PARALEGAL TIDBIT: Sign up for paralegal ezines and teleclasses.

Vicki Voisin, The Paralegal Mentor

Vicki Voisin, The Paralegal Mentor

As I continued to perform Google searches about paralegals and surf the net, I came across Vicki Voisin, The Paralegal Mentor.  I quickly learned that Vicki is a leader in the paralegal profession.  She has many years of experience,  roots with NALA, and she is a published author.  Her newsletter is called Strategies for Paralegals Seeking Excellence.  I signed up and continued to explore her background.  Vicki works in a small town law office, but somehow she had managed to transform her paralegal career into something bigger than “just the J.O.B.”

I learned that Vicki hosts The Paralegal Mentor Monthly Mastermind conference calls for paralegals on various topics of interest.  Did I mention the calls are F.R.E.E?  Did I mention the calls are held in the evening so you do not have to miss work?  Did I mention there are great guest speakers with Q&A opportunities to interact with the speakers?

As I began participating in the monthly calls I began to connect with other paralegals who were striving for excellence in their profession.  As the date neared for me to take the NALA certification exam, I received a postcard from Vicki wishing me luck.  How in the world did she find time for that?!!

I believe that postcard was what triggered my desire to learn from Vicki’s professional experience.  I wanted to follow her more closely.  Maybe if I started doing some of the things Vicki — and other successful paralegals — are doing, then maybe some of that success would rub off on me, inspire me and motivate me.  I guess I’m talking about the Law of Attraction.  Surround yourself with what you want to become, and you will get there quicker.

To learn more about Vicki Voisin and her journey, read An Interview With Vicki.  While you are there, be sure to register for her Strategies ezine and be sure to ask about The Paralegal Mentor Mastermind calls.  It’s all F.R.E.E.!

PARALEGAL TIDBIT: Learn to be flexible and develop your skills at adapting to the unexpected.

My new employer was a well-established law firm, having maintained a presence in the legal community for many years.  There were 3 partners, 1 additional shareholder, 3 associates, 1 legal intern, 4 legal assistants, an office manager, a receptionist-bookkeeper and a runner.  It was a nice balance.  I had a number of resources for getting questions answered.  I slowly settled in and became “comfortable”.

To my surprise, my nice “balanced” office began to slowly change.  In case you didn’t know, law firms constantly change and evolve.  Law firms are almost living, breathing beings.  They have personality and style.  They bend and they flex with each change in staff and with each client addition.

Paralegals, by nature, tend to anticipate the future so that they can be prepared. Occasionally you are able to foresee a staff change, but often they are totally unexpected.  Learn to be flexible and develop your skills at adapting to the unexpected. This is especially helpful if your practice area is litigation!

Numerous staff changes are occurring in law offices in the current recession.  Don’t panic when those changes interrupt your workflow.  Step back, catch your breath and simply re-evaluate your responsibilities and the big picture.  Don’t try to change everything at once.  Think baby steps.  One small change at a time can make a tremendous difference in the big picture.

PARALEGAL TIDBIT: Build relationships!

Sooner or later you are going to need help on a project!  You will need help locating a form, or a file, or information.  You will need help meeting a critical deadline.  You will need assistance from an attorney assigned to a different paralegal.

For all these reasons, your people skills are extremely important!  Invest your time by building relationships.  Avoid office gossip sessions.  Instead, view each member of your office as an important member of your legal team.  That includes attorneys, paralegals, legal assistants, and all support staff.  Everyone brings different experience to the team.

Observe the practices and workflow patterns of experienced paralegals in the firm.  Eventually you will need help on a project in order to meet a critical deadline.  You will need a form.  You will need to locate an older case file which is similar to the new case which your attorney has accepted.  Build your available resources by building relationships with your team.

It’s a two-way street.  They can help you.  In return, you can help them by giving something back.

PARALEGAL TIDBIT: Type your training notes.

After all those years at home, I was back working as a paralegal for the senior partner in a downtown law firm.  It was good to be back!  I enjoyed the work and new challenges.  I diligently made notes as I absorbed all the training information about office policies and procedures.  By storing my notes in typewritten form using WordPerfect (this firm’s chosen word processing software), I was able to quickly locate information I needed on any topic.

PARALEGAL TIDBIT: Confidently negotiate specific terms of your employment.

I recommend that all paralegals keep abreast of paralegal salaries in your geographical location and your specialty area.  There are a number of national and local associations which make this information available on their web sites.  Make it your business to collect, tag or bookmark this information for easy and quick reference.   Virtual paralegals should network with other virtual assistants and paralegals for this information.

