Paralegal Professional Development – Tips for New Paralegals

If you’re reading this blog post, I don’t have to tell you about the desire to work hard, achieve, or care about what you do. You’re reading this because you already think of your work as a paralegal in the foremost-important way to succeed: As a Career!

Getting Started

I received my Paralegal Certificate in December of 2019 and graduated RIGHT into the Pandemic! In November of 2019, I began applying for jobs before finishing the program, but without experience directly in a law firm setting (as well as COVID), it was not easy. I had nearly given up hope when I got my first job in July of 2020 and was hired remotely in personal injury.

Remotely = no one there to physically show or tell me how to do… well, anything whatsoever.

What would I do? Think fast!

Okay… For starters, I knew that I knew n o t h i n g.

This is the first part that helped me. I didn’t think I knew what I was talking about, so I came in very open-minded and willing to learn.

Until I figured it out, I felt like I couldn’t do my job correctly either. And I knew that since I had no knowledge…I needed to make myself an asset or risk quickly becoming a liability.

Bridging the Gap

To combat this and support my paralegal professional development, every day I:

1. Kept a running list of every single term used by anyone or that I came across that I didn’t understand or know the definition of.

2. At the end of my work day, I hit the books to look them all up and wrote down all their meanings to memorize. I learned the content.

3. I created a litigation workflow for pre-lit and litigation as I learned the terms and their place in line. When I say I knew nothing, I really mean it – not a thing!

4. I created lists of questions I couldn’t answer myself over the course of every 2-3 weeks or so. I would then calendar (1) a quick meeting with my attorney and run down the consolidated list all at once. It is of overlooked importance to problem solve on your own and respect your busy attorney’s limited time. Adding this skill is crucial.

Become an Asset

Next came the question: How do I make myself an asset? Let’s think outside of the box on this one – don’t just limit it to casework.

Here were some of my answers:

1. Come up with a list of questions for myself to begin trying to answer, such as:

  • Look for the areas that would benefit from improvement and write them down to think about them later.
  • What about the website or marketing materials?
  • What about ideas to help draw in business?

Are there any time-consuming tasks others handle that you can take over?

2. I assessed my strengths OUTSIDE of the office to try to become a jack of all trades if possible

(Asset > Liability).

  • I took my skills from my photography hobby to assist with photo editing, website content, designing the new letterhead, and creating new business cards.

What are some of your other skills?

3. I sought out the “grunt work” (such as time-consuming organization) and developed systems for how to do it as quickly and efficiently as possible.

  • I believed if everything was organized and easy to find, it would help make our ability to do every daily task much faster.

Remember, nobody likes the grunt work! But they will like the person who’s willing to do it with a positive attitude.

paralegal professional development

4. I looked for ways to free up my Attorney’s time by learning a skill others may not know and offering to take it over.

  • I looked toward our transactional work and learned to draft and file deed transfers (for starters).

Does your firm have transactional work you can learn?

5. I taught myself our work in Florida.

  • We had just expanded into property damage litigation there, and no paralegal yet knew how Florida operates. I jumped at the chance to learn.

Is there some new endeavor or field where YOU are working that Management has always wanted to break into, but no one else had the time to do the research?

6. I always looked for the gaps. They are a firm’s opportunity for improvement.

  • What is falling short?
  • What could be better?
  • What would it take to make it so?

What gaps can you fill at your firm?

7. I developed and solidified plans for policies and procedures, and once solidified, I made a meeting with the firm’s partners with the proposal for implementation.

  • I created a library of self-study paralegal training materials for the new paralegals that we might hire in the future based on what I thought would have been helpful for me to have had.

Too often, we complain about the lack of available paralegal training, but do we think about what we could do ourselves to try to solve the problem and improve our own paralegal professional development?

Make a Plan

We’re talking a lot about improving processes to streamline efficiency and address the goal of a clear workflow. Here is my approach to creating a plan:

  • What system is in place right now for X and how does it operate?
  • Does it work?
  • Why?
  • Why not?
  • What would make it work?
  • What would it take to make it work? Remember, money matters… so what will you do to create the resources you need to make it happen?
  • What potential problems will this solution cause? You may already know what a certain Attorney might say…. So plan ahead!
  • What are the solutions to those potential problems?

Ask all of these questions and more! Whatever comes to mind, add it to your list. Once you have answered all of your own questions, speak to management. During that meeting, don’t forget to write down the concerns they also might have to address with this same formula moving forward.

paralegal professional development

Mindset Matters

Lastly, I’m going to take a moment to mention my personal guidelines (or work principles, if you will) for my paralegal professional development that has also helped me grow:

1. No excuses.

2. Think ahead. At the beginning of the week, take time to look at the end. At the end of the week, look at the beginning of the next.

