Use the “SMARTER” Goal-Setting Method
As a new paralegal or someone who has been working as a paralegal for a few years, this is a great time to set S.M.A.R.T.E.R. goals.
Even though it’s springtime, regardless of what time of the year you’re reading this or watching the video presentation below, you probably are already acutely aware of how fast the years go by (especially as you get older!). How many times do you hear someone say, “wow, I can’t believe it’s already the holidays! Where did the year ago?” Or “wow, it seems just like yesterday the kids were starting kindergarten, and now they’re driving to school!”
We all know how fast time goes by, especially when you’re looking in the rearview mirror. The same thing can happen to your paralegal career if you’re not careful. You start your paralegal career with these lofty goals, but it’s also right after you spent four years in college and another six months or maybe even a year in your paralegal certificate program.
When to Start Your Paralegal Career Growth Plan
It’s expected that you’re going to want to take a break from learning. It’s normal to be sick of school for a little bit. But if we’re not careful before we know it, we’re five or ten years into your career, and you haven’t done much to add to your skills except through daily work experience.
Whether you are in the first year of your paralegal career or your fifteenth year, take a moment to watch this presentation video below and download some of the tools and resources that go along with it. They’re all going to help you set some smarter goals this year.
Like we do in all of the Paralegal Boot Camp courses, we put a unique spin on topics (like SMARTER Goals) to apply specifically to the paralegal profession.
In the video presentation, before we jump into the goal-setting, we discuss a few things to think about:
- Focusing on our behavior – the action step that is critical to achieving any goal.
- Evaluating the return on investment – because our time is valuable and limited.
One thing to keep in mind as were setting and trying to keep our goals is not to focus so much on the goal and lose sight of actually doing things that are going to lead you to the finish line of that goal. You want to focus on the parts that are in your control.
For example, if you want to get a better raise next year, there are things that you have no control over, like a limited budget at your organization.
What is in your control is the behavior that can help you reach that goal, like improving your performance, adding a new skill, working harder, and maybe billing more hours.
Another example is someone who may have a personal goal to lose ten pounds this year.
You step on the scale a week later, and you see that you’ve gained a pound, so then you quit the diet. Instead, if you focus on the things in your control, like eating healthier, eating less, and getting physical exercise, you might have lost one pound. What can we do each day that helps us move a little more towards achieving that goal? Although it’s an annual goal that we’re setting, we have to break that goal down to quarterly, monthly, and even daily things we can do to move the needle.
What is the ROI?
We all have limited time and money. It is important to look at the return on investment for your goal.
If we look at our goal and realize it will take twelve weeks and five thousand dollars to get that E. discovery certification. We don’t even have a lot of ediscovery work at our firm, and all the while, we’re trying to raise a family. We have a sixty-minute commute each way to the office every day – then it’s not so much a matter of “can we do it” (because we’re all paralegals, which means you could probably do just about anything that you set your mind to!). However, you have to ask – is it worth it?
What’s the return on that investment of my time and money?
What’s it going to bring me in return?
Will it be more opportunity with my current employer?
Will it open the door to another career path?
Smarter Goals for Paralegal Career Growth
Video Presentation for Setting Smarter Goals
Who needs to be involved in setting or achieving this goal?
What exactly do you want to accomplish?
When do you want to complete the goal?
Where do you have to go to get the tools necessary?
Which skills or tools will you need to accomplish the goal?
Why do you want to accomplish this goal?
Paralegal Career Growth Goal: I want to be the go-to person at the law firm when it comes to ediscovery. If there is an available promotion – I want to be promoted to an Ediscovery Paralegal position in the firm.
Who – If my firm pays for continuing legal education (CLE), who do I need to talk to about getting approval to take some additional training courses?
What – Define the goal in detail. Is there a new job title you’re shooting for? Will you need to get certified?
When – Set a deadline. And set incremental goals or “check-ins” throughout that time. Use our goal-setting download available in the video presentation.
Where – Are there online courses available to get the training? If not, where will you have to go to get the training?
Which – Using the example goal, what ediscovery skills do you need to acquire to get that promotion?
Why – Only you can answer this. Your why is important because it will be your motivation to keep moving towards achieving your goal.
Have a goal plan with targets and milestones that you can use to make sure you’re moving in the right direction.
When setting your goal, ask yourself:
How will I know when the result has been achieved?
When asking yourself if the goal is measurable, look for specific numbers. If your goal has words in it like “some, more, or less,” you probably need to tweak it a little to make sure it is measurable.
For example, I want to bill more hours in 2021 than I did in 2020. Sure, you’ll know you achieved it when you compare 2021 to 2020. But it’s not as specific as it could be.
A SMARTER goal might look like this instead: I want to bill 250 more hours in 2021 than I did in 2020. To achieve that goal, I will make sure to get at least X billable hours each month. Then you would continue drafting the goal by adding HOW you’re going to get more billable work each month.
Attainable means that the goal is realistic, not necessarily that the goal is easy.
Include a plan that breaks the overall goal down into smaller, more manageable steps.
Ask if you can achieve this goal given the resources that you have available to you.
Remember, to be attainable, the goal is still challenging but not impossible.
Does the goal make sense within the broader view for your paralegal career growth? Broader meaning – where you eventually want your career to go.
How does accomplishing the goal align with your career?
Use the relevant section also to remind yourself to check the ROI (see above).
Time-bound means that your goal will have a defined period of time to achieve the goal. This helps make yourself accountable. Use this section to include a specific timeline for each step of the process.
Using our Ediscovery Paralegal example:
I want to be promoted to an Ediscovery Paralegal position in my firm by the end of 2022. To do that, I need to meet the following objectives:
By August 2021, I will complete a course on ediscovery project management to better understand the ediscovery process.
By December 2021, I will complete a course on the ediscovery technology that the litigation group uses on their ediscovery projects.
I will start an ediscovery certification program in January 2022. I will start asking to shadow other ediscovery paralegals to learn more hands-on skills throughout this time period.
Just like everything else in our professional life and our personal life, things change. Maybe six months into your goal, the practice group you wanted to transition to is no longer at the firm. It’s not to say that you give up on that goal that you have been working towards. But it is time to evaluate whether or not this is still a smart goal. If not, then we move on to re-do.
This does not mean that you MUST re-do your goal. It is an excellent time to evaluate whether or not it is time to re-do your goal to make sure it’s in line with your plan for your paralegal career growth.
Get Started Today on Your Paralegal Career Growth Goals!
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 to become an indispensable member of the legal team.
Ann started her paralegal career as a litigation paralegal and then was a manager of paralegals for many years prior to starting the Paralegal Boot Camp 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.