When I interviewed for my position and negotiated my salary, I was so excited about getting back in the legal profession that I failed to nail down some important specifics.  I accepted a starting salary at the lower end of my expectations.  I guess I expected that would be necessary to get my foot back in the door.  It was my mistake when I failed to discuss when that initial salary review would occur to get me back up to current market levels.  I also should have discussed annual salary and performance reviews.

At that point in time, I already knew I was going to re-take the certification exam with NALA, and this was discussed in general terms.  Again, I failed to negotiate the specific terms of how my future employer would (or would not) support my career goals.  Their idea of support and my idea turned out to be two very different perspectives.  I accept responsibility for that lack of communication.  It was important to me, and I should have made a specific reasonable request.

Before accepting the position, ask for a complete tour of the office.  Take a look at the office/workspace where you will be working.  Ask to see the offices of the primary attorneys you will be working with.  Sometimes first impressions can be very revealing  Don’t walk into a new job like a blind date!

PARALEGAL TIDBIT: When searching for a paralegal position, contact your local bar associations to determine if they have a legal placement service.

Once I felt sufficiently updated on my computer skills and was happy with my resume, I began my search for a paralegal/legal assistant position.  I was armed with a good reference letter from my old boss in Texas.  One of my first contacts was the placement service for the local County Bar Association.  I emailed my resume to the director, and then we met to discuss my career goals.  The director then arranged several interviews and before I knew it, I had my opportunity to re-enter the law firm setting.

When searching for a paralegal position, contact your local bar associations to determine if they have a legal placement service.  If no official service is available through the bar association, make your availability and background known to the Bar officers by sending your resume with a letter. You never know when they might have the inside scoop on a new position opening.

Network, network, network!!!

PARALEGAL TIDBIT: Always keep your resume updated.

Updating your resume can be a daunting task!  The old one I pulled out of my career file looked…well, shall we say old and outdated.  It was! While the main content of a resume may be similar, resume styles have certainly improved.  That alone is a reflection on your ability and professionalism.

I went back to Google and began searching paralegal resumes.  I found some samples and began making changes.  A word of caution here!  All forms found on the internet need to be carefully reviewed and critiqued by you.  Your resume should reflect your professional style.  Use that form as a starting place.  I also suggest you begin reading articles by attorney Sally Kane at  Legal Careers.  My understanding of the current paralegal job market began to expand as I read paralegal career articles.

Always keep your written resume updated as you learn new skills and gain new experience. In fact, you should schedule that update process on your calendar.  If you suddenly lost your job and needed to look for a new one, it would be difficult to recapture with clarity all of your accomplishments and skills.  Once a case is behind you, some of the details begin to fade.  The same truth applies to the use of our skills.

Begin building an online resume and professional network at  Professional relationships matter.  You can build a network of professional relationships from the people you talk with every day.  They do not have to be your boss!  As noted in several paralegal blogs recently, it is important to build your network before you need it!

Related Article:  Paralegal Students “Using LinkedIn:  It’s a No-Brainer”

Beware of Online Sample Paralegal Resumes

PARALEGAL TIDBIT: Refresh your computer skills.

A friend told me about for software training.  There are literally thousands of training videos you can watch for many different software programs and computer applications.  Lynda has now added a certificate program which you can use as documentation that you have completed certain training.  I signed up for the no-contract month-to-month plan and began work on those computer skills.  I now know there are number of similar computer training web sites.  I’m sure some have advantages over others.  The important thing:  Pick one and begin updating your skills! And don’t forget to update that resume noting that recent training has been completed!

PARALEGAL TIDBIT: Add minutes to your day by learning software shortcuts.

If you want to be successful in the paralegal world, it is imperative that you stay abreast of technology changes.  That is not an easy task!  Every single day brings new advances, new devices, software updates, and new tech terminology.  I realized this will be an ongoing task — computers are here to stay, in one form or another.   I began noting the software skills listed in the local professional job listings.  Law offices in my area were using some version of WordPerfect or Microsoft Word.

I recently read that the time required to edit the formatting of a legal document could be cut from several hours to minutes if the assistant had originally used the application’s style tool.  Skills and shortcuts within each software application are endless.  Read a help topic or watch a tutorial video to learn at least one new shortcut each week.  You will add minutes to every day!

PARALEGAL TIDBIT: The paralegal profession is constantly changing!

In the fall of 2008 I registered with NALA again for that frightening exam, and I’m happy to report that in May, 2009, I learned I am once again “certified”.  This time I’m opting for the designation of Certified Paralegal.  The legal landscape is changing — the paralegal landscape is changing.  A new landscape requires a title change, don’t you think?

The paralegal profession is constantly changing.  Don’t fight it, embrace it!  There are now more opportunities than ever for paralegals!

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