3. Don’t bring up problems without first at least thinking of as many potential solutions to propose as possible.

  • If you bring up problems constantly, asking others to address them, all you are accomplishing is complaining while asking someone else to do the work to figure out how to fix it for you.
  • Fixing the problem is what’s important, it’s an equal amount of work to make it happen and at the end of the day – someone’s gotta do it.
  • Don’t push it off on someone else who is already overloaded to do it for you.

4. Do not answer a question with a question unless necessary.

If you don’t know, rather than saying so, respond by letting them know what you’re about to do to find the answer – and how you will follow up. For example, Good question. I will do A, B, and C on this and get back to you with an update by X. If by X I have nothing to report, I will do Y and Z and circle back with you by (date/time).

5. If you see it, take care of it. Take the initiative to get things done.

6. Take the time today to do the organizational things today that your future self will thank you for.

All of this, one day at a time, helped me in my paralegal professional development and grow into a Paralegal Manager.

Continue Learning

Now that I am the Paralegal Manager, what else do I do outside of work today?

On my own time, I:

  • Study the trends and online content regarding the Legal Operations field
  • Research emerging legal technologies;
  • Study the Project Management field for ideas;
  • Study my team. Study their strengths, and position them for maximum success based on them by delegating assignments best suited toward those strengths.
  • Make meetings with the Paralegals and Attorneys to touch base and take temperatures. What’s going on? How is everyone? Try to keep my ear close to the ground.
  • What critiques and/or feedback do they have for me as ways to improve?
  • How would they like to see me change?
    • Remember, we need feedback on ourselves, too, or we can’t improve as Managers.
  • What critiques and/or feedback do the Attorneys have on the entire Paralegal unit?
    • How would they like to see it change?
  • Listen to Podcasts.
  • Read blogs.
  • Join LinkedIn groups or Reddit threads and study what others’ chief complaints are – do they exist where you work as well, and can they be addressed?
  • Remember to look into, study, and learn other areas as well that will translate – such as:
    • Project management – Scrum and Agile. Will the approach work for your firm? What do project managers in other fields need to know how to do and do well? What do builders need to know how to do?
      • This is huge, there are numerous similarities between how Construction, all their subcontractors, clients, and project management operates vs. Law firms, vendors, clients, court deadlines, etc. that are overlooked. Insight into these fields has been invaluable.
    • Finance and business for maximum comprehension of what a law firm itself takes to operate.
    • Office management.
    • Executive Assistants to CEOs. What skills make the best of them good at what they do? What do CEOs look for or want to have in their highest level of staffing?
      • Tip: Look for Indeed or LinkedIn job postings for these jobs and read the skillsets inside of the job descriptions in addition to your general online research.
  • Always and forever continue to think of ways to further streamline productivity, solve whatever problems are mentioned, and improve the present processes and procedures with a Plan.

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The Key to Success

AND NOW comes the magic ingredient that is often overlooked by and through Yours Truly, averring in support thereof as follows:

Open-minded, good, and forward-thinking management.

The brutal and final truth of what I am going to say to you all is that you can do everything that I have said, and you still will not advance to the same place in your paralegal professional development if you work in a law firm that lacks open-minded, good, forward-thinking Management. To truly succeed with the formula I laid out above, you must be in an:

  • Open-Minded
  • Forward-thinking
  • Tech savvy environment
  • Who sees and values hard work

Because sometimes, “it’s not me, it’s actually YOU!”

I feel you guys. And so, I would like to end this post with a special shout-out to all the dedicated, overworked, under-utilized, overlooked, QUALITY people out there, working on their own paralegal professional development, doing all of these things – working every single day towards their dreams.

If you are doing all of these things, never fear, you will succeed.

You can grow wherever you are planted as best as possible, but if one day you find yourself outgrowing the pot…. Don’t worry. Just go take that hard-earned excellence to somewhere it can grow further and do the most good.

Don’t give up.

Meet the Author

Veronica Hall is the Paralegal Manager at Freundlich & Littman with nearly 2 years of experience across several fields, including Plaintiff Personal Injury, Real Estate, Property Damage, and more. She graduated with her BFA from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 2017 and received her Paralegal Certificate in December of 2019. When Veronica is not at work, she enjoys hiking, traveling to the mountains, spending time with her family, dissecting films, and learning random, potentially useless facts about the world.

Comments

  • Elizabeth Wallingford August 8, 2022 at 5:41 pm Reply

    This is a great read for any Paralegal at any age. Thank you for sharing your good ideas!

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