BEING A PROBLEM-SOLVER WILL ADVANCE YOUR PARALEGAL CAREER
Soft skills are just as important as the other skills you develop throughout your paralegal career. One of those is the ability to solve problems, rather than reporting problems. Ask any attorney who thinks their paralegal is a rock star, and they will tell you that their paralegal is a problem solver. The problem-solving skill is the one skill that every paralegal can develop and continue to improve throughout their entire career.
According to TheFreeDictionary.com, a problem solver is a thinker who focuses on the problem as stated and tries to synthesize information and knowledge to achieve a solution. Compare that to someone who simply recognizes a problem and reports the problem to the attorney-in-charge and needs direction on how to proceed to solve the problem. On the other hand, the problem-solver paralegal recognizes a problem and comes up with one or two possible action steps to take to solve the problem, and THEN approaches the attorney with the problem and the proposed solution(s). Sounds easy enough. But keep in mind that you are reporting this problem (or proposing this solution) to someone who spent three years in law school and many years practicing under the theory that they should question everything unless it’s backed up by a citation, regulation, rule or precedence. When you are the problem-solver paralegal, you are prepared for the potential “cross-examination” questions that you will need answers to when you approach the attorney with your proposed solution(s).
You can use a 3-step method to come up with some proposed solutions, while also being prepared to answer all the questions that are bound to come your way.
1. Write out the problem in simple terms.
The vendor won’t be able to deliver our project on time.
2. Ask yourself the 6 questions used when writing a story. When you answer them, you’re likely to come up with a proposed solution to the problem.
3. Then ask yourself those 6 questions from the attorney’s perspective when he/she hears your proposed solution(s).
These are just a few examples of some questions that might need to be answered with our hypothetical vendor problem.
- Who is another vendor that might be able to jump in and help meet the deadline? Has the original vendor allocated more resources/staff to increase productivity?
- What other technology is available that would allow us to speed up the process?
- Where was the proposed delivery location? If in another city and we were planning on shipping overnight from here, maybe we could find a vendor in that delivery city instead.
- When is their proposed completion date/time?
- Why did this problem occur?
- How can we make sure this does not happen again?
The next time a problem comes up with one of your projects, try working through this 3-step method to help you come up with a proposed solution and you will be prepared for the questions that may come at you from the attorney. Being the problem-solver on the team will advance your paralegal career.
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 not taught in certificate programs.
Ann started her paralegal career as a litigation paralegal and then was a manager of paralegals for many years prior to starting her own company 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.