, I’m not advocating that someone should not get a paralegal certificate. Not at all. I have a paralegal certificate. And it was while I was getting my paralegal certificate that one of the instructors told me about a job opportunity at a local law firm. The reason I don’t advise skipping the paralegal certificate is that not having one will limit your job opportunities. Most large law firms require a paralegal certificate. But it’s not critical where you get your certificate from, and it’s not the paralegal certificate that determines how successful you will be. It is your mindset, your behaviors, and your skills.
I hired a paralegal who didn’t have a paralegal certificate. And you know what, she is a great paralegal.
What makes firms allow for an exception during the interview where they hire someone who doesn’t meet the firm’s exact job description is their mindset and their drive. Litigation paralegal skills can be taught through law firm staff training and other training for paralegals. Mindset and behaviors – they are learned, they are constantly changing, they are constantly evolving. In other words, you have to have a growth mindset.
In this blog, we’re going to dive into that mindset, and I’m not talking about how you should have a positive, upbeat attitude.
Mindset #1: It Doesn’t Take Years To Be A Rockstar Paralegal
What does it mean to be a rockstar litigation paralegal? Well, what would it look like for you? Maybe it’s boatloads of money. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to make a decent living, but it could also mean respect, credibility, and doing work that is challenging and rewarding.
Maybe it’s having a window office. Or having the freedom to work from home.
I promise you, the mindset thing is so important. If nothing else, take away from this a little bit more kick in your step and confidence walking down the hall, knowing that you don’t need to compare yourself to that 30-year paralegal. Maybe it did take them 10 or 20 years to get there when they started their career in the 90s. But that doesn’t mean it has to take you that long.
Mindset #2: Take Ownership of Your Paralegal Career
Okay, the next mindset is to take ownership of your career. I call it investing in your career. And I love the story in Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits about the habit of sharpening the saw because I think that this relates so much to a paralegal career and the importance of investing in your career. You can also check out the 7 Habits of the Indispensable Paralegal here.
The story goes that this guy is up in a tree cutting this branch with a dull saw and somebody comes up underneath the tree and says, “Hey, I’ve got a saw sharpener down the road. It’s in my barn a mile down the road and you’re welcome to use it.” The guy using the dull saw says, “No, it’s going to take me too much time to get the saw out of the branch, climb down the tree. Walk to your barn. Sharpen the saw. And then walk back here and climb back up the tree. By that time I’ll already have cut the branch.”
Well, he didn’t. It took him twice as long as he thought to get that branch cut. And where I see this a lot is when you don’t continually invest in your career or take ownership of it and say, “This is my career. I own it. I’m only going to be as successful as what I put into it.”
What happens to the quality of your work product if you continue working with a dull saw? 5, 10, 15 years in, it will take you longer to do things than other people. If you’re not keeping up with technology and ways to do things better and more efficiently, you’re essentially working with a dull saw.
Oftentimes paralegals go and get certified through NALA, NFPA, NALs, or get an eDiscovery certification or Legal Project Management certification, but only care about getting CLE credits. These certifications are all great and something I encourage, but the problem comes from concentrating on meeting the CLE credit requirement in the limited time you have, rather than focusing on adding the skills and changing behaviors or your mindset.
So over a two-year period, you’re required to get X amount of CLE credits. You take an hour webinar here and there from a judge or a lawyer teaching other lawyers how to interpret some rule, maybe even in a practice area you don’t even work in, which adds nothing to your skillset, does nothing for your mindset, and it does nothing to show you behaviors that could improve your career. But you get those CLE credits. In reality, though, what you really need is something that could impact your mindset or behaviors or your paralegal skills, not lawyer skills.
The problem is when you find something that doesn’t give you a CLE certificate, it gets passed by.
It’s not that I’m not saying that owning your career means taking extensive training. What I’m talking about could be a daily 15-minute video showing you how to do one little thing or a 20-minute podcast episode while you’re driving to work. I highly recommend using a career development plan.
It could be something as simple as setting up an Excel spreadsheet, where you make a list of everything you want to improve on this year. But it has to be more than just a list of what you want to learn.
Make a plan. Write it down – This is the category of training I’m going to get. Then, also write down:
How am I going to get it? How much time is needed? When am I going to do it? What’s the cost? Is it going to get reimbursed by my employer? And then keep track of it was completed.
Mindset #3: Take Ownership of Your Cases
In the Litigation Boot Camp, I call this becoming the information manager of your cases, rather than the task-master who gets piecemeal projects and doesn’t know the big picture.
The way to take ownership of your cases is to know everything that is happening in those cases, and proactively manage those things well before the attorney asks you to do something.
You might be saying, well how can I possibly know everything that is happening in all of my cases. Put your eyes on everything that comes in on those cases.
Accelerate Your Litigation Paralegal Career Today
The 3 key areas that are critical to success are Mindset, Behaviors, and Skills. It’s not just about your litigation paralegal skills.
If you’d like to take a deep dive into ALL 3 of those, join me in the Litigation Boot Camp that is open this week. Here’s what one of our past students, Sara Davies wrote about the Litigation Boot Camp, which really says it all:
The challenge I’ve encountered since completing my paralegal certificate 2 years ago is…how shall I put this? Really just not knowing what my job is supposed to be, trying to reinvent the wheel without confirmation of whether I’m doing it correctly. “On-the-job-training” has meant I’m going to make my best guess under pressure with little or no guidance, and that’s been hard for me because I care deeply about doing good work. Providing legal support feels like trying to assemble a 5,000-piece jigsaw puzzle without the picture on the outside of the box. I was looking for that picture on the box. The tools provided in this course are helping me understand where to focus my energy. Good on you, Miracle Worker!
One of the reasons I love what she wrote so much is because she said what everyone experiences when they’re first starting out. “On-the-job training has meant I’m going to make my best guess under pressure with little or no guidance, and that’s hard because I care deeply about doing good work.“
Join us today and start owning the mindset that you can be a rockstar litigation paralegal now, not decades from now. Own your career and your cases. Hope to see you inside.
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. Her 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.
When Ann is not working, you can usually find her somewhere near the ocean, either boating, scuba diving, or rescuing sea turtles.