Watch the free paralegal webinar replay from the Paralegal Boot Camp to get the top 7 habits that you can develop to fast-track your paralegal career, enjoy your work more, and feel like you are an indispensable member of the team.
There are good paralegals. And there are great paralegals. Be a great paralegal!
7 Habits of the Indispensable Paralegal
- Be proactive.
- Be the problem-solver.
- Master the technology.
- Do excellent work.
- Pay attention to detail.
- Manage your time.
- Invest in your career.
Watch this paralegal webinar replay to fast-track your career.
What does it mean to be an indispensable paralegal?
First, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page with the term indispensable.
It means you are a necessary member of the team.
You are an essential member of the team.
Why do you want to be indispensable?
Make more money.
Enjoy going to work.
Get work that is challenging and rewarding.
More job security.
Habit 1: Be Proactive
How do we define being “proactive” as a paralegal?
Become a mind reader so that we know what the attorney is thinking?
That would be a great superpower to have. I worked for an attorney back in the 90s who thought I could read his mind. He wrote this on my annual performance review: “Ann knows what I need before I even know that I need it.”
How did I become a mind-reader? I read every single thing that came in on his litigation cases. So I knew there was a deposition next month that I could start preparing for this month. I knew there was a hearing in a few weeks that I could start preparing him for this week. In our Litigation Paralegal Boot Camp, I go through the steps and templates to use to help litigation paralegals proactively manage their litigation cases.
A proactive paralegal has all three of these key behaviors.
- Anticipatory: acting in advance of a future situation rather than just reacting.
- Change-oriented: taking control and causing something to change rather than adapting to a situation or waiting for something to happen.
- Self-initiated: the proactive individual does not need to be asked to act, nor do they require detailed instructions.
Habit 2: Be the Problem-Solver.
This is a big one from attorneys who tell me, “I like to work with a paralegal who solves the problem for me instead of telling me about it and wanting to know what to do.”
A way to do that is just to fix the problem yourself. Come up with a solution, carry out the plan, and fix the problem.
Now, sometimes the problem has to be brought to the attorney’s attention: maybe it was a filing deadline that was missed, a document that got produced to the other side that shouldn’t have. If that’s the case, when you have to report the problem to the attorney, do so by also giving them two options to solve the problem. Options that you’ve researched and come up with the best possible solutions.
But remember, your lawyer went to school for three years learning how to win arguments and back up what they are saying with cites, regulations, quotes, and evidence.
Be prepared to answer a lot of questions any time you’re presenting a solution to a problem. Before you rush in to report this to the attorney, be prepared to present a proposed solution (or two) because the attorney will ask, “What are our other options?” and “How do you plan on fixing it?”
Habit 3: Master the Technology
It goes without saying that Microsoft Word, Excel, and Adobe should be your best friends. But I’m not just talking about those. Those are the basics.
I’m talking about the paralegal technology specific to your practice area either now or will be soon. Be the person on your team who has the most knowledge about the technology that your team uses or should be using.
You want to be the “go-to” person when it comes to technology. You don’t want the senior partner on your team to go to the young associate down the hall to help use that new technology tool. You want them coming to you.
But don’t stop there. Once you master the technology that your team is currently using, you should always be on the lookout for trends in your practice area so that you know. You can make recommendations on other technology that could benefit the practice and how your files are handled.
A quote I love from Stewart Brand that is so relevant to this topic:
Once a new technology rolls over you, if you’re not part of the steamroller, you’re part of the road.
Habit 4: Do Excellent Work
To have a successful paralegal career, you have to do excellent work. Doing excellent work is what builds up that trust and credibility factor with your attorneys. So much of a paralegal’s career hinges on being able to do excellent work.
Watch the paralegal webinar replay above for a more in-depth discussion on doing excellent work.
Habit 5: Pay Attention to Detail
This habit is a must if you want to do excellent work and master Habit 4. This is more than just being a good proofreader or making sure the correct bar number is on the signature page.
The difference between something good and something great is attention to detail.
– Charles Swindoll
You can be a good paralegal, or you can be a great paralegal.
Think about that. If you are a new paralegal, what if it’s not just about knowing every possible skill that a paralegal has to know to do their job. What if you could continue learning more skills along the way, but while you’re doing that, you’re paying very close attention to detail?
One important thing I discuss in our Attention to Detail (a paralegal webinar) is that when you are rushed, your focus is more on completing the project on time instead of doing it right. Watch the video for a discussion on quality assurance versus quality control.
Habit 6: Manage Your Time
Unlike other professions, your deadlines are not flexible. As a paralegal, you can’t go to the judge and ask for an extra day to get that motion filed because you’ve got too many things on your plate. Your attorney can’t either. You can’t reschedule that big merger that’s scheduled for tomorrow just because you don’t have one of the closing documents ready.
That’s why one of our modules in the Billable Hour Boot Camp focuses entirely on how to improve productivity and get a better work-life balance.
If you work at a law firm, being more productive will also get you more billable hours.
But I’m not just talking about billable hours here. Your time is valuable. Regardless of where you work or what practice area you work in.
Let’s say that you have 1,600 hours worth of work to do in a year, which would be typical. Now, if you work in a law firm, that might be 1600 billable hours, but if you work in a corporate legal department, this could mean just the work you have to complete in a year. It doesn’t have to be billable. You still have cases and transactions, files to work on.
So you have 1600 hours worth of work. When you’re in the office working on those files 90% of the time, meaning 10% of the time, you’re doing other stuff like grabbing some coffee, chatting with coworkers about your weekend, checking social media, etc. If you’re productive 90% of the time you’re in the office, you’re going to complete that work in 1,780 hours.
Compare that to the 2,135 hours it takes you to complete that same work if you’re working at 75% productivity. Meaning 25% of the time you’re in the office, and you’re not doing work on a client file.
That’s a difference of 355 HOURS!
That’s a lot of hours! Imagine if you’re the paralegal working at 90% productivity. You’re getting out of the office in 355 fewer hours than the paralegal working at 75%.
That productive paralegal has a much better work-life balance. They’re not working weekends and holidays to make up for the work that didn’t get done.
Imagine what you could do with 355 hours!
Habit 7: Invest in Your Career
Every single successful paralegal that I’ve met over the last 25 years has this habit. And the ones I specifically asked over the last 10-12 years – said that developing this one habit changed their career trajectory.
The biggest mistake that you can make is to believe that you are working for somebody else…The driving force of a career must come from the individual. Remember: Jobs are owned by the company, you own your career!
– Earl Nightingale
I love that quote. It is the one single quote that sums up this habit perfectly.
So first, have the mindset that the driving force of your paralegal career is going to come from you. In other words, if you want more work that’s more challenging and stimulating to work on, you own your career and can do things to make that happen.
Too often, I hear paralegals say, “My firm doesn’t pay for continuing education, so I can’t take that course.” With that mindset, you rely on your employer to determine how far you can take your paralegal career.
Investing in your paralegal career doesn’t mean that you have to spend a lot of money. Many times, it’s just an investment of time – like watching the paralegal webinar replay above, watching some free YouTube videos on how to do advanced level work in Microsoft Excel, project management and more.
This is your paralegal career. You own it. You are a paralegal professional.
Watch the paralegal webinar replay above for more tips!
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.