Paralegal Career Development – Tips for Asking Your Firm to Invest in You

Asking your firm or attorney to invest in your paralegal career development isn’t always easy. But most law firms and most employers will gladly do it if asked. The biggest and most important step is asking because if you don’t ask, the answer will always be no.

This article was developed with you in mind because I know how important investing in your paralegal career development is and I want to give you all the tools you need to increase your outcome of getting a yes.

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Understanding the Firm’s Perspective

Before I dive into how to ask and prepare yourself for asking your firm to invest in your paralegal career development, I want to give you some insights from the management perspective.

1. Not all firms have funds set aside specifically for paralegal training.

I know that’s not a good thing, but it’s not always the case.

Back in the day when I was a paralegal manager, I had a paralegal come to me and she wanted to attend some training. I was really new to the firm. I reached out to the HR department and asked what the budget was for paralegals and what the approval process looked like.

That’s when I was told there was no budget money set aside for paralegal training and this was an AmLaw 200 firm! We’re not talking about a small firm here. I remember at the time responding with,The firm brings in $250 million a year in revenue and has no budget for paralegal professional development?”

I then spoke to the managing partner who said, “Well, all you have to do is ask.” The practice group leaders were able to use some of the funds they have for their attorneys’ professional development. Luckily for that paralegal, she worked in a practice group that had a good leader and the request for the training was approved using funds from their attorneys’ professional development budget.

paralegal career development

I know what you may be thinking – and I agree – why is there a budget for attorney professional development and not paralegal career development? Honestly, that could be a whole other blog series on its own.

We’ll stick to how you can get the funds when you need them for your career development, but I wanted to share that story to give you insight into what might be happening at some firms. There may not be an official budget for paralegal career development, but there could be the opportunity for the reallocation of funds from another budget.

2. If they don’t use it, they lose it.

Many law firms and employers (not all, but many) have the unwritten policy that if there’s budget money left over at the end of the year, it’s an indication that they didn’t need all that money after all.

The next year, that budget line item would be reduced or cut altogether to reflect what was spent this year.

3. Less Spending After October

This really only applies to law firms and typically larger law firms. They don’t like to spend money on what they consider to be non-essential expenses after the end of October. This gives you two things to think about.

If you’re in a law firm, and you know there’s a training event that’s happening in early January, get it approved and paid for in September or early October if you can. 

If you know there’s a specific training later the next year that’s more expensive than what would be typical, talk to your manager about it before those budgets get finalized so that the funds will be available the following year. 

Now, one other word of caution here. If you’re in a large firm, while those budgets are being calculated and approved in November and December (depending on the firm of course), they’re not usually funded until February. This will make it hard for you to get them to pay for something in January if you wait until January to ask.

It’s different at every firm, but I wanted to give you some of that insight when it comes to asking for them to invest in your paralegal career development. 

paralegal career development

Preparing Your Request

Let’s assume the stars have aligned and you’re going to ask.

How do you go about asking?

You’re going to want to start with some cold, hard data so that you will be able to answer any questions that may come up as part of your request.

Questions you’ll want to know the answers to

  1. What is the name and a brief summary of the program that you want to attend?
  2. What is it that you expect to learn or take away from that program? In other words, what skills will you be gaining?
  3. What is the cost?
  4. Is there a discount if the firm wants to send more than one of you?
  5. When and how will you access the training? In other words. Are you going to have to be out of the office? Or can you take it online? Even if it’s online – will you be taking it during the work day from your work computer or will you be taking it during the evenings and the weekends?
  6. Will it require you to travel? If so, are you asking the employer to pay for that travel? Now sadly, this can be a hard one to get approval for a paralegal. But as much as we’d like to be able to beat up the law firm for this, we really can’t if you think about how expensive travel is nowadays. If the professional development program that you want to attend is out of town and is going to require travel expenses, be sure all your ducks are in a row before you submit a request to attend something that will require them to pay for your travel.
  7. Are you going to need to take time off to attend? If so, are you wanting to get paid for that time or use your PTO time?
  8. What is the ROI to the employer and to your attorney specifically? What problem is it going to solve for them? Instead of telling them what you’re going to learn, be able to explain how what you are going to learn is going to benefit them. 
  9. What is your overall career development plan?

Do Your Research and Gather Resources

Here’s a perfect example. Let’s say you’re a litigation paralegal who has been struggling to stay ahead of deadlines and everything is always a last-minute rush – a mad dash to the finish line. Because of that, there have been some mistakes that you’ve made. 

You know that part of the reason for those last-minute rushes is because the attorney waits until the 11th hour to even tell you about it and you also know that the attorney is too busy to provide on-the-job training – you know – that stuff you heard about when you were in school? 

So you come across the Litigation Boot Camp that I teach. Before you worry that this is going to be a sales pitch for my program, it’s not, because the course isn’t even open for enrollment at the time this is being published.

Now you find what you think is a great training program that’s going to show you how to proactively manage your cases that will definitely benefit the attorney. But you’ll need to go a step or two further than that when you’re coming up with the ROI.

Litigation Paralegal Boot Camp

The only online program of its kind that combines an on-demand course and live coaching calls to give you everything you need to accelerate your litigation paralegal career.

Enrollment is OPEN NOW for our next session!

LEARN MORE

Identify the Return on Investment

First, go to the website and get a PDF of the course brochure and highlight specific things that are solutions to some of the problems you and the attorney are facing when it comes to case management. 

Then ask yourself, what else? Is there any other ROI?

Well, it’s time the attorney won’t have to spend training you. I know. Just because it’s not happening doesn’t mean you wouldn’t add it – because I can tell you that the attorney feels guilty that they haven’t had the time to give you the proper training that you deserve. They just don’t have the time.

Paying for you to get the training you need helps them feel less guilty about not having the time to do it. I could ask any attorney out there if they could get the training for their paralegals and not have to spend their time doing it, they’d put down that credit card any day of the week.

Another important ROI is YOUR time. Is it going to make you more efficient? Will it reduce the learning curve so you can perform at a higher level sooner? That’s a return on investment to that attorney!

Plus it’s less overtime the attorney is paying for AND the clients are happier.

Don’t just look at the typical CLE course description with 3 bullet point takeaways and copy and paste that into an email asking for approval. You have to dig deeper than that.

Remember that the more money you’re asking them to invest in your paralegal career development, the deeper you have to dig to make your case. If you’re asking them to spend $3,000 on a specialty certification, that’s going to look a lot different than if you’re asking them for a $500 course.

Create A Career Development Plan

Have a written paralegal career development plan that you will share with them so they know you are serious about this. You’re not just in their office asking to go to an association networking conference or a 50-minute CLE on a random topic because you need the CLE credits.

You have a written plan on where you want to develop your skills, how you’re going to do it, when you’re going to do it, and how much it is going to cost.

I have an Excel spreadsheet that can help you get started on one of those. It’s the Career Development Planning tool below.

And if you are a litigation paralegal who is looking for a way to reduce some of those last-minute scrambles, I have a free 3-Step Method for Better Case Management that will help you get in front of those deadlines.

The key to getting your firm to invest in you is knowing and believing that you’re worth it and making sure they know why. Comment below if you have any other tips that have helped you get a yes from your attorney.

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